HISTORY OF SUSTAINABILITY IN THE UNITED STATES
(See endnote 28)
People and governments have been involved in preventing the contamination of water and land from the very beginnings of the country. In 1634, public sanitation regulations were passed in Massachusetts. The City of Boston ordered that people were not to leave any fish or garbage near the bridge or common landing between the two creeks to prevent polluting the water. There were about 3500 medical/ sanitary practitioners in the colonies. Part of the work which they frequently did included:
- • Enforcing cleanliness, and control of nuisances of filth and noxious trades
- • Disposal of waste-garbage, excrement, offal, etc.
- • Provision of pure water supplies and prevention of contamination of water by polluting substances
- • Drainage of swamps, marshes, and stagnant pools of water
As the United States expanded westward in the 1800s, there was a free-for-all in the use of natural resources. Pollutants of all types were discharged into the air and water and on to the land. By the end of that century and the beginning of the 1900s, people began to realize that much of the natural resources had to be used more wisely and also preserved for future generations. This philosophy led to the Conservation Movement with Samuel P Hayes pushing for experts in the field to scientifically manage resources. President Teddy Roosevelt became one of the major people involved in the protection of water and the promotion of effective land development. He was influenced by the prospect that the country would run out of natural resources, especially trees, that the wilderness areas would disappear, and that pollution, especially in the big cities, would threaten our way of life. Roosevelt determined that the successful development of the West depended on conserving natural resources and using them wisely. Many other individuals, such as John Muir, and civic associations agreed with him including the Sierra Club.
In addition, anti-pollution programs assumed considerable significance in the period roughly from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to 1915, because of the severe environmental and living conditions that people were exposed to in cities. The governments built sewer systems and protected water sources, collected and removed solid waste, cleaned the streets, established parks, and started to regulate air pollutants, especially smoke. Studies were made of overcrowded and extremely poor housing conditions. The Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 prohibited the discharge of any kind of refuse into navigable waters. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1905 protected people from contaminated or adulterated food and drugs. Subsequent amendments were the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1936, which also regulated pesticides, and the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 that ensured that standards for pesticides in foods were established and enforced. In 1947, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act was passed to control the sale, distribution and application of pesticides. This act was amended in 1972, 1988, and 1996. Because of the huge and profound dangers attached to nuclear energy and its use, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 was passed establishing a regulatory structure for the construction and use of nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons facilities.
After World War II, people living in a booming society and now having more money, became less eager to accept the polluting effluents that were entering the air, water, and ground. With greater numbers and greater quantities of environmental pollutants being produced, used, stored, and put in disposal sites, there was a demand for stricter laws and programs and better enforcement. Especially visible where the vast clouds of black smoke coming from factories that caused people respiratory distress and blackened the environment.
The frustrations of constantly seeing people living with environmental pollutants were clearly established when some 20 million people throughout the country on April 22, 1970, created the first Earth Day. This was the people’s way of saying enough is enough and we must now take control of our environment, our lives, and our health.