EPA was born in 1970 - a time when rivers caught fire and cities were hidden under dense clouds of smoke. We've made remarkable progress since then in protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment. To learn about EPA's environmental progress, click on the dates below.

In the 1970s

  • 1970: Twenty million people celebrate the first Earth Day.
  • 1970: President Richard Nixon creates EPA with a mission to protect the environment and public health.
  • 1970: Congress amends the Clean Air Act to set national air quality, auto emission, and anti-pollution standards.
  • 1971: Congress restricts use of lead-based paint in residences and on cribs and toys.
  • 1972: EPA bans DDT, a cancer-causing pesticide, and requires extensive review of all pesticides. In 1996, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list, reflecting its recovery since the 1972 DDT ban.
  • 1972: The United States and Canada agree to clean up the Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of America’s fresh water and supply drinking water for 25 million people.
  • 1972: Congress passes the Clean Water Act, limiting raw sewage and other pollutants flowing into rivers, lakes, and streams. In 1972, only 36 percent of the nation's assessed stream miles were safe for uses such as fishing and swimming: today, about 60 percent are safe for such uses.
  • 1973: EPA begins phasing out leaded gasoline.
  • 1973: OPEC oil embargo triggers energy crisis, stimulating conservation and research on alternative energy sources.
  • 1973: EPA issues its first permit limiting a factory’s polluted discharges into waterways.
  • 1974: Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing EPA to regulate the quality of public drinking water.
  • 1975: Congress establishes fuel economy standards and sets tail-pipe emission standards for cars, resulting in the introduction of catalytic converters.
  • 1976: Congress passes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, regulating hazardous waste from its production to its disposal.
  • 1976: President Gerald Ford signs the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce environmental and human health risks.
  • 1976: EPA begins phase-out of cancer-causing PCB production and use.
  • 1977: President Jimmy Carter signs the Clean Air Act Amendments to strengthen air quality standards and protect human health.
  • 1978: Residents discover that Love Canal, New York, is contaminated by buried leaking chemical containers.
  • 1978: The federal government bans chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as propellants in aerosol cans because CFCs destroy the ozone layer, which protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
  • 1979: EPA demonstrates scrubber technology for removing air pollution from coal-fired power plants. This technology is widely adopted in the 1980s.
  • 1979: Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, increases awareness and discussion about nuclear power safety. EPA and other agencies monitor radioactive fallout.
In the 1980s
  • 1980: Congress creates Superfund to clean up hazardous waste sites. Polluters are made responsible for cleaning up the most hazardous sites. Valley of the Drums Superfund site
  • 1981: National Research Council report finds acid rain intensifying in the Northeastern United States and Canada.
  • 1982: Congress enacts laws for safe disposal of nuclear waste.
  • 1982: Dioxin contamination forces the government to purchase homes in Times Beach, Missouri. The federal government and the responsible polluters share the cleanup costs.
  • 1982: A PCB landfill protest in North Carolina begins the environmental justice movement.
  • 1983: Cleanup actions begin to rid the Chesapeake Bay of pollution stemming from sewage treatment plants, urban runoff, and farm waste.
  • 1983: EPA encourages homeowners to test for radon gas, which causes lung cancer. To date, more than 18 million homes have been tested for radon. Approximately 575 lives are saved annually due to radon mitigation and radon-resistant new construction.
  • 1985: Scientists report that a giant hole in the earth’s ozone layer opens each spring over Antarctica.
  • 1986: Congress declares the public has a right to know when toxic chemicals are released into air, land, and water.
  • 1987: The United States signs the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase-out production of CFCs.
  • 1987: Medical and other waste washes up on shores, closing beaches in New York and New Jersey. hazardous waste
  • 1988: Congress bans ocean dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste.
  • 1989: Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
In the 1990s
  • 1990: Congress passes the Clean Air Act Amendments, requiring states to demonstrate progress in improving air quality.
  • 1990: EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory tells the public which pollutants are being released from specific facilities in their communities. The number of chemicals listed in EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory nearly doubled, from 328 in 1990 to 644 in 1999.
  • 1990: President George Bush signs the Pollution Prevention Act, emphasizing the importance of preventing—not just correcting—environmental damage.
  • 1990: President George Bush signs the National Environmental Education Act, signifying the importance of educating the public to ensure scientifically sound, balanced, and responsible decisions about the environment.
  • 1991: Federal agencies begin using recycled content products.
  • 1991: EPA launches voluntary industry partnership programs for energy-efficient lighting and for reducing toxic chemical emissions.
  • 1992: EPA launches the Energy Star® Program to help consumers identify energy-efficient products.
  • 1993: EPA reports secondhand smoke contaminates indoor air, posing serious health risks to nonsmokers. Today, more than 80 percent of Americans protect their children from secondhand smoke exposure at home.
  • 1993: A cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s drinking water sickens 400,000 people and kills more than 100.
  • 1993: President Bill Clinton directs the federal government to use its $200 billion annual purchasing power to buy recycled and environmentally preferable products.
  • 1994: EPA launches its Brownfields Program to clean up abandoned, contaminated sites to return them to productive community use.
  • 1994: EPA issues new standards for chemical plants that will reduce toxic air pollution by more than half a million tons each year— the equivalent of taking 38 million vehicles off the road annually.
  • 1995: EPA launches an incentive-based acid rain program to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
  • 1995: EPA requires municipal incinerators to reduce toxic emissions by 90 percent from 1990 levels.
  • 1996: Public drinking water suppliers are required to inform customers about chemicals and microbes in their water, and funding is made available to upgrade water treatment plants. Today, the vast majority of American households have safe drinking water, and receive annual reports on the quality of their drinking water.
  • 1996: EPA requires that home buyers and renters be informed about lead-based paint hazards.
  • 1996: President Bill Clinton signs the Food Quality Protection Act to tighten standards for pesticides used to grow food, with special protections to ensure that foods are safe for children to eat.
  • 1997: An Executive Order is issued to protect children from environmental health risks, including childhood asthma and lead poisoning.air pollution from smokestacks
  • 1997: EPA issues tough new air quality standards for smog and soot, an action that would improve air quality for 125 million Americans.
  • 1998: President Bill Clinton announces the Clean Water Action Plan to continue making America’s waterways safe for fishing and swimming.
  • 1999: President Bill Clinton announces new emissions standards for cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans and trucks, requiring them to be 77 percent to 95 percent cleaner than in 1999.
  • 1999: EPA announces new requirements to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.
In the 2000s
  • 2000: EPA establishes regulations requiring more than 90 percent cleaner heavy duty highway diesel engines and fuel.
  • 2000: A former brownfield is redeveloped into Bridgeport's New Stadium, Home to the Bridgeport Bluefish
  • 2002: President George W. Bush signs the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act to reclaim and restore thousands of abandoned properties.
  • 2003: President George W. Bush signs the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, helping to prevent forest fires and safeguard and preserve the nation’s forests.
  • 2003: Clean School Bus USA
  • 2003: More than 4,000 school buses will be retrofitted through the Clean School Bus USA program, removing 200,000 pounds of particulate matter from the air over the next 10 years.
  • 2003: Clear Skies legislation and alternative regulations are proposed to create a cap and trade system to reduce SO2 emissions by 70 percent and NOx emissions by 65 percent below current levels.
  • 2004: New, more protective, 8-hour ozone and fine particulate standards go into effect across the country.
  • 2004: President George W. Bush proposes the Clean Air Rules of 2004 that will make people healthier now and in the future. The result is more protection—faster—which ensures that clean air will be this generation’s contribution to the next.
  • 2004: EPA requires cleaner fuels and engines for off-road diesel machinery such as farm or construction equipment.
  • 2005: EPA issues the Clean Air Interstate Rule and the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
  • 2006: WaterSense is launched to raise awareness about the importance of water efficiency, ensure the performance of water-efficient products and provide good consumer information.