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The seed of Earth Day was planted many years before its début celebration in 1970 on April 22. Scientists and conservationists became aware that the phenomenal post-war growth of American industry — and its attendant air and water pollution — was destroying much of the natural world. Air pollution in Los Angeles, New York City and other urban areas had reached such dangerously high levels that human health impacts were immediate and undeniable. And in what may be the most famous man-made disaster of the decade, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, which flowed through Cleveland and other industrial cities, caught fire in 1969 from all the hazardous wastes that were regularly dumped into it.
In 1962, Rachel Carson, a renowned biologist and nature writer, published Silent Spring, a jeremiad against the spraying of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and other pesticides. She is credited for giving the environ-mental movement its robust scientific underpinnings.
Senator Gaylord Nelson, from Wisconsin, proposed in 1969 that in the spring of 1970 there would be a coast-to-coast grassroots demonstration on behalf of environmental concerns. Mr. Nelson also took out a full-page ad in The New York Times in January of 1970, announcing that Earth Day would take place on Wednesday, April 22. The date was chosen because of its timing with student class schedules, warmer weather and no competing holidays.
In months following that first grassroots event, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and dozens of other landmark pieces of legislation were passed. To a remarkable degree, Earth Day institutionalized protection for the land, air and water. In 1990, Earth Day went global as an international event.
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