Public concern for the environment led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, which began operations on Dec. 2, 1970.
Its mission? “To protect human health by safeguarding the air we breathe, water we drink and land on which we live,” according to the EPA website.
From 1971 to 1977, the agency created a visual baseline to understand the state of the environment. For the project, called Documerica, the EPA collected over 15,000 images related to environmental problems.
Here’s a look at some of the most striking images from the project:
This image shows an illegal dumping area in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, taken in March 1973.
In this photo of the Georgetown Gap, taken in April of 1973, raw sewage flows freely into the Potomac River.
This image from June 1972 captures "Old Darky," an Atlas Chemical plant that earned its nickname from the black soot that covered everything nearby.
The Tacoma Smelter Stack covers areas with arsenic and lead residue in this photo from August 1972.
This image captures the burning of discarded automobile batteries in July 1972.
Additional images from the project are available on the U.S. National Archive's Flickr page.