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Environment and Society, Growth of Environmental Awareness

Earth Day, heart attacks, animal populations, emphysema, air pollution

Public awareness of pollution and other environmental problems began to grow during the 1960s and 1970s. Marine biologist Rachel Carson raised widespread concern about the effects of pesticides and pollution on animals and humans with the publication of Silent Spring (1962). The book suggested that a time might come when animal populations would be so reduced by exposure to pesticides that birds would no longer be heard singing in the spring.

Other events in the 1960s caused growing public concern. A number of studies began linking pollution with health problems. These studies indicated that heart attacks, emphysema, and asthma might be linked to air pollution. Scientists became aware that toxic materials in the water supply can be transmitted to humans through the food chain. A dramatic example of the effects of pollution occurred in 1969, when industrial waste caused the severely contaminated Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, to catch on fire several times.

Growing concern over environmental problems led about 20 million Americans to take part in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Citizens gathered at various events held across the country to protest abuse of the environment. Earth Day, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath helped change U.S. policy toward the environment.

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