Before 1970, if a factory wanted to dump toxic waste into a river in the United States, they could get away with it. There was no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, no Environmental Protection Agency. Though protests were common, they were focused on the war in Vietnam, not improving the environment. A Wisconsin senator, Gaylord Nelson, was inspired to change things; on April 22, he organized the first Earth Day, a "teach-in" on the environment. 20 million Americans demonstrated that day, and the government listened: by December, they had established the EPA and passed the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts.

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