I became an environmentalist on May 17, 1969. As my two friends and I paddled to glory winning the first annual Chenango River Raft Race, we passed a large pipe spewing ugly water from a shopping plaza. We mentioned this during an interview with a local  television station and the reporter commented, “We can’t run that because it’s an election year.”

    To have obvious pollution ignored because some politician might be offended was a revelation. I began to pay attention. About a year later I attended events for the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, while a first-year student at St. Lawrence University.

The day was designed to be a  “teach-in” so people would learn about the environment. The biggest concerns were water and air pollution. The cities were smothering in smog (a word from SMoke and fOG) and the waters were choking from all kinds of pollution like sewage and chemical waste.

One action we were asked to undertake was to stop using laundry detergent with phosphates in it. Phosphate works as a fertilizer causing the algae to grow. That is why swimming in Lake Erie back then meant pushing giant mats of algae out of the way. The lake looked like an old farm pond.

We thought Earth Day was important but we also did not think it would make any difference.

            Dr. John Newton

Ohio Sea Grant photo