A Look at EPA Accomplishments: 25 Years of Protecting Public Health and the Environment

[EPA press release - December 1, 1995]


  • On December 2, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is established to protect the nation's public health and environment. Its national role includes finding ways to cleanup and prevent pollution, ensuring compliance and enforcement of environmental laws, assisting states in environmental protection efforts, and scientific research and education to advance the nation's understanding of environmental issues.

  • Under amendments to the Clean Air Act, EPA moves to protect public health by setting national health-based standards for air pollutants, setting standards for auto emissions, and requiring states to submit new air quality plans.


  • EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are charged with protecting children's health through lead-based paint prevention activities, including detection and treatment of lead-based paint poisoning, limiting lead use in certain consumer items, and banning the use of lead-based interior paints in residences built or renovated by the federal government.


  • EPA bans use of DDT because the widely-used pesticide is found to be cancer-causing and accumulating in the food chain, posing a risk to public health and the environment.

  • To limit raw sewage flowing into the nation's rivers, lakes and streams, EPA embarks on a major national commitment to build an advanced network of sewage treatment facilities. By 1988, virtually all U.S. cities will have built or committed to build such facilities, resulting in rivers and lakes that are safe for swimming, tourism and commercial and recreational fishing.

  • The United States and Canada sign the International Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to begin cleanup of the Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of the nation's fresh water and supply drinking water for 23 million Americans.


  • EPA begins the ban that will phase out all use of lead in gasoline, resulting in a 98% reduction in lead levels in the air. The phase-out protects millions of children from serious, permanent learning disabilities by helping to reduce blood lead levels by 75%.

  • EPA issues its first permit limiting a factory's discharges of pollution into waterways, starting a program that now holds more than 45,000 industrial facilities accountable for water pollution.


  • Under the new Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA begins work to protect public health by setting health-based standards governing the quality of the public water supply, including requirements for physical and chemical treatment of drinking water.

  • EPA sets the first national standards limiting industrial water pollution, launching a program that today prevents one billion pounds of toxics from reaching our rivers, lakes, and streams each year.


  • EPA assumes responsibility for annually monitoring how cars and light trucks perform under new fuel economy standards--a move that, for the first time, allows consumers to choose cars based on their energy efficiency--under the new Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

  • Car makers begin installing catalytic converters in new motor vehicles to meet EPA emission standards designed to protect public health from harmful air pollution.


  • Responding to public concern over "midnight dumping" of toxic wastes, EPA starts to establish controls over hazardous waste from the time it is generated, through transportation, treatment, storage and disposal, under the new Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

  • EPA begins efforts to protect public health through controls on toxic chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk of injury. The new Toxic Substances Control Act sets the stage for EPA's ban that will phase out production and use of cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a widely-used material often discharged into the environment.


  • Air quality and visibility in national parks and wilderness is further protected with new amendments to the Clean Air Act, with provisions that preserve clean air in these important natural areas.


  • EPA and other federal agencies ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a propellant in most aerosol cans. CFCs destroy the earth's ozone layer, which protects life on earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.


  • Because of their potential for causing cancer and other adverse health effects, EPA bans two herbicides containing dioxins, chemical compounds that are byproducts of certain industrial activities that cause cancer and other adverse health effects. One of the herbicides was an ingredient in the defoliant Agent Orange.


  • Building on earlier efforts to clean up toxic waste sites, EPA develops a nationwide program for toxic waste site cleanups under the new Superfund law, as well as establishing a list of the most hazardous toxic sites in the U.S. The new law is in part prompted by Love Canal--an industrial dumping ground since the 1970s--which New York State declared a "grave and imminent peril" to nearby residents two years earlier.


  • Concerns about gasoline and hazardous chemicals seeping from storage tanks and landfills into underground drinking water supplies prompt new amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, under which EPA institutes efforts to prevent such contamination and require treatment of hazardous wastes prior to land disposal.


  • After British scientists report a giant hole in the Earth's protective atmospheric ozone layer, EPA joins an international convention in Vienna calling for worldwide cooperative efforts to eliminate use of substances that deplete the ozone layer.


  • Public concern about explosions and leaks of toxic chemicals, such as occurred in Bhopal, India, helps lead to passage of the first community right-to-know law directing manufacturers, users and storers of certain chemicals to keep records about the location, quantity, use, and any release of those materials, and for EPA to make such information available to the public. EPA also begins to work with states and localities to prevent accidents and develop emergency plans in the case of dangerous releases of chemicals.


  • The United States is one of 24 nations that sign the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase out production of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), which are widely used as refrigerants and aerosols but are linked to destruction of the protective atmospheric ozone layer.


  • EPA makes publicly available the first annual community right-to-know information on the location and nature of toxic chemical releases in communities around the country, through the new Toxics Release Inventory. A major chemical corporation pledges to reduce such releases by 90% (and later meets that goal).


  • EPA assesses a penalty of $15 million--the largest single civil penalty in the Agency's history--against Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Company, for extensive PCB contamination at 89 sites. In addition to the fine, the company is required to pay for PCB cleanups estimated to exceed $750 million.

  • EPA develops and implements new Clean Air Act Amendments under which states must, for the first time, demonstrate continuing progress toward meeting national health-based air quality standards for harmful pollutants such as smog and carbon monoxide.

  • In keeping with the new Pollution Prevention Act that encourages industry to control toxic emissions by using cost-effective changes in production, EPA inaugurates the first major public-private partnership to significantly reduce polluting industrial emissions.

  • Reducing Risk, a landmark report from EPA's Science Advisory Board, calls for the setting of national environmental priorities and greater use of science in decision-making on environmental regulation.


  • In the largest environmental criminal damage settlement in history, Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping agree to pay $25 million in fines, $100 million in immediate payment to the U.S. and Alaska governments for restoration work, and establish a $900 million remediation fund arising from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

  • Under EPA's coordination, all Federal agencies begin using recycled and recyclable products whenever possible, under a new government-wide policy, a move that will vastly increase the market for such products. Separately, EPA finds that recycling of hazardous wastes has increased 127% in just the two-year period since 1989.

  • EPA joins other federal agencies in assessing the danger to human health and environmental damage from the intentional oil spills and 700 oil well fires set by Iraqi troops in Kuwait during the Arabian Gulf War.


  • To protect seashore recreation, ocean life, and the fishing industry, EPA's ban ends dumping of sewage sludge into oceans and coastal waters.


  • EPA consolidates and toughens its environmental enforcement program to ensure compliance with environmental laws and to penalize polluters who break those laws.

  • EPA announces the Common Sense Initiative, a sweeping effort to fundamentally shift environmental regulation--moving away from the pollutant-by-pollutant, crisis-by-crisis approach of the past to an industry-by-industry approach for the future. This new approach is designed to achieve results that are cleaner, cheaper and smarter--cleaner for the environment, cheaper for business and taxpayers, and smarter for America's future.

  • To protect public health and increase food safety, EPA begins a major initiative to encourage manufacturers to develop new, safer pesticides.

  • EPA's comprehensive scientific evaluation of independent research finds that secondhand cigarette smoke can cause cancer and impair the respiratory health of children and others.

  • EPA reports that curbside recycling programs and related efforts have tripled the recycling rate for the nation's trash--from 7% of all non-hazardous waste collected in 1970 to nearly 22% in 1993.


  • EPA announces a new set of pollution-control standards to reduce by 90% the toxic air pollutants from chemical plants by 1997. This action will result in the biggest reduction in air toxics in U.S. history.

  • After decades of conflict, the Clinton Administration negotiates a consensus plan to protect the most valuable economic and environmental resource of the state of California--water. The San Francisco Bay Delta supplies drinking water to two-thirds of the State's people and provides irrigation for 45% of America's fruits and vegetables.

  • Superfund cleanups are greatly accelerated, resulting in as many cleanups completed in 12 months as were completed in the program's first decade--an accomplishment that will be repeated in 1995 as well.

  • New grants are launched by EPA to help 50 U.S. communities revitalize inner-city brownfields--abandoned, contaminated sites that were formerly industrial or commercial properties--and return them to productive use for the community, resulting in both economic and environmental gains.

  • The Clinton Administration nearly doubles the list of toxic chemicals that must be publicly reported under the community right-to-know laws, giving Americans a dramatic increase in the information they need about toxic pollution from manufacturing facilities in communities nationwide.


  • Two-thirds of the U.S. metropolitan areas with unhealthy air in 1990 have now met air quality standards, making the air safer to breathe for 50 million Americans in major cities such as San Francisco and Detroit.

  • EPA issues new requirements for municipal incinerators to reduce toxic emissions by 90%.

  • To achieve better environmental results, provide regulatory flexibility, and maintain accountability, President Clinton announces Project XL--for excellence and leadership. Under the new initiative, 50 companies, facilities, states and localities will develop innovative ways to achieve results that go beyond those required by environmental regulations--and do so in more common-sense and cost-effective ways.

You can also view milestones in EPA and environmental history on the timeline on the EPA History home page.