In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire.
The blaze caught the attention of the national media, and Time magazine described the Cuyahoga as a river that “oozes,” rather than flows. There were no fish or other animals in the water, and the concentration of oil and other toxins was so thick that they could actually burn.
The river had become, in effect, a giant grease trap.
And the ’69 fire was not event the first time the river had caught fire, and it by Cuyahoga standards, it was relatively mild. Dating back to the 1860s, the river had caught on fire at least 13 times. In 1952, the largest such fire caused more than $1 million of damage to boats, docks and a riverfront building. But the 1969 fire had a major impact on efforts to clean up the nation's waterways.