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Photographers revisit sites of EPA's 'Documerica' project to see how things have changed over 40 years

Forty years after the Environmental Protection Agency sent an army of nearly 100 photographers across the country to capture images at the dawn of environmental regulation, The Associated Press went back for Earth Day this year to see how things have changed. It is something the agency never got to do because the Documerica program, as it was called, died in 1978, the victim of budget cuts.

AP photographers returned to more than a dozen of those locations in recent weeks, from Portland to Cleveland and Corpus Christi, Texas. Of the 20,000 photos in the archive, the AP selected those that focused on environmental issues, rather than the more general shots of everyday life in the 1970s.

Gary Miller / U.S. National Archives via AP; Julio Cortez / AP

An illegal dumping area off the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River, and north of the land fill area of the proposed Liberty State Park, N.J., is seen in March 1973, and an image from the same vantage point in April 2012 shows the Jersey City and New York City skylines with the green area near Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., in the foreground.

Will Blanche / U.S. National Archives via AP; Frank Franklin II / AP

Ongoing urban development and construction on lower Manhattan's West Side is seen just north of the World Trade Center, right, in New York in May 1973. The same site is seen in April 2012.

David Falconer / U.S. National Archives via AP; Don Ryan / AP

The Publisher's Paper Company in Oregon City, Ore., on the Willamette River is seen in April 1973 at left. Together with Crown-Zellerbach Corporation, this company led a campaign to clean up the river. The Publisher's Paper Company, now closed, is seen in April 2012, right.

David Falconer / U.S. National Archives via AP; Don Ryan / AP

An 'Out of Gas' sign is seen, left, at the gas station at the intersection of SW Jefferson and 18th St. in Portland, Ore., in June 1973, during the fuel shortage. Similar signs cropped up all over the Portland area during the fuel crisis. At right, a restaurant sign on the corner of 18th St. and Jefferson shown in Portland, Ore., with a public transportation stop in the background.

Frank J. Aleksandrowicz / U.S. National Archives via AP; Amy Sancetta / AP

Clark Avenue and the Clark Avenue Bridge in Cleveland, Ohio, looking east from west 13th Street, are obscured by the smoke from heavy industry in July 1973, left. The same view is seen in April 2012.

Jim Pickerell / U.S. National Archives via AP; Patrick Semansky / AP

Trash and old tires litter the shore at the middle branch of the Patapsco River in the harbor of Baltimore, Md., in January 1973. The same location is seen in April 2012.

Marc St. Gil / U.S. National Archives via AP; Gerald Herbert / AP

A sunrise over the Olin-Mathieson Plant on the Calcasieu River in Calcasieu Parish, La., is seen in June 1972, right. The same site is seen, right, April 2012.

Marc St. Gil / U.S. National Archives via AP; Gerald Herbert / AP

At left is contaminated water in a drainage ditch behind the Pittsburgh Glass Company near Lake Charles, La., in 1973. The same location is now overgrown with vegetation in April 2012 at right.

Marc St. Gil / U.S. National Archives via AP; Gerald Herbert / AP

Part of the Olin Mathieson Plant on the far side of Side of Lake Charles, La., is seen in July 1972 at left. People sun themselves, right, near the site of the old Olin-Matheison Plant in April 2012.

Michael Phillip Manheim / U.S. National Archives via AP; Michael Dwyer / AP

Left: This photo, taken between 1972 and 1977 and released by the U.S. National Archives, shows a truck moving through a residential neighborhood on Lovell Street, adjacent to Logan Airport in Boston. The street ends at the Wood Island Transit Station near construction on a building to be leased to the food preparation business for one of the airlines. Right: The residential neighborhood that was once there is gone.

Michael Phillip Manheim / U.S. National Archives via AP; Michael Dwyer / AP

Neighborhood youngsters play in the playground adjacent to Logan Airport at the end of Neptune Road in the East Boston neighborhood of Boston in May 1973, left, and the same site is seen in April 2012, right.

Michael Phillip Manheim / U.S. National Archives via AP; Michael Dwyer / AP

The Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority tracks, crossing across Neptune Road in East Boston, Mass., near Logan Airport in April 1973, left, and in April 2012, right.

Marc St. Gil / U.S. National Archives via AP; Eric Gay / AP

The industrialized port area of Corpus Christi, Texas, in November 1972, left, and April 2012.

Paul Sequeira / U.S. National Archives via AP; M. Spencer Green / AP

Left: The Donald Cook Nuclear Power Plant is shown still under construction on Lake Michigan at Bridgman, Mich., in August 1973. Right: The Cook Nuclear Plant in April 2012.

See more images from 'Documerica' in this story from The Atlantic, and learn more about the project from the National Archives and Records Administration.