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Environment and Society, Industrialization, Urban Growth, and Pollution
prevailing winds, Urban sprawl, industrial base, developed nations, coastal waters
Serious pollution problems did not develop in the United States until the 20th century for three reasons: a relatively small population, a modest industrial base, and the presence of only a few really large urban areas. Pollution was limited mainly to urban centers and the areas surrounding them. These areas suffered when prevailing winds dissipated fumes from industrial factories and burning trash or when rivers dispersed sewage.
The environmental situation changed dramatically in the 20th century, when both industry and population grew rapidly, causing a corresponding rise in pollution. This was particularly true of the decades following World War II (1939-1945), when many of the industrial nations of Europe were rebuilding economies damaged by the war. As one of the few developed nations to suffer almost no damage to its industrial base during the war, the United States emerged as the world’s leading manufacturing country. The nation underwent a period of phenomenal industrial growth. At the same time a major increase in population resulted from the so-called baby boom that followed the war.
Urban sprawl and roadways connecting large cities began covering an increasingly larger percentage of land once occupied by farms. Automobiles and industry polluted the air, and clouds of smog hung over major industrial centers and cities with large commuter populations. The convenient way of life demanded by Americans as the century progressed resulted in enormous mounds of solid waste. Sewage and industrial waste fouled rivers and coastal waters, particularly in the heavily industrialized Heartland and Northeast.
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