Four decades ago, countries around the world were using the word ‘Sudbury’ as a unit of pollution. The city was the single largest point source of sulfur dioxide emissions in the 1960s, producing about 2.5 million tonnes per year.
According to John Gunn, director of the Vale Living With Lakes Centre at Laurentian University, that’s bigger than all of Europe today. “Countries were saying, how many Sudburys do you produce?” said Gunn. “And the answer to that question wasn’t one. It was less than one.” Air quality, however, was the tip of the iceberg.
The region had been reduced to a barren wasteland (often referred to as a moonscape) after only a few decades of mining and smelting. Local vegetation was devastated by acid rain and logging, as Sudbury earned a reputation of being one of the most infamous disasters in North America.
The before photos are damning: the black rock landscape littered with tree stumps was a scene out of a post-apocalyptic future. In the summer of 1978, the city initiated one of the largest land reclamation efforts in the world.
Public pressure forced the government to introduce pollution control legislation to address widespread concern about air quality, and later, in the 1980s, acid rain.
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