The treadmill of production, ecological Marxist, steady-state economics and the natural science literatures suggest that economic growth and pollution are linked. We use the economic downturn resulting from the Great Recession in 2008–2009 as a natural experiment to test this hypothesis. Specifically, we examine the effect of the Great Recession on pollution measured by the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) using maps and fixed-effects regression models for US states for the period 2005–2014. Multivariate time-series analysis demonstrates that even when adjusting for controls there is a unique and negative effect of the recession on TRI levels. We situate our findings in the relevant literature, suggest possibilities for what the recession effect may be capturing, and discuss some implications of increased pollution levels.