Thursday, April 8, 2010

Controversies about Silent Spring

By Katie Lukshis

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring raised the public’s interest in the widespread use of pesticides and brought about the banning of DDT use by the EPA. Carson provides facts from multiple reliable sources such as reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and creditable journals. Pesticide use has been liked to not only human health issues, but animal health issues, ground and surface water contamination, and soil contamination. DDT isn’t the only chemical poisoning our environment – “Since the mid-1940’s over 200 basic chemicals have been created for use in killing insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms described in the modern vernacular as ‘pests’; and they are sold under several thousand different brand names,” Carson noted.

After Carson’s book gained popularity, many people spoke out against her work, claiming it to be untrue and that she used false references to back up her crazy ideas. One well-known entomologist, Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, wrote an article in 1992 entitled “The Lies of Rachel Carson,” completely discrediting her hard work. In his article, he explains how and why Carson’s book was completely false and lists specific pages indicating her false statements, and checked her resources only to ‘find out’ that some of them were false and others taken out of context. On page 16 of Silent Spring, Edwards explains that Carson was comparing the use of insecticides to chemical warfare. He then backs up his point by stating “However, DDT was never tested as an ‘agent of death for man.’ It was always known to be nonhazardous to humans! Her implication is despicable.” The question I want to raise about Edwards’ reasoning is that if these chemicals were so effective at killing insects and other animals exposed, many of which thrive on the same resources we need to survive, how was it not harming humans? All forms of life require water, air, and an energy source. If DDT and other chemical-based pesticides were affecting the quality of these resources, certainly all forms of life were being adversely affected as well.

According to the EPA website, the EPA banned DDT use in 1972 “based on adverse environmental effects of its use, such as those to wildlife, as well as DDT’s potential human health risks.” The EPA has also acknowledged that “Today, DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities. This classification is based on animal studies in which some animals developed liver tumors.” Its widespread, careless use as indicated in 1972 was also provided by the EPA: “During the past 30 years, approximately 675,000 tons have been applied domestically. The peak year for use in the United States was 1959 when nearly 80 million pounds were applied.”

Carson witnessed the dangers of heavy and extensive use of pesticides and decided to research everything she could find about them. She knew that there were secrets to be dug up about how harmful these chemicals really were and decided the best way to inform people was to write about it. Unknowingly, Carson started the movement towards the banning of DDT and gave support to those who wanted to see an improvement in our environment as well.

For Further Information:
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962. Print.

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