By Virginia DiBianca
Wars are waged in countries over land that opponents seek to conquer and possess but there is none so great a war than the one man has waged against himself. Taking liberties with the gifts of nature, humans have created an environment of pollution and danger that has not only destroyed the environment around them but has put their own lives in jeopardy. Agencies meant to protect the average citizen appeared to be ineffective. It was Rachel Carson, writer, scientist and ecologist who, with her 1962 book Silent Spring, came to the rescue of humans and their indiscriminate use of chemicals.
Post World War II America accepted the theory put forth by government agencies that the appropriate means of controlling pests was to spray chemicals to destroy their existence. Spraying with the chemical DDT was frequently applied in areas where crops grew, in suburbs where children played and at sites near rivers and streams. In 1956, under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture and the New York Department of Agriculture an area of Long Island became the site of an annual campaign to eliminate the gypsy moth population through a blanket spray campaign. DDT planes indiscriminately showered above dairy farms, fishponds and home gardens. Animals, fish, birds and insects of value were killed. Plant life was destroyed. As Ms Carson stated in Silent Spring, there was an attempt to stop further blanket spraying when Long Island citizens led by a famous ornithologist protested the use of DDT in court. While the case was brought up to as far as the Supreme Court, it was denied a hearing.
Another government agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established relaxed rules on foods that were contaminated by agricultural spraying. The FDA set a tolerance level allowing “maximum permissible limits of contamination” in foods. The agency’s ruling did not take into consideration that although individual parts of a meal might not be a threat, the entire meal made a plate of tainted products. This type of ruling led the public into a false sense of comfort.
While the public is not fully aware of the dangers of insecticides or pesticides, government agencies exist for the protection of their citizens. Assumed to be experts in their field, they are meant to provide guidelines and rulings that uphold the safety of the public. Fortunately, the common sense of the average citizen seems to prevail over the actions of government officials.
Rachel Carson not only had that common sense but the biological education and love of nature that challenged the theory that insecticides, particularly DDT and mass spraying of insecticides is safe. She courageously stood up for the safety of mankind against government agencies and chemical companies who attempted to discredit her findings. We celebrate her words with an appreciation of the poetry of nature as she wrote it.