Sunday, May 5, 2013

Silent Spring: Fixing the Chemical Fix

By Bill Pivetz                                       

American agencies always want to be involved with what’s going in the country, whether it’s with banks and economy, farms and forests, food industry or the environment. In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson explains how the agricultural and forest service agencies took it upon themselves to clean the Earth’s water, soil and plants, or what they thought was cleaning. The use of chemicals, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, has been around since the1940s, possibly earlier. Since then, scientists and agencies have smartened up and banned the use of DDT and other chemical compounds, but when they were used, they did a lot of damage.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report in 1960. In that report, they carried out “studies to discover whether fish, like warm-blooded animals, store insecticides in their tissues,” Carson noted. The first samples were from forest areas in the West, where massive amounts of DDT were sprayed. As expected, all of the fish tested contained DDT. More surprising is that fish about 30 miles downstream contained DDT as well, but no spraying occurred there.

The fact that the fish, along with other animals, stored the DDT in their tissue is a scary one. If people were to catch, cook and eat these fish, they could have gotten really sick. Even the lakes and rivers could contain DDT and could infect people as well. On top of the DDT, weed-killer 2,4-D, was found in some wells and the holding ponds of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The chemical affected the crops that were irrigated with that specific water, but “no 2,4-D had been manufactured at the arsenal at any stage of its operations,” Carson wrote.

Along with water, the soil was heavily affected by the spraying of DDT. There is a legend that says “a pound of DDT to the acre is harmless.” While that may be true, it becomes harmful once the spraying becomes repetitive. “Potato soils have been found to contain up to 15 pounds of DDT per acre, corn soils up to 19,” Carson noted. If soil becomes contaminated with these chemicals, it becomes difficult to plant and grow crops. The local economy suffers because they cannot provide sufficient amount of produce for the community.

The final piece of the environment Carson talked about in her book was the plants. Carson describes these three pieces that “make up the world that supports the animal life of the earth.” One example of people taking control of the environment was sagebrush lands in the West. There was the sage, low-growing and shrubby, that gripped itself on the mountain slopes. There was animal life that relied on the sage, the antelope and sage grouse. The grouse used the sage for nests for their young.  The antelope relied on the sage for nutrition. Although the environment was doing well without interference, several agencies agreed on a program for sage eradication. This will have a trickle-down effect, from the soil and surrounding trees to the animals and their well-being.

All of these little pieces are placed together for a certain reason—they need each other. The water helps the trees; the sage helps the animals by providing shelter; the soil nurtures the roots of plants. When people get involved, those natural relationships are ruined and species become extinct. Plants that were once native to a certain area are no longer there. Animals that lived in the mountains cannot survive anymore. We must learn to hold back our “fix it” with chemicals attitude about everything and let nature take its course.

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