Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
“Why would anyone believe it is possible to lay down such barrage of poisons on the surface of the Earth without making it unfit for all life?” These words by Rachel Carson were the words that would eventually lead to an entire environmental movement in the late 1900s. A chemical called residual dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or popularly known as DDT was widely used as a pesticide in the 1940s and 50s.
This pesticide was used in a variety of places ranging from people’s houses to farmer’s crops to the streets. The long term dangers of DDT were unknown at the time so they sprayed it everywhere, even where kids were playing at the beach. DDT was also used in various countries such as India and the United States to reduce the transmissions of Malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite usually spread by mosquitoes and gives humans symptoms of chill, fever, and sweating. This newfound way of decreasing Malaria cases was extremely successful. Ads marketing DDT were everywhere and they promoted the chemical being sprayed directly in houses on their wallpaper to keep the disease away.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published a book that would change the world’s stance on environmental problems indefinitely. This book was called Silent Spring and it was a huge warning to humanity about the true dangers of DDT. Throughout the work, Carson goes through the truths of these pesticides and describes their effects on both humans and animals in their habitats. She also offered various solutions to preventing any more harm of the chemical to our environment and wellbeing. DDT can greatly damage your nervous system if over time you eat foods that have been sprayed by it. If consumed in large amounts, it can cause a person to seize, experience nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Children can be easily exposed to this toxin through birth or breastmilk. In terms of the environment, DDT can stay in the soil and get transmitted to the foods we eat. A study showed that eating green vegetables that were sprayed with DDT significantly increased the chances of getting cancer in your life.
Caron’s Silent Spring sold over a hundred thousand copies the very same year it was released. Throughout the nation perspectives widened about the true horrors we as humanity were causing to our only home. Many people had no idea just how bad this pesticide was for their long term health. As much love as this book was getting, Carson received an exponential amount of hate from it’s release. The main hate was ironically coming from the industries themselves, a manufacturer of DDT threatened to sue news companies for promoting Carson’s work.
Going forward from its initial publish date, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency eight years after Silent Spring came out. This agency pledged to “repair the damage already done, and to establish new criteria to guide us in the future”. The roles and functions of the EPA include the following:
• "To develop and recommend to the President policies to promote environmental quality and to form strategies for carrying them out.
• To establish and enforce environmental standards consistent with national environmental goals.
• To conduct research on the adverse effects of pollution, to gather information on environmental conditions and use it in modifying programs or recommending policy changes.
• To coordinate pollution control activities with State and local agencies and with the private sector, and to take the lead in coordinating among Federal departments on activities which affect the environment.
• To appraise and to assist other Federal agencies in appraising existing and proposed programs, policies, and Federal or Federally-supported projects which may affect environmental quality.
• To prepare reports required by the President and the Congress on the environment or related matters.” (Origins of the Environmental Protection Agency, pg 4).
The advocacy only went up from there, the EPA led to the pesticide getting banned two years after the EPA’s creation. The same year the clean water act was passed to protect our waters and make sure that chemicals aren’t freely dumped into them. A year later in 1973, the endangered species act was passed that protected threatened species around the world in order to prevent their extinction. From there, the United Church of Christ published a toxic waste study in the 1980s , Environmentalists protested the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, activists protested the Flint Water Crisis in 2014, and these events keep coming even up to today. Last year youth activists led a global climate strike! With all of the environmental damage humanity continues to perform to this day, advocacy is a must to make the change that Earth deserves happen.
BY: Alicia Wofford
“Earth Day to School Strikes: A Timeline of the American Environmental Movement.” Stacker, thestacker.com/stories/3968/earth-day-school-strikes-timeline-american-environmental-movement.
Gay, Hannah. “Before and After Silent Spring: From Chemical Pesticides to Biological Control and Integrated Pest Management - Britain, 1945-1980.” AMBIX, vol. 59, no. 2, July 2012, pp. 88–108. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1179/174582312X13345259995930.
“Origins of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Congressional Digest, vol. 94, no. 5, May 2015, pp. 2–5. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=102443879&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
“Public Health Statement for DDT, DDE, and DDD.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Sept. 2002, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=79&tid=20.
Rehwagen, Christiane. “WHO Recommends DDT to Control Malaria.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), BMJ Publishing Group Ltd., 23 Sept. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1570869/.
Xiao Rong Wu, et. al, “Elevated atmospheric CO2 might increase the health risk of long-term ingestion of leafy vegetables cultivated in residual DDT polluted soil”, Science Direct, vol. 227, 2019, pp 289-298, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.04.024