Book Review: Silent SpringPosted: March 15, 2013
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson discusses the numerous amounts of chemical fertilizers, and pesticides used in the agricultural industry and how they negatively affect the environment. Carson’s personal commentary of the negative impacts that all of these chemicals have on our health and its propagation to environments that the government did not intend nor predict to reach. What is most interesting is her discussion on the use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical insecticide that was very commonly used at the time, but was also one of the worst poisons in history. Carson pushed that DDT was the reason for many cases of cancer at the time, and also due to its resiliency to stay in organic cells, it had many far reaching problems that could not be stopped.
One of the major problems with the use of heavy pesticides is that as insects get in contact with these poisons more and more often, they become more resilient, and eventually the poisons will not work as well. For the agricultural industry, this means that they will need to keep creating stronger poisons, However, there is a health issue as these poisons are designed to kill insects, but are supposedly safe for humans. These poisons are also dangerous as they stay in the soil for years before disappearing. Carson reviews anecdotes of people getting a small dose of a pesticide such as Aldrin or Dieldrin through touch resulting in their immediate deaths. These chemicals were had been sprayed in orchards or gardens, but are incredibly harmful to the farmers themselves who are in charge of taking the fruit.
DDT was created as a result of World War II to control malaria and typhus. It was invented to be a powder used by soldiers to prevent insect contact. However, because it was a powder, it did not absorb through the skin and its ill health effects were not discovered until much later. After World War II, it was made into an agricultural pesticide and was widely used. The problem with DDT is that in its initial concentration, it is not immediately harmful to the organic life, however once it progresses through the food chain, the concentration increases enormously, resulting in much more toxic levels. This creates a problem when we being spraying our plants which our low on the food chain because once bugs start eating the plants, or the runoff goes into our fish, other species will begin eating those creatures. This is what caused the problem with the endangerment of the Bald Eagle in the United States. The Bald Eagle’s natural prey is fish and when fish were affected by DDT, the Bald Eagle came in contact.
Fortunately DDT was banned in 1972 partially due to Silent Spring. Carson started a giant environmental movement that would help spur on many other important movements. She is arguably responsible for the swift action required to remove DDT. I would highly recommend reading Carson’s book to discover the context of where and how many poisonous pesticides came to be. It is also good to keep in mind the impact of this book in modern times. There is still work being done in Santa Monica Bay on the high DDT concentration found in fish through offshore runoff. Recently it was discovered that the DDT levels surprisingly halved over the course of a few years with no explanation. Even 50 years later, Carson’s book remains very relevant in the still puzzling world of environmental health.