Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson (1962, but reprinted in 2002)

Book Review by Ray Herrmann

Rachel Carson's numerous documented examples of disastrous chemical applications had alerted the public, scientists and governments of the dangers involved with the use of toxic chemicals to control pests. These chemicals were mainly developed after WWII where a new faith in technology and the development of nerve agents for chemical warfare fostered the growth of chemical companies. Industry noticed that these profitable toxins could also kill other life forms so set out to sell them in quantity (ignoring the complications) in the 1950's.

Rachel Carson presents in a very readable way, the many, many instances where a "dusting" of usually thousands of acres with these indiscriminate poisons not only failed, but actually caused an increase in these pests over a few years as their predators had been also killed. The applications usually wiped out most birds, animals (even livestock) and fishes, clams, shrimp, crabs and other marine life as toxins washed into streams. This is all beside the injury to our health, as these (highly fat-soluble) poisons concentrate and creep up the food chain.

The main dangers of these poisons are:

There are few people today(especially those living before about 1990) that don't have a collection of these poisons concentrated and trapped in their bodies. Random testing has found many of these toxins in the tissues of the general population. The long term affects of these toxins and in their accumulated variety are not known, but there is an association with the increased prevalence of Liver and Nerve Diseases.

In 2021, I made a list of many of the poisons mentioned in her book and checked the current status online: [ DDT, Malathion, Parathion, Dieldrin, Alprin, Endrin, Chlordane, Methyl Chloride, Arsenic, Dinitrophenol, Pentachlorophenol, Amitrol, Heptachlor, Benzene Hexachloride (BHC), 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, Toxaphene, Aminotriazole, Methoxychloride, Carbon Tetrachloride ]. Fortunately most of these were now banned, but quite often not until the 1970's to 1990's. And some are still used today (as U.S. "regulated"). The U.S.(as a nod to Chemical businesses) often allows their manufacture for sale to other countries. DDT is still being used today (2021) in South America, Africa, and in Asia!

I remember visiting an Aunt and Uncle in a small Illinois town in the late 1950's: Trucks suddenly came down their side streets spraying a dense fog that smelled like the supply room of a nursery. We were told to come inside. This "fog" was probably DDT mixed in oil.

It seems that, in the blind enthusiasm (and sales pressures) of the 1950's many government agencies actually pushed programs that used these poisons, often ignoring their own studies and not even doing tests to determine the effective doses. It seems that if not for the attention made by this very book, Silent Spring, we might be still suffering needless deaths, cancers and habitat loss today.

This book is well documented with over 50 pages of reference articles supporting Rachel Carson's contentions. The lesson from Nature is that all life has evolved together as a dynamic balance of predator/ prey. So when we try to make changes, we need to be aware that we are tampering with this balance and so move thoughtfully and skillfully, and not arrogantly bludgeon our way.

Mankind has the capacity to ignore dangers, especially when profit is involved. Do we really want to accumulate these toxins? Think about that next time you buy chemical products or contract for "weed control" of your lawn. These products get on your shoes and track into your carpets and from there … Roundup (glyphosate) has been associated with cancer and other health concerns.

As the damage from blanket poisonings became apparent, scientists have gradually turned to "targeted" pest control methods. These approaches include affecting only specific species, and in the development of specific pheromones for traps. That seems to be a better way, but we need to proceed cautiously as Nature has the final word.