Monday, October 15, 2007

swallowing Silent Spring, part 1

This week, I am reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a landmark book in the environmentalism movement. I'm approaching halfway, but it is a little difficult to read. It isn't written in terms I can't understand, in fact it is quite clear. But is really shocking to me to read about such horrible things going on in our environmental past.

The book is framed around the use of chemical pesticides, and their devastating effects on humans, plants, livestock, birds, and whole ecosystems. What is most striking to me is the level of carelessness that was (is?) used when these pesticides are used. I know this is from 1962, and a lot (I hope) has changed since then. But I find myself having to take breaks from reading it just to absorb its gravity.

I'm also taken aback by the governmental involvement in the "management" of certain pests or plant species. I thought our government now was making stupid decisions for the environment. I can't imagine being alive when this was written.

For example, in 1959 in Detroit, the US Department of Agriculture somehow decided that there were too many Japanese beetles in the area, and decided to implement a spraying program to get rid of them. At this time, they sprayed 27,000 acres of southeastern Michigan, including suburbs of Detroit. They dusted the air with pellets of aldrin, "one of the most dangerous of all the chlorinated hydrocarbons."
"...the pellets of insecticide fell on beetles and humans alike, showers of 'harmless' poison descending on people supping or going to work and on children out form school for the lunch hour. Housewives swept the granules from porches and sidewalks... the little white pellets of aldrin, no bigger than a pin head were lodged by the millions... when the snow and rain came, every puddle became a possible death potion" pg. 87
The pubic in this case, were advised that the actions were completely harmless. After dead birds and squirrels started showing up in people's yards, after cats and dogs were poisoned, after people began to have strange respiratory illnesses, the government still maintained that it was all harmless.
"Despite the insistence of the City-County Health Commissioner that the birds must have been killed by 'some other kind of spraying' and that the outbreak of throat and chest irritations that followed the exposure to aldrin must have been due to 'something else,' the local Health Department received a constant stream of complaints." pg. 89
What this makes me think of quite crisply is the local spraying to eliminate West Nile Virus. This is touted as being completely harmless to humans, pets, wildlife, but I wonder if we will find out that we, too, have been mislead about the safety of those operations.

I'm going to leave on that thought, and focus on a different bit of homework for the moment, then come back to silent spring after I feel a little less... nauseous.

No comments: