With more research, we now know these chemicals produce a wide range of debilitating and destructive effects that have permeated everything from our air and earth to our consumer products, reproductive systems and living spaces.
Pesticides are pervasive, mutating toxins whose original purpose – to control or kill insects that threatened our crops and our human health – have far-reaching effects.
Repeated human exposure to DDT has been linked to attacks on the liver, endocrine and nervous systems. Cancer and birth defects in humans, birds and animal life are also well documented side effects, particularly after the Second World War (1939-45) when it was used to control head lice and mosquitoes.
Across Europe and throughout Africa and places like Japan after Pearl Harbor, DDT was sprayed to treat the spread of typhus, malaria and yellow fever; all of which were transmitted respectively by head lice and mosquitoes. As a non-water-soluble chemical, DDT continued to be used without any long-term studies about dangers to our water, wildlife and human health.
It’s amazing to think after all we know, pesticides are still used in increasing quantities. Rachel’s work created changes in the U.S., spurring the creation of the environmental inquiries under President Kennedy (1963) and later, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Nixon in 1970. But our planet is still in danger:
“Pesticide use in crop production worldwide increased nearly twenty fold from 1960 to 2000 and further increased from 1.0 billion tons in 2002 to 1.7 billion tons in 2007. China is the largest producer of pesticides and one of the most intensive pesticide users in crop production in the world. Despite the well-documented deleterious effects of pesticides on biological pest control function, the environment, and food safety, the health effects of these agents have also attracted substantial attention.” (National Center for Biotechnology Information)
Rachel’s legacy compels us to continue to fight against the nonselective use of pesticides that have the power to kill. This should not be a partisan issue for anyone, anywhere, although some critics suggest the early development of the EPA created a perception that, somehow, the protection of our world was a divided interest between Republicans and Democrats.
It’s disconcerting to know there will be more long-term complications that are only just beginning to surface and we’re already fighting the save so many endangered species affected by these toxins. The American bald eagle, a symbol used in our U.S. Presidential crest, is almost extinct because of the damage caused to their reproductive systems from DDT. When the females lay their eggs, the hard shell has been compromised and soften so much that the eggs are often crushed under the weight of the mother bird.
There are too many questions to consider in this abbreviated article about Rachel Carson but one thing is certain. Rachel was the first to start a conversation and ignite a call to action on behalf of Mother Earth. She is unquestionably one of the greatest science writers and prescient thinkers America has ever had.
Her studies set off a maelstrom of questions about powerful lobby groups and the right of every citizen to know the dangers of government-related programs and permissions that affect our water and all life on our planet.
What onus do we have to fight for our shared planet and to fight interests that reap short-term financial gains that compromise the long-term sustainability and protection of our earth?
Rachel Carson was awarded the Audubon Medal before her death in 1964, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, posthumously in 1980. She’s been featured on a postage stamp and inducted into various women’s halls of fame. She is also memorialized in park, school and street named after her. But what I will respect and admire most about Rachel is her fearless pursuit of the truth and her determination to do what is best for all living aspects of our planet in the midst of great challenges. In the words of Albert Einstein,
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”