Daily News Archive
From May 26, 2006                                                                                                        

Remembering Rachel Carson
(Beyond Pesticides, May 26, 2006)
May 27th marks what would have been Rachel Carson’s 99th birthday. What Rachel Carson noted 44 years ago in Silent Spring holds true today:

"...we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can only do so when in full possession of the facts." (Silent Spring, 1962)

The pesticide-use rate continues to rise not only in our own country but all over the world. When Rachel Carson first called attention to the problem in 1962 the U.S. total of pesticide production and use was 637,666,000 pounds.(active ingredients only). Most recent market estimates indicate U.S use at over 1.2 billion pounds (figures do not include wood preservatives, specialty biocides or chlorine hypochlorites). World pesticide amount used exceeded 5.0 billion pounds in 2000 and 2001. Herbicides accounted for the largest portion of total use, followed by other pesticide use, insecticide use, and fungicide use.

ScottsMiracle-Gro, the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer products for lawn and garden care, announced $2.3 billion in worldwide sales.

Reading Silent Spring today is a chilling experience. While she focused on wildlife impacts, Rachel Carson also raised so many of the human health concerns and modes of action of pesticides that scientists are confirming today. Not only did she lay out an eloquent explanation of the possible connection between pesticides in use then and cancer, she also described a connection with sterility, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, hormonal imbalances, and reproductive effects. She spoke of modes of action of chemicals such as chemicals passing the placental barrier and affecting unborn children. She noted the increase in environmentally-related diseases, and warned of combined and synergistic effects, and indirect carcinogenisis. She also made it clear that safer and more effective nonchemical controls were widely available.

Each decade since Silent Spring has brought a new generation of pesticides that manufacturers claim are safer only to find newer health and ecological impacts of concern. The increase in environmentally-related diseases and impacts on vulnerable populations is alarming.

However the news is not all bad, the total world pesticide amount used decreased in 2001 for all pesticide types. The increasing abundance of organic farms, produce and landscaping products, pesticide-free landscapes, and buildings managed with integrated pest management is testimony to progress. But we need to be more persistent than ever.

Rachel Carson spoke of another way, “ We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth super highway on which we progress with great speed, but at the end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one “less traveled by” – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.

The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, after having endured much, we have at last asserted our 'right to know,' and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us." (Silent Spring, 1962)

On what would have been her 99th birthday, we honor the memory of Rachel Carson and what she stood for. She was a hero who sounded the alarm that awakened the nation and the world to daily pesticide poisoning and contamination. We at Beyond Pesticides are privileged to be working with heroes across the nation, who continue to sound the alarm, and work proactively to reduce senseless pesticide exposures in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. Sincerely, Beyond Pesticides Staff.