Friday, January 20, 2006

DDT -Silent Spring Revisited

Few books still stir controversy after more than 40 years in print like Silent Spring by the late Rachael Carson. First published in 1962, Silent Spring is credited with starting the environmental movement by alerting the public to the danger of chemical pesticides, especially DDT. Perhaps Oprah should recommend this one to her viewers. What amazes me even more than the meticulously documented and overwhelming argument against DDT she makes is the ongoing desperate attempts by big business to find any fault with it.

One author laments the loss of life in Third World countries by disease carrying insects as reason enough to pollute the global food chain .

Some draw ridiculous conclusions by picking at minor details, (is 3.4% increased mortality statistically significant?), in cited research studies while ignoring the larger picture .

Even ABC's John Stossel was duped into believing the danger of DDT is a myth by citing recent simplified studies as justification to resume the widespread use of DDT.

Keep your focus on the most important facts. DDT, DDE, and related chlorinated or fluorinated hydrocarbons are extremely persistent substances that have a devastating impact upon nature and the food chain. The book clearly shows the danger of even small amounts (3 ppm) of DDT being used for small insect control. Larger organisms in the food chain accumulate geometrically higher concentrations of DDT in their fat cells.

In a California lake, fish that ate smaller fish that fed on algae with DDT retain hundreds of parts per million when the initial introduction of DDT into the environment was at minimal levels considered safe. People eating those fish repeatedly would accumulate toxic levels very quickly and pass it on to subsequent offspring. This type of contamination is as insidious as radiation and can be just as devastatng.

The entire class of chlorinated hydrocarbons has proved to be dangerous. Another related chemical variation [4 chlorines replacing hydrogen atoms around carbon] produces carbon tetrachloride, once commonly used as a cleaning solvent but found to be very carcinogenic. Chlordane, a compound similar to DDT, was once sprayed under all home sites as a permanent pesticide lasting up to 40 years, but banned in 1989 because it pollutes ground water over wide areas. The effects of related chemical structures except with fluorine replacing chlorine is well documented as destroying earth's protective ozone layer that shields us all from ultraviolet solar radiation. These chloro and fluoro carbons, used in air conditioning and as spray propellants have been banned worldwide as well.

Don't let self-serving special interests cloud the facts. Chemicals have many uses, but often create more problems than they cure. Americans, more than any other culture have used and abused chemicals, especially hydrocarbons, to both enhance and pollute our lives and our environment.

It is clear that the widespread use of powerful chemicals has often appeared beneficial at first but frequently turns out to have the opposite long term result. Chlorinated hydrocarbons stand out as a group of chemicals always having persistent and cumulative effects that make them far more dangerous than they appear to be.

We have much to learn about existing in harmony with nature. If you haven't read Silent Spring, you should read it carefully and take it's basic message to heart.