The EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region used the 50th anniversary of Carson’s “groundbreaking” book to demonstrate “how one person can make a difference, holding an event at the author’s recently renovated childhood home.
“Rachel Carson's 1962 book, which focused on what she saw as the widespread and detrimental use of pesticides, is credited as being the catalyst for the modern environmental movement and helping to lead to the creation of the EPA in 1970,” read an EPA press release last Thursday.
The agency explained how during its prevention week it hosted a tour for high school students of the “Rachel Carson Homestead,” in Springdale, Pa.
“EPA's events in the Pittsburgh area centered on how one person can make a difference, Carson's pioneering work and its lasting change,” the press release said.
Among the changes Carson’s book brought about was the formation of the EPA and the banning of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane—commonly known as DDT—an insecticide introduced in the 1940s that was very successful in repelling malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
The Swiss Chemist Paul Hermann Müller was even awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 for its discovery, after its widespread production in Europe and America during World War II.
DDT “proved to be of enormous value in combating typhus and malaria - malaria was, in fact, completely eradicated from many island areas,” according to the Nobel Prize website.
But Carson, an ecologist born in 1907, argued that the pesticide was having a harmful effect on the environment, and on birds in particular, writing, “Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song."
“Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long term effects of misusing pesticides,” explains the Rachel Carson Homestead. “In Silent Spring (1962) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.”
The EPA banned DDT in 1972, and the agency cites Carson’s work as the driving force behind the decision.
“Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring in 1962 stimulated widespread public concern over the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls,” states an EPA fact sheet.
However, the EPA said its cancellation of DDT was based on studies of “potential” human health risks and only a “suspected” causal relationship between exposure to the pesticide and reproductive effects.
To this day, the EPA only classifies DDT as a “probable human carcinogen” by U.S. and international authorities.
There were an estimated 110 to 115 million cases when Müller introduced DDT, thereafter leading to the eradication of the disease in the 1960s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Malaria cases then rose to 7.2 million in 1976.
There were 216 million cases of malaria in 2010 alone, according to the WHO, resulting in an estimated 655,000 deaths, 91 percent of which were in Africa.
"With the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, average citizens grasped, maybe for the first time, how their choices could harm the environment in which they live," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “Each of us is an engine of change in the choices we make, what we buy and how we live."
The EPA facilitated a guided tour of the Carson home, which is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, followed by a “pollution prevention lesson” for 150 9th and 10th graders from an area high school.
The homestead website states, “Rachel Carson rises to a heroic stature because her conscience called for action, not only words.”