Silent Spring

Rachel Carson and Silent Spring
• “If I had influence with the good fairy who
is supposed to preside over the
christening of all children, I should ask that
her gift to each child in the world be a
sense of wonder so indestructible that it
would last throughout life.”
• “Only within the moment of time represented by the
present century has one species – man – acquired
significant power to alter the nature of his world.”
• “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find
reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
• “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the
beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or
weary of life.”
Rachel Carson Biography
• Born, May 27, 1907, Springdale PA
• Educated at Pennsylvania Women’s
College, Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins
• Employment at marine Biological
Laboratory, Woods hole, MA
• Bureau of Fisheries
• Carson first focused on DDT in 1957. A
friend, living in Duxbury,MA, had
complained about a dramatic drop in bird
population perhaps due to repeated aerial
• Discovered in 1874 by Zeidler
• Rediscovered in 1939 by Dr. Paul Müller –
Nobel Prize in 1948
• DDT killed flies, aphids, mosquitoes,
Colorado potato beetles
• Used during WWII to de-louse refugees in
• U.S. Army issued 10% DDT in tins to
1955 Global Malarial Eradication
• Advocated the widespread use of DDT
and anti-malarial drugs to eliminate the
parasite in humans
• By 1967 malaria was eradicated from all
developed countries
• Peak use of DDT was in 1962 when 80
million kilograms were used
Significance of Silent Spring
• A Modern Classic – Simple yet Powerful;
Reflective of the Idea that Disciplinary
Boundaries Rarely Exist in the Real World.
• The Importance of the Individual in History.
• Timing Must Be Right! – Context is Crucial To
Understanding this Book.
• However – Why Are Environmental Issues Given
High Priority in Rhetoric and much Lower Reality
in Real Life?
Carson’s Key Points
• DDT is Persistent - - Very Stable, Remains in the
Environment for a Long Time
• DDT Enters the Food Chain and Accumulates
• Insect Species Develop Genetic Resistance to
• Organic materials from the Environment can
Cause Cancer
• Biological Rather than Chemical Methods should
be Employed When Feasible
“Silent Spring Becomes A Noisy
• Opposition From Chemical Firms – Monsanto
and Velsicol; Agricultural Chemical
manufacturers Association
• Review by William Darby in Chemical and
Engineering News, “Silence, Miss Carson”
• Opposition from Entomologists at Land Grant
• Opposition from those who saw the book as a
powerful force in undermining the idea that
science and technology mean progress
Carson on CBS Reports, April,
• “It is the public that is being asked to
assume risks that the insect controllers
calculate. The public mist decide whether
it wishes to continue the present road, and
it can only do so when in full possession of
the facts.”
Victor Yannacone and DDT: Fish
Kill at Yaphank Pond
• The Rise of Toxic Tort law – 1967: Suit
against Suffolk County Mosquito Control
• Charles Wurster, Art Cooley, and thin
osprey egg shells on Long Island
• A joining together to form the
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), 1967
• DDT Banned in U.S. in 1971
Context: 1959 Aminotriazole
Cranberry Scare
Context: Thalidomide
Frances Kelsey at the FDA
Kelsey – 1962 President’s
Distinguished Civilian Service
Context – Atomic Testing