The work Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is one of the most important works of the Twentieth Century. In the work, the author discusses how the use of chemicals in the environment leads to significant issues associated with the health and well-being of humans and animals. The book was published in 1962 and questioned the safety of massive amounts of spraying of various chemicals, such as DDT, a potent pesticide frequently used in the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, individuals began to recognize the connections between the environment and health. This also led to the birth of the environmental movement.
The main points in the book include the overriding effects that human actions have on the biodiversity and health of the environment. The book points out that the majority of these are negative effects. Humans had begun to use multiple chemicals in a wide variety of manufacturing aspects without questioning how these would impact the health and well-being of other animals. The only goal was increase the amount of wealth that humans could obtain from the earth; it gave no thought to the long-term impact of human actions.
An important part of the book discusses bioaccumulation. This refers to how various chemicals accumulate in the environment. Often, this occurs through the food chain. As larger and larger predators eat animals down the food chain, the individual animal bioaccumulates the toxins that have been spread throughout the environment. This is particularly true for DDT, which has now been banned throughout most of the world. It is allowed in limited applications to prevent the transmission of malaria. In the famous section, Carson describes how bird eggs become exceptionally fragile due to these chemicals and the damage it causes to the organism (National Resources Defense Council, 2014).
There are a number of public health implications that have been addressed since the publication of the book. Groups and the government are now more aware of the bioaccumulation of various types of chemicals. They have also become more aware of how these chemicals, once in the environment, often cannot be contained. They travel through the soil into groundwater. They also do not degrade easily; rather they must be cleaned up. This is an expensive option that results in the accumulation of hazardous materials and wastes. These then must also be destroyed in an environmentally safe manner.
In the last fifty years, since the publication of this book, tremendous research has occurred as a result of it. Occupational and environmental health are now two important areas of study in public health. It also lead to the creation of the environmental movement (Griswold, 2012). This movement became part of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. In 1970, the first Earth Day was held to call attention to the massive amount of waste generated by humans. In the years since, the environmental movement has moved mainstream and is now an acceptable part of daily life. Daily recycling programs are an indication of its movement to the mainstream world.
Since this time in history, humans have begun to confront a number of environmental issues, such as toxic communities. In recent years, individuals and groups have begun to question the environmental and health impact of the various chemicals that are in the human food. For instance, endocrine-disruptive chemicals (EDCs) are often found in foods, particularly in canned foods. These EDCs mimic estrogen in the body. It is believed that these are one of the possible causes of the obesity epidemic that has occurred in the recent decades. There is even a new term for these chemicals and the effect they have on the body: obesogens.
It is also important to recognize that these chemicals impact the environment as well. For years, it was considered “safe” to flush expired and unused medications down the toilet. It was actually encouraged because they would not be a risk to children and to pets. However, it has been discovered that all of the medications in the water supply have a damaging impact on the biodiversity of the planet. Once in the water supply, they are never filtered out. Many of them are antibiotics which then lead to the development of resistant strains of bacteria. These resistant bacteria are a problem for the ecosystem as well as humans. Furthermore, fire retardant sprays still linger in the environment. These also are a potential source of cancer for humans and animals alike (Silent Spring Institute, n.d.).
Probably the biggest reminder of the dangers that humans have created for the environment and for themselves was 9/11. On this tragic date, the World Trade Center towers collapsed, creating a massive dust cloud throughout the city of New York. Many of the chemicals were carcinogenic, such as asbestos. The buildings were not “green” buildings because they were built before this became the norm. Since this happened, the news covers repeat stories about individuals from the area developing cancer, sarcoidosis and other horrible conditions. This is just the biggest reminder for Americans about the chemicals that we have placed in the environment. The chemicals are all around us, in our daily lives. The environment and humans are paying the price for this.
The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson led to the birth of the environmental movement. She questioned the safety of chemicals that were routinely placed in the environment. The most famous cause of these chemicals was the spraying of DDT as a pesticide. She was the first person to point out the dangers of the chemical, and the results of this spraying. She also introduced the conception of bioaccumulation. This is, of course, still with us in the environment. Unfortunately, all of the damage cannot be undone.
- Griswold, E. (2012, September 12). How Silent Spring lead to the creation of the environmental movement. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/magazine/how-silent-spring-ignited-the- environmental-movement.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- National Resources Defense Council. (2014). Silent Spring. Retrieved from: www.nrdc.org/health/…/hcarson.asp
- Silent Spring Institute. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved from: http://www.silentspring.org/