Rachel Carson: 1st Place – Anika Hurst, Lancaster Mennonite School

“ Man’s attitude towards nature today is critically important simply because we have acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature.”
~Rachel Carson
As found in Moyers, 2007

Imagine a day when no sounds come from the trees in the woods. No frogs croaked in the marsh and no crickets chirped in the fields. Everything is silent. Without influential people like Rachel Carson, this could be a reality.

Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1906 in Springdale PA. From a young age Carson wanted to be a writer. Rachel and her mother loved to learn about nature. They spent lots of time working with literature as well.

About 32 years after her birth, World War II started. Malaria was a prevalent disease that was killing soldiers. The chemical industries came up with a pesticide to kill the mosquitoes that carried Malaria. This pesticide was called Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). It was considered a wonder chemical because it also worked well on crops. DDT was commonly applied in fields, streams, city streets, homes, and on people! It was even put in Pianos, couches, door frames, beds carpets, at picnic areas and public pools. If that wasen’t bad enough vehicles called spray trucks came down the street and sprayed DDT all along the roads. People were told to go inside for a moment and wait until it passed by then everything was all clear to go back outside. The Public Health Department gave demonstrations to show people that DDT was safe. They sprayed it in buildings. Nobody could stop them from spraying it.

Once Rachel observed a decline in the peregrine falcon and bald eagle population, she began to investigate to see if the new “wonder Chemical” had anything to do with it. Turns out it did. DDT worked it’s way up the food chain and eventually made it up to the raptors. It was stored in the fatty tissue of the bird. When a bird went to incubate his/her eggs they would crush under the weight of the bird resulting in no more babies. Eagles and falcons were not the only birds that were affected by DDT. Brown pelicans, white pelicans, sparrows, and ospreys were also affected. By 1964 almost all of the peregrine falcons were no longer east of the Mississippi River.

Fish were also being harmed. Rachel Carson did a study of an estuary near Long Island Sound. The water only held 0.000003 PPM (Parts Per Million) of DDT. Zooplankton consumed .4 PPM. By the time it reached the birds of Prey, they had 25 PPM of DDT in their systems.

Around 1958 a plane sprayed DDT all over a bird sanctuary in Massachusetts. A lot of the birds that were sprayed showed the symptoms of DDT poisoning. Olga Owens Huckins who was working there sent a letter to Rachel in January of 1958 explaining her situation and concerns about DDT. This letter is what inspired Rachel to combine her love for nature with her ability to write to form the book Silent Spring.

Silent Spring was published in 1962 and first fully printed on September 27, 1962. At first, many people were angry at Rachel because she was ruining their newest discovery. They spent thousands of dollars to try to discredit her and Silent Spring. However, the act backfired and made her and Silent Spring more popular.

Dr. Paige Nickelson, from water pollution and Public Health Services, was interviewed by CBS and could not answer questions that had to do with how long the pesticide stayed in the water or how much of the water was contaminated with it. President John F. Kennedy was also asked if he knew the risks to DDT. He answered “yes.”

In 1957, Rachel Carson was diagnosed with cancer. She often wore a wig to meetings or when she was interviewed on television. Sadly, Rachel Carson died in Silver Springs, Maryland on April 14, 1964. Finally, by 1972 DDT was banned in the USA by EPA chairman William D Ruckelshaus.

“It was a spring without voices on the mornings that once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and scores of other bird voices there was no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”
~Silent Spring, 1962
Rachel Carson (Ehrlich, Dobkin, Wheye, 1988)
Thanks to Rachel Carson this never came to be.


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