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Archive for the ‘Silent Spring’ Category

The Original Common Core: Why Aren’t We Teaching Rachel Carson in Schools?

by Robert Shetterly

August 08, 2014

by Common Dreams

This is what you shall do: love the earth and the sun and the animals… — Walt Whitman

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, but I suspect for most people reading it today the information would be fresh, enlightening, and alarming. I can say that with some confidence because though I had read the book many years ago, have been an activist on many environmental causes that build on Carson’s work, keep up to date on ecological issues, and painted her portrait, I was shocked when I read her book. Don’t take my word for it. Go to your library and get a copy, read it on some electronic device, buy it used, but read it!

The shock arises form a number of factors. By 1962 she knew an enormous amount about the workings of chemicals and pesticides at micro and macro levels; she could describe the potent mechanisms that made them into carcinogens; it was already clear to her—to science—that most pesticides were counter-productive: Insects adapted to them and became resistant very quickly. More and stronger pesticides were always needed, and the poisons persisted in the environment, useless to kill pests, but incredibly potent in destroying the health and fate of many other species—including humans. In fact, nature did a better job of handling insect predation than chemicals. Carson accepted that pesticides were occasionally necessary but only with extreme care.

However, at the core of my response to Silent Spring are a profound sense of an opportunity missed and a profound failure of education. Think for a moment about the term “common core” that is used to describe the basic goal of education today. What is the core that all living things share in common? It’s the reality of nature, this Earth, the laws of nature, our connections in the biological web to all living species, our common evolution and destiny, our sacred duty to pass on a healthy environment. Any system of education for all children must teach that common core—from nursery school on. If we fail to teach that reality, we have failed as educators. Period. Our common core is not math and reading and critical thinking. Those are important skills. I’m sure the CEOs of Monsanto, Dow, and Exxon are critical thinkers. Our common core is our integral relationship to nature. First teach reality, then the skills needed to live in harmony with it. Then find a unique passion for learning and living in every child. Then teach that all economies must adhere to nature’s laws—not the other way around.

I wish that after 1962, every school in this country had started teaching the science and values of Rachel Carson’s book. Rachel Carson would have agreed with Russell Libby, a great advocate of local and organic farming from Maine who said, “If contamination is the price of modern society, then modern society has failed us.” She put it this way: “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides’, but ‘biocides.’”

By the third grade every kid in this country should know what Rachel Carson meant by: “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.” We should all know what she meant when she said, “…we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look around and see what other course is open to us.” And everyone should understand that cancer is an environmental disease. It’s epidemic because of the pollutants and poisons we have put in the environment. To continue to treat the symptoms —trying to find cures—rather than confronting the causes, serves the profits of the medical and drug and chemical industries. By the 5th grade, we should understand the function of the liver and what happens to it when overtaxed by chemical pollutants. We should know that the leading cause of death in children is cancer.

Why don’t we teach our kids these things? Aren’t they supposed to learn facts that will make their lives better and healthier? And the values to implement them? Is Rachel Carson’s work not taught because she is too political? Why are facts about the essentials of biology and ecology political? Should Rachel Carson be taught as evolution and climate change are taught in many schools — one of several possible ways to think about “facts?”

Listen up students, it just could be that God put elements in nature so we could recombine them into malathion and dieldrin. Praise God. He put mountains over coal so we could have fun blowing them up to get it. Hallelujah! He created all living species in 6 days. Awesome! And He promised, if we would burn enough fossil fuel, a nice warm blanket of carbon dioxide to tuck us under at night. Thank You, God.

What a gift Rachel Carson gave us! What a tour de force to have done all that research. She collected scientific data from all over the world and had the temerity to write it all down when the US was in thrall to the chemical companies. With great clarity that anyone can understand—unusual for a scientist—she explains the biological mechanism of chemically induced mutations. She explains how poisons kill, how toxins interrupt the reproductive process of many species and why cancers have different gestation periods. And her science is woven into an ecologically moral philosophy.

And after discussing the atomic structure of chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT is one), she describes the death throes of robins and squirrels as their collateral damage. The deaths she witnessed happened in the 1950s, but her writing is so vivid, so present, that I found myself outraged and grieving for each one. What she did not know yet, but was implicitly predicting, was the mass extinction of species that is taking place now.

People often date the beginning of the modern environmental movement from the publication of Silent Spring. The reaction to the book is credited with the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. And Earth Day. But those outcomes have done little to stem the flood of over 80,000 chemicals in our environment now, 98% of them untested for human and ecological health. Rachel Carson is our common core. Our survival. Our kids need to be growing up with a firm ethic that would stem this flood of chemicals no matter how much money is involved.

Rachel Carson said, “The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to call itself civilized.”

Do we have the right to call ourselves civilized because of our wealth and power and ingenuity, or only when we act with the wisdom our children and grandchildren can emulate for generations, treating the environment and their bodies with the care they deserve?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

To access the original article click on the link below

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/08/08/original-common-core-why-arent-we-teaching-rachel-carson-schools

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Songbirds Dying From DDT in Michigan Yards

Superfund site blamed

by Brian Bienkowski

ST. LOUIS, Mich. – Jim Hall was mowing the town’s baseball diamond when he felt a little bump underneath him. “And there it was, a dead robin,” he said.

Just last week, he found another one. “Something is going on here,” said Hall, who has lived in this mid-Michigan town of 7,000 for 50 years.

Two dead birds may not seem like much. But for this town, it’s a worrisome legacy left behind by a chemical plant-turned-Superfund site.

After residents complained for years about dead birds in their yards, 22 American robins, six European starlings and one bluebird were collected for testing.

The results, revealed last week: The neighborhood’s songbirds are being poisoned by DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the United States more than 40 years ago. Lethal concentrations were found in the birds’ brains, as well as in the worms they eat.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. When people told me about it I didn’t believe it. And then we ran these tests. These are some of the highest-ever recorded levels in wild birds,” said Matt Zwiernik, a Michigan State University assistant professor of environmental toxicology who led the testing.

The birds’ brains contained concentrations of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, from 155 to 1,043 parts per million, with an average of 552. “Thirty in the brain is the threshold for acute death,” Zwiernik said. “All the birds exceeded that by at least two- or three-fold, and many by much more than that.” Twelve of the 29 birds had brain lesions or liver abnormalities.

The culprit is a toxic mess left behind by Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly Michigan Chemical, which manufactured pesticides until 1963, a year after Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the hazards of DDT, especially for birds. Populations of bald eagles and other birds crashed when DDT thinned their eggs, killing their embryos. The pesticide, known for accumulating in food webs and persisting for decades in soil and river sediment, was banned in the United States in 1972.

The nine-block neighborhood has become a real-life example of Carson’s “Fable for Tomorrow” in Silent Spring. “It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh,” Carson wrote.

Velsicol is infamous for one of the worst chemical disasters in U.S. history: In 1973 a flame retardant compound they manufactured – polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs – was mixed up with a cattle feed supplement, which led to widespread contamination in Michigan. Thousands of cattle and other livestock were poisoned, about 500 farms were quarantined and people across Michigan were exposed to a chemical linked to cancer, reproduction problems and endocrine disruption.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took control of the site in 1982 and the plant was demolished in the mid-1990s, leaving behind three Superfund sites in the 3.5-square mile town.

EPA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the poisoned birds and the Superfund cleanup.

Of most concern is the 54-acre site that once contained Velsicol’s main plant, which backs up to the neighborhood where residents have found dead birds on their lawns.

“When he [Zwiernik] tells people about what we have going on here, people say ‘Really? That’s a 1960s problem,’ ” said Ed Lorenz, a professor at nearby Alma College and vice chair of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force, which represents the community. Hall is the chair of the task force.

While there is a long-term health study for residents who had been exposed to PBBs, no one is monitoring their exposure to DDT or looking for possible human health effects. Elsewhere, traces of the pesticide have been linked in some human studies to reproductive problems, including reduced fertility and altered sperm counts.

“There’s definitely concern about the plant, the plant site, health and the environment,” said St. Louis City Manager Robert McConkie. “But we’ve learned to live with it.”

The town’s median household income is 43 percent lower than the state’s. About 22 percent of its families live below the poverty line.

The birds apparently have been poisoned by eating worms living in contaminated soil near the old chemical plant. No studies have been conducted to see whether the DDT has contaminated any vegetables or fruits grown in yards.

Jane Keon, secretary of the task force, said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored their complaints about dead birds for years.

But Dan Rockafellow, the state agency’s project manager for the site, said it took time to collect enough bird samples to test.

“People would tell us they found dead birds all the time, but birds disappear quickly. Cats, raccoons, other animals get to them,” Rockafellow said. “They weren’t just lying around everywhere.”

Keon said that for two decades the EPA stayed only on the plant site, “as if the chain link fence would hold in the chemicals or something.”

State officials didn’t start testing people’s yards until 2006, when they found several yards highly contaminated with DDT and PBBs.

EPA contractors now are cleaning up 59 yards. (One homeowner refused the cleanup.) Next year the agency plans on adding another 37 yards outside of the nine-block area.

Most of the contamination is in the top six inches of the soil, probably from the chemicals drifting over from the plant, Rockafellow said. However, some yards have DDT and PBBs deeper in the soil, which could be due to Velsicol’s offer of free fill dirt to their neighbors decades ago.

The cleanup is driven by ecological risk, not risk to the homeowners, Rockafellow said. “This is because of the dead robins.”

When asked why it took so long to address the contaminated yards, Rockafellow said it came down to “knowing where the chemicals were. Once we did we fenced those areas off.” Those areas were cleaned up in the fall of 2012, he said, and that spurred “aggressive sampling in the neighborhood.”

Now the neighborhood is buzzing with trucks and workers. Clad in construction helmets and orange vests, workers contracted by the EPA tear up yards, remove dirt, fill it back in and lay new sod.

It isn’t the first time St. Louis wildlife has been contaminated. The Pine River’s contaminated sediment has resulted in a no-consumption advisory for all species of its fish. From 1998 to 2006, most of the Superfund site’s cleanup money – about $100 million – went toward cleaning up the river. After polluted mud was dredged up, preliminary testing has shown that DDT levels are declining in bass and carp downstream of the site, Rockafellow said.

However, DDT and PBBs remain in the river’s sediment and soil, he said. In addition, traces of a chemical that is a byproduct of DDT manufacturing, pCBSA, have been found in the city’s water system, so new water mains will tap into a nearby town’s water supply.

“Our first priority was water and the second priority is now getting the lawns cleaned up,” Rockafellow said.

The bird testing by the Michigan State researcher was largely unfunded, except for a small amount from the community task force. Zwiernik said the EPA and state need to determine if the cleanup actually stops birds from dropping dead.

“They have to have some kind of future monitoring program to test the remediation effort’s success. We’ve had a difficult time to get regulators to listen to that,” he said.

While birds in the rest of the region aren’t at risk, “the robins’ population in the nine-block area is decimated year over year,” he said.

Residents of the neighborhood go about their business of watering flowers and walking their dogs. “It’s sad because a lot of people here are losing some beautiful trees,” Keon said. She pointed to a large Victorian home with new, patchy sod. “The owner of that home said this was going to be his retirement home,” Keon said.

For Hall, leaving St. Louis is not an option. Pollution or not, this is home.

“It’s a nice place to raise your family, great community, people love and take care of each other,” Hall said. “If I ran away, I’d be running away from my responsibility to leave this place better for the next generation.”

By Brian Bienkowski
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

August 6, 2014

Health experts are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan state officials for their decades-long delays in cleanup of a Superfund site that is killing songbirds in yards, possibly leaving people at risk, too.

After years of complaints from residents, researchers recently reported that robins and other birds are dropping dead from DDT poisoning in the mid-Michigan town of St. Louis, which was contaminated by an old chemical plant.

“The more we know about DDT the more dangerous we find out it is for wildlife, yes, but humans, too,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the University at Albany – State University of New York’s School of Public Health and an expert in Superfund cleanups.

Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly Michigan Chemical, manufactured pesticides at the plant until 1963. DDT, known for accumulating in food webs and persisting for decades in soil and river sediment, was banned in the United States in 1972.

The dead robins and other songbirds tested last month at Michigan State University had some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in wild birds. They were contaminated by eating worms in the neighborhood’s soil.

The EPA has been in control of the Superfund site since 1982, and the residents and songbirds have been living with the highly-tainted soil in their yards for decades. This summer, EPA contractors are excavating contaminated soil from 59 yards in the town of 7,000 people. Another 37 yards will be cleaned up next year.

EPA and state officials are not conducting any testing to determine how highly exposed the residents are, or whether they are experiencing any health effects.

Carpenter said research elsewhere has linked DDT exposure to effects on fertility, immunity, hormones and brain development. Fetuses are particularly at risk. It also may induce asthma.

“Let’s say your backyard has DDT in it. If wind blows, and kicks up dust, you might [be exposed to] DDT. The sun shines, water evaporates, you might get a little DDT,” Carpenter said. “And who knows what other chemical exposure they’re getting from the site.”

Michele Marcus, an Emory University epidemiologist, said she and her team of health experts heard “shocking stories” when they visited the neighborhood near the dismantled chemical plant last December.

“We heard from several people in the neighborhood that back in the day [decades ago] on several occasions alarms would go off and the neighborhood would be covered in white powder,” Marcus said. “It would take the paint off of people’s cars. Imagine what it was doing to people.”

When asked why it took three decades to address contamination in people’s yards next to the plant, Thomas Alcamo, remedial project manager for the Superfund site, said “hindsight is 20-20.” He said there were some “obvious problems” with the initial cleanup but he maintained it was “not an oversight.”

“This was just a natural progression of the Superfund. It’s just a continual investigation of the plant site itself,” Alcamo said. “Then we looked at the [Pine] river and focused efforts there. Then the state looked at residential areas.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality started sampling some yards in a nine-block area near the plant in 2006, after complaints from residents. Orange fences were installed around heavily contaminated areas. The EPA cleaned up those yards in 2012, Alcamo said. Further sampling, however, found that nearly the entire neighborhood needs cleanup so more excavations began this summer.

Jonathan Chevrier, an epidemiologist at McGill University, said research suggests that fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to DDT. The major worry is brain development in the womb, he said. “Research shows those with prenatal exposure scored lower on neurodevelopmental scales,” which can indicate lower IQs, he said.

There also is evidence that DDT is linked to low birth weights. In addition, a study last month found female mice exposed as a fetus were more likely to have diabetes and obesity later in life.

“The way it kills insects is by affecting the nervous system. It induces a rapid firing of neurons, exhausts them, and then the insect is killed,” Chevrier said. “It’s very plausible that it would attack humans’ nervous systems in the same way.” DDT also may disrupt thyroid hormones, which are critical for brain development, he said.

Nevertheless, EPA officials said St. Louis residents are not in danger. Alcamo said the levels in the soil are not high enough to pose an immediate risk to people.

“This [cleanup] is all for long-term risk so there’s no one that needs to leave during cleanup activities,” he said.

The EPA has not issued recommendations on gardening or other activities while the yards are cleaned up, other than keeping people away from the removed dirt. The agency is monitoring air and controlling dust, Alcamo said. “As long as they wash vegetables,” they should be fine because DDT doesn’t uptake into plants, he said.

However studies have found that some plants can take up DDT, including pumpkin and zucchini and some corn.

Health experts disputed Alcamo’s contention that the DDT levels are not high enough to pose a risk to people. There is no such thing as a level of DDT that “we don’t need to worry about,” Carpenter said.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a clear health threshold,” Chevrier added. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but, if there is, scientists haven’t found it.”

Velsicol is infamous for one of the worst chemical disasters in U.S. history: In 1973 its flame retardant compound – polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs – was mixed up with a cattle feed supplement, which led to widespread contamination in Michigan.

Marcus and her colleagues are studying people exposed during the PBB mix-up. They also have launched a new study to examine the levels of PBB, DDT and other chemicals in former Velsicol workers and their families.

Some of the chemical workers in Marcus’ study live adjacent to the plant, but the study does not cover the entire contaminated neighborhood.

Alcamo said community health studies are “outside the scope” of what the EPA does.

Most of the contamination is in the top six inches of the soil, probably from the chemicals drifting over from the plant, but some yards have DDT as deep as four feet, according to an EPA report from April.

All 59 houses tested had at least one soil sample that contained more than 4.1 parts per million of DDT that the EPA set as a cleanup standard. Two-thirds of the yards had at least one sample with more than double the 4.1 parts per million guideline.

The EPA uses a DDT cleanup standard of 5 parts per million based on studies to protect wildlife health, Alcamo said.

“We are using an excavation level of 4.1 ppm DDT to ensure that we are 95 percent confident that we are meeting the 5 ppm number,” he said.

Michigan’s cleanup criteria, based on protecting people from exposure, is 57 ppm for DDT. One home had levels more than twice that amount –140 parts per million in the top six inches of soil.

Alcamo said the EPA is now over-excavating many yards to be certain of cleanup. Contractors will remove about 30,000 tons of contaminated soil this summer.

Alcamo said the EPA has made “great progress,” including a Pine River cleanup. There’s been a “98 percent reduction in fish tissue concentrations of DDT,” he said.

In addition, the EPA is providing 90 percent of the funding to overhaul St. Louis’ drinking water supply because low levels of a DDT byproduct, pCBSA, have been found in the city’s water system.

But Gary Smith, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, said the EPA failed St. Louis on the first round of cleanup, and it cannot happen again.

“We just want the doggone neighborhood cleaned up so we can put an end to this,” said Smith, 63, who is treasurer of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. “We don’t want to be called a toxic town. We want people to say ‘hey, they cleaned it up.’

“Let’s go the extra mile and not have this be an embarrassment for the EPA again,” he said. “’We have no money’ may be true, but it’s a poor excuse.”

Carpenter said it’s unfortunate that people were probably exposed to DDT for many years.

“The EPA is simply overwhelmed with hazardous sites,” Carpenter said.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.

Follow Brian Bienkowski on Twitter.

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2014/aug/michigan-ddt-cleanup

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Excerpt regarding 2,4-D in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

‎People spraying their lawns with 2,4-D and becoming wet with spray have occasionally developed severe neuritis and even paralysis…It has been shown experimentally to disturb the basic physiological processes of respiration in the cell, and to imitate X-rays in damaging the chromosomes. page 76

Another curious effect of 2,4-D has important effects for livestock, wildlife, and apparently for men as well. Experiments carried out about a decade ago showed that after treatment with this chemical there is a sharp increase in the nitrate content of corn and sugar beets. The same effect was suspected in sorghum, sunflower, spiderwort, lambs quarters, pigweed, and smartweed. Some of these are normally ignored by cattle, but are eaten with relish after treatment with 2,4-D. A number of deaths among cattle have been traced to sprayed weeds according to some agricultural specialists. The danger lies in the increase in nitrates, for the peculiar physiology of the ruminant at once poses a critical problem. Most such animals have a digestive system of extraordinary complexity, including a stomach divided into four chambers. The digestion of cellulose is accomplished through the action of microorganisms (rumen bacteria) in one of the chambers. When the animal feeds on vegetation containing abnormally high level of nitrates, the microorganisms in the rumen act on the nitrates to change them into highly toxic nitrites. Thereafter a fatal chain of events ensues: the nitrites act on the blood pigment to form a chocolate-brown substance in which the oxygen is so firmly held that it cannot take part in respiration, hence oxygen in not transferred from the lungs to the tissues. Death occurs within a few hours from anoxia, or lack of oxygen. The various reports of livestock losses after grazing on certain weeds treated with 2,4-D therefore have a logical explanation. The same danger exists for wild animals belonging to the group of ruminants, such as deer, antelope, sheep, and goats.

Although various factors (such as exceptionally dry weather) can cause an increase in nitrate content, the effect of the soaring sales and applications of 2,4-D cannot be ignored. The situation was considered important enough by the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station to justify a warning in 1957 that “plants killed by 2,4-D may contain large amounts of nitrate.” The hazard extends to human beings as well as animals and may help to explain the recent mysterious increase in “silo deaths.” When corn, oats, or sorghum containing large amounts of of nitrates are ensiled they release poisonous nitrogen gases, creating a deadly hazard to anyone entering the silo. Only a few breaths of one of these gases can cause a diffuse chemical pneumonia. In a series of such cases studied by the University of Minnesota Medical School all but one terminated fatally. pages 77 – 78

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Liver Functioning & Chemical Synergies

An Excerpt from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

One of the most significant facts about the chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides is their effect on the liver. Of all the organs in the body the liver is most extraordinary. In its versatility and in the indispensable nature of its functions it has no equal. It presides over so many vital activities that even the slightest damage is fraught with serious consequences. Not only does it provide bile for the digestion of fats, but because of its location and the special circulatory pathways that converge upon it the liver receives blood directly from the digestive tract and is deeply involved in the metabolism of all the principal foodstuffs. It stores sugar in the form of glycogen and releases it as glucose in carefully measured quantities to keep the blood sugar at a normal level. It builds body proteins, including some essential elements of blood plasma concerned with blood-clotting. It maintains cholesterol at its proper level in the blood plasma, and inactivates the male and female hormones when they reach excessive levels. It is a storehouse of many vitamins, some of which in turn contribute to its own proper functioning.

Without a normally functioning liver the body would be disarmed–defenseless against the great variety of poisons that continually invade it. Some of these are normal by-products of metabolism, which the liver swiftly and efficiently makes harmless by withdrawing their nitrogen. But poisons that have no normal place in the body may also be detoxified. The “harmless” insecticides malathion and methoxychlor are less poisonous than their relatives only because a liver enzyme deals with them, altering their molecules in such a way that their capacity for harm is lessened. In similar ways the liver deals with the majority of the toxic materials to which we are exposed.

Our line of defense against invading poisons or poisons from within is now weakened and crumbling. A liver damaged by pesticides is not only incapable of protecting us from poisons, the whole range of its activities may be interfered with. Not only are the consequences far-reaching, but because of their variety and the fact that they may not immediately appear they may not be attributed to their true cause.

In connection with the nearly universal use of insecticides that are liver poisons, it is interesting to note the sharp rise in hepatitis that began during the 1950’s and is continuing a fluctuating climb. Cirrhosis also is said to be increasing. While it is admittedly difficult, in dealing with human beings rather than laboratory animals, to “prove” that cause A produces effect B, plain common sense suggests that the relation between a soaring rate of liver disease and the prevalence of liver poisons in the environment is no coincidence. Whether or not the chlorinated hydrocarbons are the primary cause, it seems hardly sensible under the circumstances to expose ourselves to poisons that have a proven ability to damage the liver and so presumably to make it less resistant to disease.

Both major types of insecticides, the chlorinated hydrocarbons and the organic phosphates, directly affect the nervous system, although in somewhat different ways. This has been made clear by an infinite number of experiments on animals and by observations on human subjects as well. As for DDT, the first of the new organic insecticides to be widely used, its action is primarily on the central nervous system of man; the cerebellum and the higher motor cortex are thought to be the areas chiefly affected. Abnormal sensations as of prickling, burning, or itching, as well as tremors or even convulsions may follow exposure to appreciable amounts, according to a standard textbook of toxicology.

There is interaction even between the two major groups of insecticides usually thought to be completely distinct in their action. The power of the organic phosphates, those poisoners of the nerve-protective enzyme cholinesterase, may become greater if the body has first been exposed to a chlorinated hydrocarbon which injures the liver. This is because, when liver function is disturbed, the cholinesterase level drops below normal. The added depressive effect of the organic phosphate may then be enough to precipitate acute symptoms. And as we have seen, pairs of the organic phosphates themselves may interact in such a way as to increase their toxicity a hundredfold. Or the organic phosphates may interact with various drugs, or with synthetic materials, food additives–who can say what else of the infinite number of man-made substances that now pervade our world.

The effect of a chemical of supposedly innocuous nature can be drastically changed by the action of another; one of the best examples is a close relative of DDT called methoxychlor (Actually, methoxychlor may not be as free from dangerous qualities as it is generally said to be, for recent work on experimental animals shows a direct action on the uterus and a blocking effect on some of the powerful pituitary hormones–reminding us again that these are chemicals with enormous biological effect. Other work shows that methoxychlor has a potential ability to damage the kidneys.) Because it is not stored to any great extent when given alone, we are told that methoxychlor is a safe chemical. But this is not necessarily true. If the liver has been damaged by another agent, methoxychlor is stored in the body at 100 times its normal rate, and will then imitate the effects of DDT with long-lasting effects on the nervous system. Yet the liver damage that brings this about might be so slight as to pass unnoticed. It might have been the result of any number of commonplace situations–using another insecticide, using a cleaning fluid containing carbon tetrachloride, or taking one of the so-called tranquilizing drugs, a number (but not all) of which are chlorinated hydrocarbons and possess power to damage the liver.

Damage to the central nervous system is not confined to acute poisoning; there may also be delayed effects from exposure. Long-lasting damage to brain or nerves has been reported for methoxychlor and others. Dieldrin, besides its immediate consequences, can have long delayed effects ranging from “loss of memory, insomnia, and nightmares to mania.” Lindane, according to medical findings is stored in significant amounts in the brain and functioning liver tissue may induce “profound and long lasting effects on the central nervous system.” Yet this chemical, a form of benzene hexachloride, is much used in vaporizers, devices that pour a stream of volatilized insecticide into homes, offices, restaurants.

The organic phosphates, usually considered only in relation to their more violent manifestations in acute poisoning, also have the power to produce lasting physical damage to nerve tissues and, according to recent findings, to induce mental disorders. Various cases of delayed paralysis have followed use of one or another of these insecticides. A bizarre happening in the United States during the prohibition era about 1930 was an omen of things to come. It was caused not by an insecticide but by a substance belonging chemically to the same group as the organic phosphate insecticides. During that period some medicinal substances were being pressed into service as substitutes for liquor, being exempt from the prohibition law. One of these was Jamaica ginger. But the United States Pharmacopia product was expensive, and bootleggers conceived the idea of making a substitute Jamaica ginger. They succeeded so well that their spurious product responded to the appropriate chemical tests and deceived the government chemists. To give their false ginger the necessary tang they introduced a chemical known as triorthocresyl phosphate. This chemical, like parathion and its relatives, destroys the protective enzyme cholinesterase. As a consequence of drinking the bootleggers’ product some 15,000 people developed a permanently crippling type of paralysis of the leg muscles, a condition now called “ginger paralysis.” The paralysis was accompanied by destruction of nerve sheaths and by degeneration of the cells of the anterior horns of the spinal chord.

About two decades later various other organic phosphates came into use as insecticides, as we have seen, and soon cases reminiscent of the ginger paralysis episode began to occur. One was a greenhouse worker in Germany who became paralyzed several months after experiencing mild symptoms of poisoning on a few occasions after using parathion. Then a group of three chemical plant workers developed acute poisoning from exposure to other insecticides in this group. They recovered under treatment, but ten days later two of them developed muscular weakness in the legs. This persisted for 10 months in one; the other, a young woman chemist, was more severely affected, with paralysis in both legs and some involvement of the hands and arms. Two years later when her case was reported in a medical journal she was still unable to walk.

The insecticide responsible for these cases has been withdrawn from the market, but some of those now in use may be capable of harm. Malathion (beloved by gardeners) has induced severe muscular weakness in experiments on chickens. This was attended (as in ginger paralysis) by destruction of the sheaths of the sciatic and spinal nerves.

All these consequences of organic phosphate poisoning, if survived, may be a prelude to worse. In view of the severe damage they inflict upon the nervous system, it was perhaps inevitable that these insecticides would eventually be linked with mental disease. That link has recently been supplied by investigators at the University of Melbourne and Prince Henry’s Hospital in Melbourne, who reported on 16 cases of mental disease. All had a history of prolonged exposure to organic phosphorus insecticides. Three were scientists checking the efficacy of sprays; 8 worked in greenhouses; 5 were farm workers. Their symptoms ranged from impairment of memory to schizophrenic and depressive reactions. All had normal medical histories before the chemicals they were using boomeranged and struck them down.

Echoes of this sort of thing are to be found, as we have seen, widely scattered throughout medical literature, sometimes involving chlorinated hydrocarbons, sometimes the organic phosphates. Confusion, delusions, loss of memory, mania–a heavy price to pay for the temporary destruction of a few insects, but a price that will continue to be exacted as long as we insist upon using chemicals that strike directly at the nervous system.

Portions taken from pages 191 – 198

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Wilhelm Carl Heinrich Hueper, M.D. – Silent Spring

Wilhelm Carl Heinrich Hueper, M.D. was a pioneer in cancer research at the National Cancer Institute. 1948 – NCI offered him the position of Chief of the Environmental Career Section. He retired in 1964.

Dr. Hueper produced definitive publications dealing with cancer hazards caused by exposure to air and water pollutants, metals, petroleum derivatives, synthetic hydrogenated coal oils, food additives, food contaminants, cooking fats, and plastics.

Since the early 1920’s, when his scientific career began, Hueper independently has led the way to many important discoveries, have dealt principally with the exogenous causes of human cancers. Thus as a result of his early investigations on the immunologic aspects of leukemia and its production in mice by X-rays, he called attention to the cancer hazards posed by exposure to irradiation.

In 1938, in association with F. H. Wiley and H. D. Wolfe, Hueper induced carcinoma of the bladder of dogs by feeding 2-naphthylamine. The importance of this discovery was memorialized only 28 years later, in 1966, when Mark A. lmmergut reproduced the original communication in his Classical Articles in Urology. Pathologists, it has been said, need to rely upon tools of other disciplines for their research. This has been true of Hueper. For his continuing research on the problems of dye carcinogens he relied on chemistry and metabolism. He showed that 2-amino-1-naphthol, a metabolite of 2-naphthylamine, induced cancer of the bladder when administered to mice. This result pointed the way for subsequent investigations on species-specific metabolic mechanisms and pathways that control the susceptibility of man and laboratory animals to cancer-inducing chemicals.

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