Monday, October 29, 2012
One Book and the Truth
September 27th, 2012
Silent Spring was first published 50 years ago today. Rachel Carson was my age, just 56, when she died of breast cancer 18 months later.
I had cancer too (in 2007) but thankfully it was successfully treated -- I'm fine now.
But everyone around the world has already inhaled, eaten, and drank billions of nanoparticles and thousands of larger "hot particles" that have spewed from Fukushima since March, 2011, and from every other nuclear accident and chemical spill. Fukushima and Chernobyl continue to spew, and will for generations to come. That can't be good for any of us, and it isn't.
At a city council meeting last night in Encinitas, California, the top emergency planner in the Southern California area assured citizens and council members that although it's true that an accidental radioactive "puff" (his word) from San Onofre might cause problems with avocados (undoubtedly our state's favorite fruit), we need not worry, because they'll test all those truckloads of avocados (after WHO picks them?) and even if they're "hot" on the outside, once you peel them they might be okay, he said.
Imagine trying to sell "hot" California avocados after a meltdown at San Onofre by assuring customers around the country that "they're only hot on the outside!" He said they might also make great guacamole.
Later he admitted he's not a nuclear physicist. It appears he also neglected to study the uptake of cesium by plants through the soil after it's soaked in for a few years.
Two scientists who HAVE studied such things are Joe Mangano and Janette Sherman. They have co-authored a wonderful article honoring Rachel Carson and the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, which I am happy and honored to be able to include below, as it was sent to me this morning by one of the authors.
I'm sharing an essay I co-wrote with Dr. Janette Sherman marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring, and its enduring legacy. It is being published in the October 1 issue, available online now to subscribers of The Washington Spectator.
We at Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP) believe we must continue the effort begun by Carson to reduce the poisons in our environment, and improve the health of our people, by continuing our research on radiation health risks from nuclear reactors (30 journal articles, 8 books) and spreading the word to public officials, citizen leaders, and the public at large.
We would like you to consider subscribing to The Washington Spectator. A subscription to this outstanding journal supports RPHP in two ways: not only are outlets like this crucial to informing people of our research documenting the hazards of nuclear power, but the Spectator has kindly offered to share 50% of the revenues derived from this special promotion, so we can continue our crucial work.
To obtain your subscription to The Washington Spectator, and provide much-needed support for RPHP, go to https://secure.ablesoftsolutions.com/pdmg/SecurePages/newsub.aspx?pi=tws&o=webrphp to begin. Please be sure to click Apply Code as part of Step 1 in order to identify your order as a contribution.
With kind regards,
Joe Mangano, Executive Director, RPHP
The Washington Spectator is a project of The Public Concern Foundation, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational foundation. Since 1974, this bimonthly bulletin has given independent-minded readers behind-the-scenes insight into significant news ignored by the corporate media. In concise and fact-packed reporting, the Editor of the Spectator and other expert contributors offer insightful commentary on issues of war and peace, the environment, religion, education, law, and economics. Over the years, The Washington Spectator has stood consistentlyand persistentlyfor human rights, international peace, civil liberties, and for an open, accountable government.
One Book and the Truth
Rachel Carson's Brave, Groundbreaking 'Silent Spring' at 50 Years
October 1, 2012 | by Joseph J. Mangano and Janette D. Sherman
Fifty years ago, a Johns Hopkinseducated zoologist did something that few at the time thought was possible. With the publication of one book, she started a national debate about the universally accepted use of synthetic pesticides, the irresponsibility of science, and the limits of technological promise. She also challenged the metastatic growth of the synthetic chemicals industry that grew out of World War II.
Silent Spring was Rachel Carson's third book, following The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea. The Sea Around Us had won the 1952 National Book Award for nonfiction and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 21 months. Yet it is unlikely that Carson, who had spent most of her career as an editor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had any idea of what the publication of Silent Spring would engender.
Carson became interested in the harmful effects of pesticides, especially DDT, in the late 1950s. DDT was first commercially produced just prior to World War II, and was used to reduce the threats posed by insects to U.S. troops overseas. After the war, DDT was promoted as a great scientific advance and was widely and successfully used as an insect killer in the United States. The chemical was considered to be so benign that parents casually watched their children running in billowing white DDT clouds sprayed from trucks in residential neighborhoods.
Carson's research focused on organic pesticides like chlordane, heptachlor, and aldrin, as well as DDT. She documented the widespread death of birds that had been exposed to the chemicals, as well as reproductive, birth, and developmental abnormalities in mammals. All life, she wrote, is a 'chemical factory' dependent upon oxygen to power the cell machinery. Citing the work of Nobel scientist Otto Warburg, she explained in clear terms why repeated small exposures to pesticides and nuclear radiation change the ability of the cell to carry out normal activities, resulting in malignancy or defective offspringthe reason there is no 'safe' dose of a carcinogen. Many scientific experts shared her concerns.
The New Yorker ran three excerpts of Silent Spring in June 1962, before the official September 27 publication date. The response was swift and resounding. CBS began preparing a nationally broadcast special on the book. Page one of the July 22 New York Times featured a story entitled 'Silent Spring Is Now a Noisy Summer.' On August 29, a reporter attending President Kennedy's press conference asked if the federal government was examining the growing concern about DDT and other pesticides. Kennedy responded: 'Yes...I think particularly, of course, since Miss Carson's book.' A month before the publication date, Houghton Mifflin had advance orders for 40,000 copies and had a 150,000-copy contract with the Book-of-the-Month Club.
The chemical industry didn't wait to read the book. Carson's short but devastating treatise was a threat to their bottom line, and the industry that manufactured DDT and other pesticides Carson had described reacted angrily to her scientifically sound arguments that their products were harmful. They attacked Carson's expertise. They attacked her methods. They attacked her motivations. They attacked her conclusions. They threatened to sue Houghton Mifflin and The New Yorker.
In a relentless campaign to destroy her character, the industry distributed pamphlets, published articles, and vilified Carson in media interviews. They described her as 'fanatic' and 'hysterical,' yet almost all international scientists agreed with Carson. A Scientific Advisory Committee assembled by Kennedy issued a supportive report in May 1963. In response to the shrill attacks of her industry critics, Carson calmly stuck to the facts. She died at age 56 from breast cancer, 18 months after Silent Spring was published.
Many regard Carson as the founder of the American environmental movement. Yet the movement had already begun. Albert Schweitzer, well-known scientists such as Linus Pauling, pediatrician Benjamin Spock, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had already been speaking out against the dangers of above-ground atom-bomb testing. Citizen groups like Women Strike for Peace organized increasingly large demonstrations against such tests.
But to a large extent, Silent Spring sparked the movement that endures today. In 1967, scientists and activists founded the Environmental Defense Fund. On April 29, 1970, one week after widespread demonstrations on the first Earth Day, President Nixon's Advisory Council on Executive Action proposed the Environmental Protection Agency, which became a reality later that year. And in June 1972, after three years of federal hearings and scientific inquiries into the question Carson raised in Silent Spring, EPA Director William Ruckelshaus issued an order that banned the use of DDT in the United States. The environmental movement was in full swing.
Despite the efforts of Carson and others who followed, a long list of chemicals is still in daily usearguably more than ever. It includes pesticides, herbicides, industrial agents, fuels, preservatives, food additives, dyes, household products, medicines, and more.
The benefits of chemicals must always be weighed against their risksbut those risks must be objectively calculated. As Carson wrote in Silent Spring:
"The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable: the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but also in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the worldthe very nature off its life."
Fifty years after the publication of the book, the corporations that produce and market the chemicals are far larger. Their lobbyists and PR machines are more well-funded and sophisticated and exert unprecedented influence over regulators, the media, and, most critically, elected officials.
A Congressional resolution introduced by Maryland Democratic Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, honoring Carson on what would have been her 100th birthday in 2007, was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who complemented his vote with disparaging remarks about the author. "Millions of people in the developing world, particularly children under 5, died because governments bought into Carson's junk-science claims about DDT," he said in response to the resolution.
Today, the industry and its trade associations echo Coburn's remarks and depict Carson as the leader of a mass-murder campaign that today allows diseases such as malaria to proliferate because there is no chemical check on mosquitoes. In 2009, Todd Seavey of the industry-backed American Council on Science and Health wrote on World Malaria Day:"We need DDT Day.... Anti-chemical greens (inspired by Rachel Carson's fear-mongering book Silent Spring) may already be humanity's most prolific killers."
The EPA never banned DDT for use against malaria, and Carson herself never supported a universal ban on pesticides. Instead, she wrote, "Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity.'"
Man-made chemicals will always be a part of life on earth. The volume of chemicals is massive, and the slow decay of many means they will be part of the biosphere for decades and centuries. The legacy of Silent Spring is that much can and should be done to reduce the health risks they pose, without sacrificing progress. About 41 percent of Americans will develop cancer. The current generation of children, compared to their parents or grandparents, has higher rates of disorders including low weight births, cancer, asthma, diabetes, autism, and ADHD. While multiple factors influence disease risk, exposure to toxic chemicals is one factor.
We have ignored Carson's findings to our peril.
Joseph J. Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and author of Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment (O/R Books). Janette D. Sherman is an internist and toxicologist and a contributing editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (New York Academy of Medicine). Visit www.radiation.org and www.janettesherman.com.
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