Essay: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

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[. . .] Again, the Department of Agriculture developed an all-out campaign to eradicate an insect -- this time, the fire ant. Using spray planes and without studying the correct dosage of insecticide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture treated 20,000,000 acres in 9 southern states. The result was the widespread deaths of fish, birds and livestock, with more red ants than when the campaign began and a noticeable increase in the destruction of sugar cane crops by insects. Local activists in the form of regular citizens, sportsmen's clubs, health care providers, at least one local school, and local agricultural agents responded by filing complaints with local health departments, reporting the devastating effects on wildlife, reporting pesticide-induced illnesses, urging the use of local control that had been known for years before the chemical campaign, and collecting insecticide-poisoned birds as a science project. As a result, the Department of Agriculture and local departments of Agriculture that had supported the chemical campaign rightfully lost the public's confidence and good will.

Silent Spring also addressed the presence of poisons in American kitchens and gardens, describing them as poisoned places. Common insecticides such as Chlordane and Dieldrin are commonly used in the kitchen, though the Food and Drug Administration's chief pharmacologist says the danger is very great in a home sprayed with Chlordane and Dieldrin is considered even more dangerous. Chlordane and Dieldrin can inhibit an essential enzyme of the heart and disintegrate liver cells. Chlordane, in particular, is said to use every portal of the body, being absorbed through the skin or inhaled, for example. Carson also claims that gardening is now solidly linked to poisons because their use is taken for granted and even encouraged. Known carcinogens such as Aminotriazole, a weed killer, is often used. What is more, the public is not normally warned about the dangers of these kitchen and gardening poisons; rather, they are pleasantly displayed and a consumer must be educated and very observant to know about their presence and their dangers.

The presence of poisons in kitchens and gardens is particularly dangerous to women. Beyond the quick answer that women tend to occupy kitchens and gardens more than do men, there are biological reasons for the greater danger. First, there is some evidence that women are more susceptible to poisons. Secondly, an overabundance of the female hormone estrogen in the blood has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Third, the liver inactivates estrogens in the blood. Fourth, poisons such as Chlordane, Dieldrin and Aminotriazole, or combinations of poisons, damage the liver. Combining all those factors, a woman who is subjected to poison may tend to have liver damage, which results in high levels of estrogen in the blood, which causes cancer. The final nails in the coffin are the facts that trace elements of these poisons last for years, even relatively "harmless" poisons can combine to become lethal, and that cancer can develop as long as 15, 20 or 30 years after exposure to the poisons.

Carson probably knew at least some of this information, for several reasons. First, she was a trained scientist who also happened to suffer from breast cancer and probably researched the topic as thoroughly as possible. In addition, she demonstrated her knowledge by specifically writing about the effects of these poisons, the ecology of the human body and its permeable vulnerability. On the other hand, Science has probably learned a great deal more about chemicals and the body over the past 50 years and since Carson's death. Consequently, it seems fair to say that Carson knew some but not all of the special dangers posed to women by chemicals.


Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is considered by some to be the start of a revolution. When the book was published in 1962, attitudes about chemical companies, government officials and environmental activists were very different. At that time, an ignorant and gullible public was easily duped by the chemical industry and government officials while regarding activists as worse nuisances than the gypsy moth and fire ant. The harmful effects of that culture are shown by Carson's descriptions of the all-out chemical warfare waged against the gypsy moth and the fire ant in 1950's America. In fearlessly and carefully explaining those instances, and in showing the pervasiveness and dangers of poison in our everyday lives, Carson produced a work that is still deemed powerful… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  (2013, January 22).  Retrieved September 15, 2019, from

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"Silent Spring by Rachel Carson."  22 January 2013.  Web.  15 September 2019. <>.

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"Silent Spring by Rachel Carson."  January 22, 2013.  Accessed September 15, 2019.