DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund

DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund

DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund

DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund

Synopsis

DDT Wars is the untold inside story of the decade-long scientific, legal and strategic campaign that culminated in the national ban of the insecticide DDT in 1972. The widespread misinformation, disinformation and mythology of the DDT issue are corrected in this book. DDT contamination had become worldwide, concentrating up food chains and causing birds to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke in the nests. Populations of many species of predatory and fish-eating birds collapsed, including the American Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and Brown Pelican. Their numbers recovered spectacularly in the decades following the ban. During the campaign DDT and five other insecticides were found to cause cancer in laboratory tests, which led to bans of these six pesticides by international treaty in 2001. This campaign produced lasting changes in American pesticide policies. The legal precedents broke down the court "standing" barrier, forming the basis for the development of environmental law as we know it today. This case history represents one of the greatest environmental victories of recent decades. DDT is still "controversial" because it has been deceptively interjected into the "climate wars." This campaign was led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), founded in 1967 by ten citizens, most of them scientists, volunteers without special political connections or financial resources. Their strategy was to take environmental problems to court. There were many setbacks along the way in this exciting and entertaining story. The group was often kicked out of court, but a few determined citizens made a large difference for environmental protection and public health. Author Charles Wurster was one of the leaders of the campaign. The first six years of EDF history are described as it struggled to survive. Now EDF is one of the world's great environmental advocacy organizations defending our climate, ecosystems, oceans and public health.

Excerpt

The Bald Eagle, our national bird, engraved on the Great Seal of the United States of America, was disappearing from America. Predatory birds of many species were in sharp decline. Brown Pelicans in California laid eggs that broke and produced almost no chicks. Mother’s milk was so contaminated that if it were in any other container, it could not legally cross state lines. Humans worldwide were contaminated, as were penguins in Antarctica and polar bears in the Arctic. Laboratory tests indicated that the insecticide DDT caused cancer. William Ruckelshaus, first administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), banned DDT in 1972.

Told by someone who lived it, this book details how a modest group of volunteer scientists and citizens fought the “DDT wars” from Long Island living rooms through the courts to ultimate victory. This was overwhelmingly a grassroots effort. They were not revolutionaries, did not demonstrate in the streets, threatened nobody, and hugged no trees; nobody lay down in front of a bulldozer. They had neither wealth nor political connections. What they did have were determination, passion, and persistence to eliminate the DDT threat. They got the science right.

This dedicated group of scientists, citizens, and a few attorneys escalated the DDT issue from local to state to national prominence. They used our democratic, legal, and political systems designed for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Experts from varying disciplines from around the country and the world rallied to the cause. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has.” That is exactly what happened here.

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