Rachel Carson's Legacy

By Henry, Mary G. | Endangered Species Bulletin, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Rachel Carson's Legacy


Henry, Mary G., Endangered Species Bulletin


Excerpt from Silent Spring: "...synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. They have been recovered from most of the major river systems and even from streams of groundwater flowing unseen through the earth. Residues of these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before. They have entered and lodged in the bodies of fish, birds, reptiles, and domestic and wild animals so universally that scientists carrying on animal experiments find it almost impossible to locate subjects free from such contamination. They have been found in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in soil, in the eggs of birds--and in man himself. For these chemicals are now stored in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings, regardless of age. They occur in the mother's milk, and probably in the tissues of the unborn child."

Our agency's contaminants legacy started back in 1936 with Rachel Carson. After earning her Master's degree in biology from Johns Hopkins University, she joined the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (now the FWS). Carson first worked as a writer and eventually as editor-in-chief of the Wildlife Information Division.

During her 17 years as a government biologist, she became familiar with studies on fish and wildlife and the environmental impacts of pesticides on animal populations. At the time, little of this type of information had filtered into the popular press. Her decision to educate the public about the potential dangers facing wildlife and humans from chemical pesticides may have been influenced by reports of bird die-offs sent to her by a friend. …

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