PCT contacted various pest management professionals to solicit their opinions about “Silent Spring” and how they think it affected their profession.
Harold Stein, President/CEO, Crane Pest Control, NPCA Past President
“Silent Spring” certainly heralded what I perceived as a form of public hysteria and the executive branch of our government seized it as a catalyst, working with the 92nd Congress who on Feb. 10, 1971, introduced HR 4152, the “Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act.” I remember many of the fine scientists in USDA, our previous regulator with whom we had always worked so well, transferred to EPA in the belief that, as in the past, they could assist in regulating with wisdom.
But in the wave of public outcry, to a measurable extent prompted by the shock and emotional impact of Ms. Carson’s dire warnings, EPA inducted into its ranks a cadre of environmental advocates who quickly drowned out the scientists. An assault was launched through EPA’s public information outlets on our industry and the chemicals we relied upon. Their PR arm unabashedly disseminated signs and banners stating that pesticides were simply “poisons!” They sponsored radio and television announcements providing the public with a “hotline” should they spot individuals “polluting and poisoning” the environment.
I am not ashamed to say that the leaders and active members of our then NPCA, at great expense and potential danger, in essence defended the existence of our industry and the real challenge of nationalization as considered by elements in our government. I think of Cullie Moore, Rufus “Red” Tindol and myself, meeting with the vice president of the United States and the administrator of EPA in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, addressing our criticism of the administrator. And unbeknownst to us on that very day and time our respective home offices were being descended upon by EPA inspectors as a form of harassment. That was scary and, frankly, the low point in what turned out to be seven years of attempts to bring our industry up to speed in its necessary standards while protecting it from unworkable restrictions that could only jeopardize public health. (As an aside, at our next meeting in Washington, D.C., with two of the major lawyers from EPA, we were apologized to for the unwarranted actions that had transpired.)
Yes, “Silent Spring” brings to mind the labors of our industry’s good servants such as the aforementioned PMPs, as well as Dr. Bob Russell, Orkin Pest Control; Verne Hendrix, Hendrix Pest Control; Cullie Moore, past president of NPCA and owner of a pest control firm in New London, Conn.; Rufus “Red” Tindol, Tindol Pest Control, and later president of NPCA; Richard Eldridge, executive director of NPCA; and the brilliant Dr. Philip Spear, senior technical director of NPCA, as well as Charles Hromada, vice president of Terminix. Another PCO who was of great assistance later on in this battle was Norm Goldenberg, at that time with his own company (now with Terminix).
Finally, just to put a cap on the story as an indication that both government and industry have grown since that time: for a number of years afterward two of us served with EPA’s ASTM Committee to formulate Pesticide Standards, and even into the ’80s I was asked by individuals within the Agency to monitor early meetings on IPM and privately give them my take. What are my reflections? This is just a sample of the complete file cabinet I have of correspondence and working documents from that time.
All of us were motivated by an insistence that we be recognized as responsible citizens whom government should serve...that we were users as well as providers...that contrary to every other chemical or process that EPA regulated at the time to protect the public, ours was the only one — I repeat, the only one — that was not a “byproduct” or “waste product” of something else. Like any drug designed to treat a disease, which in itself has toxic limits, our chemicals were designed to protect against disease and likewise had toxic limits. And upon reflection, although they were stressful times and a price was paid, I suggest it was a defining moment that ushered in our own recognition of the role we must play in society, and the image of the “exterminator” gave way to the responsibilities of the “professional.”
By the way, I like Rachel Carson’s first book much better!
Rich Kozlovich, Owner, Pest Management Inc.
Rachel Carson is not only the mother of the modern environmental movement, she is also the mother of junk science. Everything that has occurred in the world regarding pesticides and chemicals as a whole has been as a direct result of her mendacious work, “Silent Spring.” Her work was foundational in the irresponsible ban of DDT in the United States and laid the foundation for attacks on everything made by man. And just like Carson, her acolytes in the modern environmental movement have as little affection for the truth as did she. Not only was she incorrect in her predictions, she deliberately misrepresented the facts regarding egg shell thinning.
I also believe PCT left out some important questions in its survey. Do you believe that pest controllers who claim to be environmentalists suffer from cognitive dissonance? Answer. Yes. Do you believe that environmentalism is a threat to mankind? Answer. Yes. Do you believe that going green is irrational and misanthropic? Answer. Yes Do you believe there is no such thing as “green” pest control? Answer. Yes. Do you believe there is no such thing as IPM in structural pest control? Answer. Yes.
Editor’s note: Read Kozlovich’s blog at http://paradigmsanddemographics.blogspot.com/.
Vernon McKinzie, BCE, NPMA Past President, retired
My very first reaction (to the book) was, “Another radical that the public will ignore.” That did not turn out to be the case. Instead, the media jumped all over it and began to quote passages from the book as if they were solid and reviewed research articles, even though some were taken out of context and others were simply opinions of people based on their feelings.
In my opinion, much of Ms. Carson’s “facts” or segments of fact were based on opinions or inaccurate interpretation of the actual scientific facts presented and promoted by what were considered as “radical” environmental groups, and not well corroborated with solid research and science. I think everyone who relied on pesticides for their livelihood was concerned about what would follow and how we would continue to provide pest control programs for critical sites. I hoped that the public would see the book as literature only and not a scientific publication. However, as I remember Ms. Carson’s book was often quoted by the media as accurate science.
Next, our industry had concern about the release of this book and real concern that it would result in the elimination of many, if not most, of our tools we had regularly used without any known hazards to our customers or the environment. I worried that anticipated regulations and public fear would negatively affect our business because we would have no tools to work with. It turned out that I was wrong.
We and customers who read her book or had seen or heard quotes from the book had different opinions of what was being said, but the media blitz resulted in the public suddenly becoming cautious or fearful of any pesticide use. Suddenly, customers began to ask, “Is that stuff you are using going to kill us or our pets or children?”
In retrospect, I think it made our industry better, because we had to be more precise in applications and had to learn more about pest habits and behavior, which resulted in the fact we are now providing better and safer services, not to mention we learned how to do it with less active ingredients. We became more professional.
I think if one looks at the growth of the industry since the release of “Silent Spring” we must agree that it has not hurt our industry, but has resulted in more business for those individuals and companies who embraced the concept of less product and precise, safe, proper applications.
Thank goodness we no longer simply go into a structure and put the compressed sprayer on auto-pilot to go around the baseboard of every room, but we now rely on careful inspection and monitoring before application of pesticides and then only where needed, in safe and effective locations.
Regardless of how we felt when “Silent Spring” hit the streets, we must keep looking at the growth of the National Pest Management Association and our profession/industry since the publication of “Silent Spring.” It is easy to recognize that professional pest management has grown dramatically not only in size, but in professionalism during the last 50 years. Would we have grown the same had we not had “Silent Spring”? Would we be as professional as we now are? I don’t think so.
A biblical quotation says “everything works out for the good for those who love God.” We all need to maintain an active and positive attitude about being protectors of people and property from pest infestations and be thankful for being such an important part of our society.
Chris Donaghy, CEO, Residex/Turfgrass Inc.
Rachel Carson died in 1964, one year after appearing before Congress to request action against the broad use of DDT. “Silent Spring” was published in 1962. Kennedy was in the White House at that time. In the 1960s with the dawning of extreme liberalism bordering on socialism and leaning towards communism, with LSD and marijuana use on the rise, and with an ever-growing biased media hell bent on recreating history and redefining America, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” became the rally flag for the adult children of the elite class who had too much time on their hands, no accountability to serve our nation at war, and no need to work a real job like most Americans because of Daddy’s wealth. In addition, it took a group of lazy politicians under the Nixon administration who didn’t take the time to read the bill before them when they approved the creation of the EPA. Politicians are still the same today.
Bottom line is that our industry voice must be louder and more effective than the eco-activists’ voices, and it must reach the ears of the lazy politician with enough compelling reason to make them listen or pay the price at the next election regardless of their party affiliation. The anti-industry voice is better funded, better rehearsed, more sensationalized and more motivated to win than our side as witnessed by the frequent victory results levied against us each year. Our industry tends to blame Rachel Carson, an author and low-level biologist, for the regulatory pressures that slowly bleed our industry, and just maybe had she outlived her bout with cancer at age 56, Carson would have been exposed as the creative writer she was, and not the iconic expert she became posthumously. The industry’s near complacency on the environmental issue is a deafening silence, and one that makes “Silent Spring” sound like a heavy metal rock concert.
Through RISE, UPF&DA and NPMA we must reach more voters in order to influence positive change. Real stories involving loss and hardship connected to disease vectors and pest infestations are reasons enough to gain voter support and sway the actions of our fickle politicians. Critics call this approach “scare tactics”; we need to remind the public that, in fact, it is reality.
Q&A with George Rambo About “Silent Spring”
1. How are today’s PMPs impacted by Rachel Carson’s book?
Many PMPs will not even know the book at this time. Fifty years ago, the book impacted the industry and caused what later became FIFRA and licensing and registrations, the increased testing of pesticides and later the move to eliminate certain pesticides. The future was formed and the industry had to adjust to some new thinking and new ideas, resulting in better used and newer materials.
2. In what ways was the publication of “Silent Spring” a good thing (both for the world and for the pest management industry)?
One good thing were the steps that were taken to form the thoughts behind IPM via universities and then the industry. It caused us to move towards the “protection of the environment” and self evaluation of where the industry was going to be if we did not embrace some basic facts. We needed to change.
3. In what ways was the publication of “Silent Spring” a bad thing (both for the world and for the pest management industry)?
I cannot think of anything. What is better — applying pesticides at will and in large doses or using science to better regulate the applications and to develop newer techniques to alleviate pest problems?
4. Any other comments?
I may be wrong, but I feel that this was the beginning of activist groups destined to influence our society. We as an industry still have to act on behalf of products we feel we could not live without. But each has its place, sometimes we compromise...sometimes we lose and sometimes we win. Eventually we end up developing a new approach to many issues and problems and that keeps the industry growing.
5. Have you read “Silent Spring”?
Yes, but I need to read it again.
A selection of the comments from PCT’s readers who took the online survey in February about Rachel Carson and her book.
Source: Insight Express, February 2012
"Questions about ‘Silent Spring’ or Rachel Carson gives me an opportunity to explain the benefits of IPM principles and reduced impact strategies in a way that shows the professionalism of our industry and my company."
"Who is she??"
"She has blood on her hands from the malaria deaths I saw in Africa."
"‘Silent Spring’s’ legacy is that while many people like or need pest control they assume that what is used is extremely dangerous for the environment, yet they want a scorched earth policy for their property, go figure."
"Well, it sounds like I should go to the library and check out ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson and read the book."
"Even when improperly used, the pen is a mighty weapon. It is amazing what supposedly learned people will fall for."
"The impact of this book affected policy based on speculative information, e.g. eagle egg shell thinning."