The Science of Pesticides
One of the great insights of Silent Spring is its grasp of the pesticide problem as a compound one. On one hand, there are the intrinsic dangers of these chemicals: their capacity to disrupt basic biological processes, their persistence in the environment, and so forth. But Carson knew that the manner in which a dangerous substance is employed is also crucial. To understand how compounds like DDT and malathion have come to threaten life on a global scale, one has to examine what has been done with them. Each of the major themes of Silent Spring belongs then to one of two lines of argument; the first concerns the raw toxicity of pesticides, the second the recklessness with which they have been employed.
Along with atomic fallout, the synthetic pesticides that came into wide use after World War II are the most dangerous substances man has ever created. The heart of the problem, science has shown, is the pesticides' unique capacity for disrupting critical biological processes like metabolism and cell division. Acute exposure can cause catastrophic systemic problems—paralysis, immune deficiency, sterility, etc.—and small doses repeated over time can lead to grave illnesses like cancer.
Carson attributes this radically disruptive potential to the distinctive molecular structure of synthetic pesticides. Part carbon, they mimic the substances that are crucial to life (enzymes, hormones, etc.)...
(The entire section is 927 words.)
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