Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 790
Water moves in a never-ending cycle from creeks and streams to rivers, lakes, and oceans. Salmon are foremost among the species that rely on this circuitous course for successful reproductive cycles. The Miramachi River, located along the coast of News Brunswick, is a regularly visited site on the salmon’s journey to reproduction. In 1954, a spraying program, completed at the direction of the Canadian government, threatened to destroy the salmon population of the Miramachi. Of course, destruction of the salmon population was not the intended result of the spraying campaign. The program was designed for another purpose entirely.
The budworm, which poses a threat to evergreens, was attacking the forests near the Miramachi River. The spraying program was designed to eradicate the budworm through an application of DDT. Following the use of this pesticide, fish began to die, along with the insects and birds that populated the streams and forests near the treated area. The salmon suffered tremendously. Nearly the entire population of recently-spawned salmon was killed. The loss was verifiable. Only a few remained.
The Fisheries Research Board of Canada was in the midst of a salmon study, and their records indicated that 5 of every 6 young salmon remained after the spraying. A few young salmon survived the DDT spraying, but these survivors were almost certain to die of starvation. The insects, which serve as food for young salmon, were annihilated. Despite the loss of animal and insect life and the damage to their natural surroundings, the budworm population rebounded.
In Maine, following a spraying of DDT, ”blind and dying trout” were discovered. In Yellowstone National Park, several species, including “brown trout, whitefish, and suckers” were killed. The pattern of death following chemical spraying is both lamentable and predictable. Fish, birds and aquatic insects are destroyed and repopulation is a slow and uncertain process. The loss of life in the animal kingdom results in a corresponding loss to human livelihood. Marketers of recreational fishing supplies, owners of commercial production facilities, and waterside economies suffer tremendously.
Chemical use in forest areas is destructive, but the use of pesticides in agricultural production is more widespread and therefore more lethal. Documented destruction has been reported in states including California, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Certainly one of the most striking examples of havoc caused by agricultural “dusting and spraying” is the use of heptachlor in the southern states. The fire ant was the target of this deadly campaign. But, in several states, various forms of aquatic life suffered the consequences. Among the animals killed were “fish, frogs, and other life of the waters.”
Chemicals used on cotton crops also caused devastation to fish and aquatic life. The boll weevil was rampant in Alabama during the summer of 1950. In a desperate effort to stem the ruinous activity of this pest and to preserve the cotton crops, farmers used chemical insecticides to target the problem. On August 1, 1950, heavy rains washed the chemicals from the cotton fields into nearby streams. The consequences were immediate. The next day, dead fish floated in the stream while others leaped from the water onto the banks where they were sure to suffocate. On August 10, it rained again and more chemicals washed into the stream. The cycle continued. More fish died with each rainfall. White crappies, bass, sunfish, carp and catfish were killed. Similar effects have been found in other countries where insecticidal use has destroyed aquatic life, such as Rhodesia, “the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India.”
The author recounts an incident that occurred in the Colorado River, near Austin, Texas. Fish and aquatic life began mysteriously dying in nearly 200 miles of river waters. Following a public outcry of concern, an investigation revealed the source of contamination. Small quantities of “powdered insecticide” had been washed into a storm sewer from several local plants. Consequently, when the sewer system was flushed with “millions of gallons of water” in an effort to clear the drains, the chemicals were washed into the waters of a lake which fed into the Colorado River.
The author suggests that pesticide use has become so pervasive that no body of water is protected. In addition to lakes and rivers, tidal marshes, salt-marshes, bays, sounds and estuaries have regularly been contaminated with residual pesticides. As a result, shellfish, including shrimp, oysters and clams, are exposed to the lethal toxins. The short-term effects of these toxins on aquatic life are clear, but the long-term effects remain uncertain. Problematic questions remain unresolved, such as how to measure the actual quantity of chemical pollutants that have been deposited or dissolved in the waters and whether there will be harmful interactions between the various chemicals that pollute the waters. These questions, according to the author, can only be resolved through further, ongoing examination.
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