As the end of summer closes in and the thoughts of school shopping begins, I am looking at my closets and cabnets wondering what needs to be cleaned out and replaced. I really try hard to buy as many “green chemistry” cleaning products and fairly traded clothing when possible. The kids do take in a lot of “hand-me-downs”, too, thanks to their generous cousins! Finding eco-friendly lunch boxes and water containers is much easier now that we can shop online and some local stores stock up on these items this time of year. It may suprise many that this is also the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s publication of Silent Spring (September 1962). Her warning of the indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemicals considered safe (but not tested or proven safe) sparked the modern environmental movement which eventually led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. In that landmark book, Rachel explained how
“These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes-nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil-all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called “insecticides,” but “biocides” (Jone Johnson Lewis. “Rachel Carson Quotes.” About Women’s History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/rachel_carson.htm . Date accessed 8/8/12)
While the pesticide in question, DDT (dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane), was soon banned in the United States, we do have plenty of pesticides and herbicides that are available for purchase. Of course, we should use these chemicals with caution – and we do. But what about all the chemicals that are in our everyday products? How are these regulated? It might suprise you, but the Toxic Control Substance Act (TSCA) was formed in 1976 and has yet to be updated. Essentially it allows the EPA to require companies to report their testing, record-keeping and testing requirements about chemical substances and/or mixtures. However, certain products do not fall under the auspices of the TSCA alone – mainly food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides. These are covered under other legislative acts within the EPA’s authority. The TSCA is outdated and is only used to protect the public from “unreasonable risk” rather than providing proof of safety.
So as the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring passes before us, how shall we pay homage to Rachel’s legacy? I begin with cleaning out my closets and properly disposing of substances that I do not use or are not of green chemistry. I will stay apprised of the legislation regarding safety of chemicals in my everyday products. And I will vote. I hope that you will, too!