On May 27, 2007, many citizens around the world will be celebrating the centennial birthday of environmental heroine Rachel Carson. As has been mentioned on the Daily Kos earlier (here and here), the right-wing has now begun ratcheting up their attacks on Carson due to their hatred of her strength as an effective environmental activist. And in the last couple days, media outlets have also been reporting that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is effectively blocking two bills in the Senate that are aimed at honoring Carson.
The Washington Post reports that Senator or "Doctor"" Tom Coburn is now blocking two bills –- one that would name a Pennsylvania post office after Carson (she was born in Springdale, PA) and one that would honor Carson’s centennial birthday anniversary.
The resolution to honor Carson is sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) (Carson spent much of her life living in Silver Spring, MD) and co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA). This resolution is aimed at recognizing Carson’s many contributions to environmental protection in America.
It’s important to note that in Carson’s seminal classic Silent Spring, Carson never advocated the banning of the pesticide DDT –- what she advocated is better control of a pesticide that humans were using in appalling amounts despite the fact that they did not know what the impact was on humans, and despite learning that DDT was in fact decimating bird species such as the osprey, the pelican, the peregrine falcon and the American bald eagle. Since these birds sit at the top of the food chain, they were exposed to large amounts of DDT which inhibited their calcium production and led to thin eggshells, which often broke. It was not until DDT was banned in 1972 –- by the EPA of Republican President Richard Nixon –- that these birds began to recover from near extinction.
In addition to her work in alerting people to the hazards of excessive pesticide use, Carson was responsible for bringing ecological awareness to many generations and also providing the political spark that brought about the creation of the EPA, the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and the creation of the modern environmental movement.
But according to the Washington Post article, we hear that Coburn says:
"Carson was the author of the now-debunked 'The Silent Spring,' " Coburn's statement reads."This book was the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against insecticides, especially DDT."
What "Doctor" Coburn fails to mention is that the EPA lists DDT as a possible carcinogen. Even more damning is a 2001 study by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which states that heavy use of DDT in the U.S. before 1966 may have produced a previously undetected epidemic of premature births. According to the study’s press release:
The U.S. Collaborative Perinatal Project, a program of the National Institutes of Health and 12 universities, still has stored blood serum from the mothers of thousands of children born between 1959 and 1966. A sample group of 2,380 was studied. Of these women's births, 361 were born pre-term, and 221 were small for gestational age; that is, they weighed less than most infants their age. Mothers of the affected infants had higher levels of DDE in their blood, indicating higher exposure to DDT in the environment. Average levels were about five times higher than at present.
DDT has long been suspected of reproductive toxicity. It was identified by Rachel Carson as being a potent reproductive toxin in birds in her pioneering environmental book Silent Spring published in 1962. The book forecast a time when DDT and other persistent pesticides used at that time could produce a spring where there were no birds left to sing. In fact, bald eagle and the brown pelican were nearly driven to extinction before the banning of DDT in the U.S. in 1972 brought their numbers back.
Studies since then on human reproductive effects have been suggestive of the human reproductive toxicity of DDT, a pesticide still widely used and highly effective in areas where mosquito-borne malaria is a major public health problem. Previous studies have drawn data from smaller samples and were not statistically powerful.
"The findings of our study strongly suggest that DDT use increases pre-term births, which is a major contributor to infant mortality," Dr. Longnecker said. "If this association is causal, it should be included in any assessment of the costs and benefits of insect control using DDT."
Carson saw the effect heavy amounts of DDT had on farm workers and even people sprayed in their neighborhoods. And she grew alarmed at the way bird species were succumbing to the effects of the poison – a possible "canary in the coal mine" for humans.
Even now, off the Channel Islands in California –- an area where millions of pounds of DDT were dumped into the ocean from the 1940s to 1970s –- the local eagles are still experiencing weakened eggshells and low birth rates because DDT is so persistent in their environment.
The most appalling thing about this controversy is that "Doctor" Coburn is in no position to judge anyone’s use of science. Here is a man who has one of the worst environmental voting records in the Senate, and who uses the "junk science" of the American Petroleum Institute to back up his stance on global warming
From a May 2006 Time article
He's been criticized by other doctors for questioning the effectiveness of condoms and last year suggesting Terry Schiavo's doctors had not properly diagnosed her condition. He has suggested that if abortion is made illegal, doctors who perform abortions should be given the death penalty and called the notion that global warming is occurring "crap."
I wonder how Coburn deals with the guilt of knowing that millions of poor people in low-lying coastal regions will lose their homes, their water, their food, and their health as rising sea levels destroy their communities? Coburn is one of the backward senators responsible for slowing meaningful action to combat global warming, while he’s taking in large contributions from the oil and gas industry. Without a doubt, he is no paragon of scientific virtue.
It’s time for this "assault on reason" to end. According to an article at Raw Story, Sen. Coburn’s spokesman says that Harry Reid has the ability to push through the Carson bills but has chosen not to do so.
From Raw Story:
One of the resolutions Coburn is blocking with a parliamentary 'hold' seeks to mark the 100th birthday of Carson, who died in 1964.
"[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid could easily break this hold with procedural votes. The sponsors should ask Senator Reid why he won’t put it on the floor if this is a vital effort," Hart [Coburn spokesman] wrote in his e-mailed response to RAW STORY's questions.
So maybe it's time to ask Harry Reid that question. Can he move the Rachel Carson resolution through the Senate? And if so, why hasn't he?
You can contact Senator Harry Reid at the following:
Phone: 202-224-3542 / Fax: 202-224-7327
Learn more about Rachel Carson: