Messages of Silent Spring still relevant 50 years later

The environmental lessons of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring have applications today, 50 years after publication of the seminal book. Despite the book’s impact over five decades, some of its lessons appear to need reteaching, according to John Spengler, the Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation at Harvard School of Public Health.

Spengler was among about a dozen environmental experts, writers, and activists who gathered September 27, 2012 at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre to mark the 50th anniversary of the book, which chronicled environmental harm from pesticides and warned against their overuse. The event, “Science and Advocacy: The Legacy of Silent Spring,” was sponsored by Harvard’s Center for the Environment.

Spengler said Carson’s writing has relevance in his own life. He recalled a long-ago incident when he and friends were playing in a field and a plane flew overhead and sprayed him and his companions with pesticide. Recent blood tests showed he still had the derivatives of DDT in his body, as the Harvard Gazette reported October 1.

Several years ago Spengler traced the high incidence of asthma in Boston public housing to high levels of pesticides sprayed in the buildings. His work prompted adoption of integrated pest management techniques in the buildings and highlighted the importance of continued vigilance.

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Department of Environmental Health