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Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

Frederick Rowe Davis
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Rachel Carson's eloquent bookSilent Springstands as one of the most important books of the twentieth century and inspired important and long-lasting changes in environmental science and government policy. Frederick Rowe Davis thoughtfully sets Carson's study in the context of the twentieth century, reconsiders her achievement, and analyzes its legacy in light of toxic chemical use and regulation today.Davis examines the history of pesticide development alongside the evolution of the science of toxicology and tracks legislation governing exposure to chemicals across the twentieth century. He affirms the brilliance of Carson's careful scientific interpretations drawing on data from university and government toxicologists. AlthoughSilent Springinstigated legislation that successfully terminated DDT use, other warnings were ignored. Ironically, we replaced one poison with even more toxic ones. Davis concludes that we urgently need new thinking about how we evaluate and regulate pesticides in accounting for their ecological and human toll.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21037-8
    Subjects: Chemistry, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Toxicology Emerges in Public Health Crises
    (pp. 1-37)

    In 1893 the city of Chicago announced to the world its arrival as a major metropolis through the Columbian Exposition. That same year, the British medical journalLancetdeployed a public health doctor to report on the state of the Chicago stockyards, which in terms of size and productivity were among the largest in the world. In the Chicago stockyards, slaughter houses became industrial meat factories that rendered thousands of cattle into meat products to be transported via refrigerated railcar across the United States and shipped around the world. With the industrialization of meat production came spectacular demand, and the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 DDT and Environmental Toxicology
    (pp. 38-71)

    After the conclusion of the World War II,Timemagazine attributed the Allied victory to two new technologies (among others): the atomic bomb and DDT.¹ Years later, Rachel Carson would compare DDT to the effects of atomic radiation in a less favorable light. Early tests of the toxicity of DDT were conducted during the war, and initial reports indicated that the compound was one of the most effective insecticides ever created. In addition, results from Naples, Italy, and islands in the South Pacific indicated that human toxicity was very low. Was DDT the magic bullet that economic entomologists had sought...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The University of Chicago Toxicity Laboratory
    (pp. 72-90)

    The discovery of DDT as an effective pesticide at the beginning of World War II resulted in extensive research as to its toxicity. DDT received more toxicological scrutiny—from entomologists, toxicologists, and wildlife biologists—during the first years of its release than any pesticide that preceded it. Yet the war and its aftermath produced many other new chemicals that called for toxicological screening. To assess the toxicity of these chemicals—and also their potential for war time use—the army’s Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) awarded the University of Chicago a contract to evaluate these new substances. The...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Toxicity of Organophosphate Chemicals
    (pp. 91-115)

    In the preceding chapters we have followed several episodes in the development of a notion of environmental risk. Along with other early cases, the Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy refined scientific methodology with an analytical technique for deriving LD50s and prompted passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938. With the advent of World War II there was renewed interest in insecticides that could control the spread of malaria and other insect-borne diseases. DDT was the most promising of these, and its potential effects on target organisms, lab animals, wildlife, and humans underwent extensive analysis. Much of the interest in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 What’s the Risk? Legislators and Scientists Evaluate Pesticides
    (pp. 116-152)

    In the aftermath of World War II, when DDT and other chemical insecticides became widely available for use in the U.S. for agriculture and public health, legislators began to realize the limits of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 to regulate novel synthetic insecticides. Congress held several hearings to discuss further legislation. Industry representatives bridled at the idea of further regulation, and scientific opinion regarding risks of insecticides varied widely. But chlorinated hydrocarbons like DDT and the organophosphate insecticides taxed the regulatory power of the FFDCA, and Congress revisited the mounting challenges of synthetic insecticides by holding...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Rereading Silent Spring
    (pp. 153-186)

    By the late 1950s, toxicologists at the Tox Lab, the FDA, and elsewhere were working to establish toxicology as an independent discipline through courses, textbooks, a professional society, and a scholarly journal. Most Americans had little access to scientific research or the debates in the halls of government. As in the past, it again fell to popular science writers to bridge the gap between scientists, policy makers, and the public. Notable among them was Rachel Carson, whoseSilent Springquickly became a bestseller.Silent Springalerted Americans to the hazards of insecticides, but it also inspired renewed interest within government...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Pesticides and Toxicology after the DDT Ban
    (pp. 187-213)

    InSilent Spring, Rachel Carson meticulously described a typology of chemical insecticides. Most commonly used insecticides fell into one of two groups: chlorinated hydrocarbons (or organochlorines) like DDT and dieldrin and organophosphates like malathion and parathion. Both groups of chemicals had implications for the health of humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. Carson revealed how DDT and other organochlorines bioaccumulated in the environment and biomagnified in organic systems, until reaching toxic levels in topline predators such as ospreys, brown pelicans, and of course bald eagles. Organophosphates did not typically bioaccumulate, but exposure to the potent nerve agents resulted in cholinesterase inhibition by...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Roads Taken
    (pp. 214-220)

    What lessons might we draw from a century of pesticides, a hundred years of risk assessment? Despite the prodigious efforts of scientists, regulators, and legislators, simple solutions have not emerged. As we have seen, as the scale of agriculture developed to industrial proportions, farmers increasingly relied on chemical inputs—and particularly insecticides—to control crop damage as a result of insect infestations. A similar process of upscaling placed incredible distance between producers (of meat and other products) and consumers. When American consumers and legislators discovered the health risks that such distances entailed, Congress passed the 1906 Pure Food and Drug...

  14. Epilogue: Risk, Benefit, and Uncertainty
    (pp. 221-224)

    Even before the EPA began its review of the organophosphates, a new class of insecticides had joined the ranks of agricultural insecticides. Since the 1950s, scientists have attempted to synthesize compounds like the naturally occurring insecticide nicotine. Izuru Yamamoto at the Tokyo University of Agriculture coined the term “nicotinoid” for nicotine and related insecticidal compounds. Chemists first synthesized promising nicotinoids during the 1970s, but the initial compounds were unstable in light and thus unviable for development as insecticides. Agricultural chemists working with support from Bayer and Shell successfully developed and patented several “neonicotinoids,” also Yamamoto’s term, during the 1980s and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 225-252)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 253-264)