We now live in a chemical world. We can't imagine our lives without it. Chemicals are so integrated into our lives that they have now escaped the millions of products, appliances and objects that once contained them and have now entered our bodies.
The book, Silent Spring opened our eyes to the dangers of chemical pollutants but little did Rachel Carson know the depth of damage they could cause. Silent Spring made us see chemicals in a different light. They were no longer the miracle workers of modern society but were looked upon with suspicion after the publication of the book.
During the 1950's the U.S embarked on campaigns to control various aspects of the natural world. Ambitious, I know, and some will claim an over-exaggeration but the facts speaks for themselves. During this period there was more than a five-fold increase of production of synthetic pesticides with more than 650 million pounds of pesticides produced in the U.S alone. These pesticides were distributed with impunity using sprays, dusts and aerosols to farms, gardens, forests and homes. As Rachel Carson so eloquently put in Silent Spring; in less than two decades, synthetic chemicals had been so thoroughly distributed in the world that they could be found virtually anywhere. From river systems to animals and wildlife, chemicals were everywhere... and that was in the 1950s!
The chemical industry has grown a lot since the days of Silent Spring. There are much more chemicals out there in the environment and they can now be found in even more remote places. Since its boom in the 1940s and 50s, well over 80,000 new chemicals have been used in industry with hundreds been introduced every year. As a consequence it is estimated that most of us carry more than 250 synthetic chemicals within our bodies. It is so common that we've even given the fact a name; it's called our toxic body burden. All of us now have one.
Fortunately, most of these chemicals are safe. But there are a few that are known to be very dangerous and some of these have been measured in appreciable amounts within a few people.
But even though toxic levels of chemical pollutants are seriously not good for you, it seems that we should even be more worried about the imperceptibly small levels of synthetic chemicals within us.
Rachel Carson spoke about the possible relationship between Cancers and chemical pollutants. There has been, over the last 70 years a significant increase in the incidence of certain types of Cancers. This of course could be due to the increased use of pesticides and chemicals in everyday products over the same period of time. But these chemicals could be playing a more darker role within our bodies.
Recent studies have linked a number of chemicals, namely, PCBs (banned but still persistent in the environment), DDT (partially banned), bisphenol A (still commonly used) and phthalates (still commonly used) to a range of reproductive and developmental disorders seen recently in nature and in humans. These chemicals have been called endocrine disruptors because of their capacity to interfere with workings of the endocrine system.
The effects of endocrine disruptors goes deep into the processes that make us human and they do so at a time that we're at our most vulnerable. They operate by mimicking hormones, interfering with the messages they pass on. But most crucially, endocrine disruptors cause the most damage during important stages of foetal development in the womb. The processes they damage can cause reproductive disorders that are sometimes not apparent until the child reaches adulthood.
Rachel Carson in Silent Spring hinted at the possibility of something going seriously wrong if we didn't control our use of synthetic chemicals. It seems that her predictions may have come to pass. But we have committed ourselves completely towards the use of chemicals and so the way forward looks difficult and hard. Like the measures we need to take to combat the threat of global warming, it seems that we also have make yet more personal sacrifices to secure the reproductive health of the human race.