There’s Poison All Around Us!

A comparison of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1958) and Jamie Fox’s Gaslands (2010). 50 years little change for global environmental protection.

Published in 1962, Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and writer with the U.S Fish and Wildlife services, investigated the effects of mass spraying of insecticides such as DDT on the land, the water and on the people.

In her book she talked about the basic irresponsibility of the industrialised, technological society towards the natural world. 50 years later Fox talks about the inhuman way the oil and gas industry such as Halliburton extract natural gas without considering the effects on the drinking water supply.

The reason this is so striking is that in the 50 years from the release of Silent Spring to the release of Gaslands; it seems that little has changed at all for environmental protection in the U.S.

Carson and Fox investigated the Oil, Gas and Pesticide industry’s control over the air we breathe, the water we drink and the quality of our lives. How do they have so much power? What causes them to think about profits over people? And what were the outcomes?

50 years ago Carson brings up issues such as climate change and the effects industry has on the land, which is still a major debate.  She talks about how we are changing the planet at a rapid rate;

‘‘The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.’’

In the 50’s, the U.S department of Agriculture spent millions of dollars on the mass production of insecticides and pesticides, but Carson makes a very clear point that earth has its own fine balance in keeping species populations in check, by having it’s predator around. Unfortunately, spraying destroys not only the insects but their principle enemy, the birds. When later there is a resurgence of the insect population, the birds are not there to keep their numbers in check.

‘’The greatest enemy of the insect life is other predatory insects, birds and some small mammals, but DDT kills indiscriminately, including nature’s own safeguards or policemen.. in the name of progress are we to become victim’s of our own diabolical means of insect control to provide temporary comfort, only to lose out to destroying insects later on?’’

If it was clear that chemical spraying of agricultural land is not safe, why was it the only plausible cause of action? Carson answers this question with a simple quote from a trade journal reporter in 1958, as the fire ant program got underway;

’’The United states pesticide makers appear to have tapped a sales bonanza in the increasing numbers of broad scale pest elimination programs conducted by the U.S department of agriculture’’

Carson explains the effects these toxic chemicals are having on the soil, the water, on the grazing animals and on us.

Insect problems occurred with the intensification of agriculture and single crop farming. Nature introduces great variety into the landscape to provide a balance and to hold species within bounds.

A failure to hold species within their bounds occurred in the towns of large areas of the U.S, who lined their streets with the noble elm tree. The beauty that this was supposed to create was threatened with complete destruction as disease swept through the elms, carried by a beetle that would have only limited chance to build up large populations and to spread from tree to tree if the elms were only occasional trees in a richly diversified planting.

To get rid of this disease, the U.S Department of Agriculture initiated a programme to spray all the elms with DDT. A year later in Michigan, Robins where found convulsing into their own death. The cause of this was the indirect exposure to insecticides.

When spraying trees, the poison formed a tenacious film over the leaves and bark. Rains did not wash it away.  In autumn, leaves fell to the ground, accumulated in sodden layers and began the process of becoming one with the soil. In this, they were aided by the toil of the earthworms, who fed on the leave litter.

In the following spring time, feeding Robins ingested this insecticide where it had accumulated in the bodies of earthworms and magnified the concentration of the poison the robins were consuming.

What happens when DDT is ingested?

When DDT became a widely used pesticide in the 1950’s it was thought to be harmless to humans. However, it was soon realised that we were storing DDT in our body fat. It is stored primarily in such fatty organs as the adrenals, testes, and thyroid. DDT is also stored in smaller concentrations in the liver and kidneys. DDT concentrations are especially high in human milk. Milk production depends heavily on the use of stored body fat, and this is where DDT tends to stay in our bodies. At concentratiosn above 236 mg DDT per kg of body weight, you’ll die. Concentration of 6-10 mg/kg leads to such symptons as headachenauseavomitingconfusion, and tremors.

Carson explains how these poisons flow through the earth’s natural processes, moving from the soil into the water into animal and human;

 ‘Probably the bulk of such contaminants that are the waterborne residues are the millions of pounds of agricultural chemicals that have been applied to farmlands for insect and rodent control and have been leeched out of the ground by rains to become part of the universal seaward movement of water.’

In 1945 in Denver, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal of Army Chemical Corps began to manufacture war materials followed by a private oil company for the production of insecticides.

Water wells contained contaminants such as chlorides, chlorates, salts of phosphoric acid, fluorides and arsenic. There was also the discovery of the weed killer 2,4- D (of which none was manufactured at the Arsenal).

The 2,4- D insecticide had been formed spontaneously from other discharged substances in the presence of air, water and sunlight. The ground became the chemist. The pollution of water supplies with radioactive materials posed a serious problem. The water that contained these contaminants also contained other chemicals such as detergents, producing chemical reactions creating new substances that were ever more toxic and dangerous to the environment it’s in. There are major side effects associated with the herbicide 2,4- D. People spraying their lawns with 2,4-D and becoming wet with spray have occasionally developed severe neuritis and even paralysis. 2,4-D has been shown experimentally to disturb the basic physiological process of respiration in the cell, and to imitate X-rays in damaging the chromosomes. Reproduction in birds was severely affected.

The eradication of the Japanese beetle is a good example showing how much control the pesticide industry had.

The Japanese beetle, an insect accidently imported into the U.S was discovered in New Jersey in 1916. The Michigan spraying was one of the first large-scale attacks on the Japanese beetle from the air. The choice of Aldrin as the pesticide, one of the deadliest of all chemicals, was not determined by any particular suitability for Japanese beetle control, but simply by the wish to save money – Aldrin was the cheapest of compounds available.

Acting under the Michigan pest control law, which allows the state to spray indiscriminately without notifying or gaining permission of individual landowners, the low lying planes began to fly over the Detroit area.

The city authorities and the federal aviation agency were immediately besieged by calls from worried citizens. After receiving nearly 800 calls in a single hour, the police begged radio and television stations and newspapers to ‘’tell the watchers what they were seeing and to advise them it was safe’’ according to Detroit news.

The Federal Aviation Agency’s safety officer assured the public ‘’the planes are carefully supervised and are authorised to fly low’’. In a somewhat mistaken attempt to allay fears, he added that the planes had emergency valves that would allow them to dump their load instantaneously.

These insecticides were not selective poisons, they did not single out the one species desired to rid. Each of them was used for the simple reason, that it was a deadly poison.  No law was there to protect these people and their land.

Carson’s book helped to make ‘ecology’, which was an unfamiliar word in the 50’s and 60’s. It led to environmental legislation and President Kennedy setting up a special panel on his Science Advisory Committee to study the problem of pesticides.

 Has much changed since then?

Jamie Fox grew up next to the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. After receiving a letter in 2001, stating that he was sitting on a giant basin called The Marcellus Shale, which stretches across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia containing what was termed a ‘Saudia Arabia’ of Natural Gas, he was asked to lease his land for $100,000.

Being aware of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, Fox set out to investigate how local fracking wells were affecting people’s lives.

Like Carson, Fox puts a lot of emotion into his stories by providing real life examples of damage caused by hydraulic fracturing.

What the Frack is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Also known as Fracking, Hydraulic Fracturing involves blasting water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground, producing a mini earthquake. Intense pressure breaks apart the rock and frees up the gas. For this process to be possible Fracking fluid is required, which contains over 596 chemicals such as; 2- (Thiocyanomethylthio) benzothiazole (TCMTB) and Ethylbenzene, as well as corrosion inhibitors, gellants, drilling additives, biocides, shale control inhibitors, liquid breaker aid, viscosifiers and liquid gel concentrates.

Glycol Ethers are used for the entire life of the well. It is a liquid chemical component of plastic and is used as an anti-freeze. It has a pungent smell with visible oil droplets when subject to heat. If consumed, the effects on humans are; dizziness, headaches, loss of smell and taste, testicular toxicity, malformation of the embryo, bone marrow depression and haemolysis.

Each well requires 1-7 million gallons of water and can be Fracked 18 times in its life.

After receiving calls from local land owners, the DEP of Pennsylvania said that everything was going fine, however, water had turned yellow-brown and tasted metallic, a pipe was required in the water well to pipe off gas and animals grazing on the land got very sick.

Oil and Gas Waste water, also called ‘Produced Water’ contaminated with Fracking fluids was dumped illegally onto fields and into streams where, like what Carson explained, it passes through generations of grazers and predators and also gets washed into the waterways where it can be picked up by other species.

Locals are suffering from constant water trouble, poor health conditions, hazardous explosive conditions (people could set fire to the water coming from their kitchen tap), destruction of land, dead/sick animals and no information from any local authority.

The Nobel Energy industry in Colorado claimed that contaminated drinking water was not their fault yet supplied local households with water tanks and fresh water.

The contaminated drinking water contained chemicals such as Trichlorobenzene and Triethyleneglycol, which are known carcinogens.

When Fox took a drinking water sample from Dimock, Pennsylvania to get tested, the results were horrifying. Barium and strontium were found, which are lubricants for the drill bits. Iron and chloride conductivity was extremely high. With pure distilled water you have a conductivity of zero, this was at 32800.

Everything that enters your cells enters through a surface. A surfactant will allow oil or other substances to pass through surfaces by dissolving them; if a surfactant gets into a stream it will dissolve the fish’s gills. (35 mile fish kill, drunkard creek, Washington county PA)

Hydrochloric acid was found which dissolves mud in wells as well as an anti bacterial agent gluteraldehyde, a fluid viscosity breaker ammonium persulfate, a corrosion inhibitor dimethyl formaldihide,  a cross linker borate salt, a friction reducer petroleum distillate, an iron control agent citric acid, potassium chloride and an oxygen scavenger.

When a woman was walking past a condensate tank (contains the produced water), she felt like she was shot in the temples by two 2X4s. She managed to drag herself into her truck, get home and was violently ill throughout the night. People in the same area were wearing respirators, and some were suffering with brain tumours.

The same symptoms were recorded; headaches, ringing in ears, disorientation, loss of consciousness as well as pains all over the body. There were also cases of irreversible brain damage, lesions in the brain and swelling. The loss of smell and taste was caused by hydrogen sulphide exposure.

People who received compensation had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Once they received their money they could no longer go public with their stories.

How are these energy companies getting away with this?

In 1970, The EPA Clean Air Act was passed, in 1972 Richard Nixon signed The Clean Water Act into law followed by The Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

In 2005, The Energy Bill was pushed through congress by Dick Cheney. This Energy Bill exempted Oil and Gas industries from The Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as The Clean Air Act and The Clean Water Act.

Between 1995 and 2000, Dick Cheney was the CEO of the biggest Oil and Gas industry in the U.S, Halliburton and the push for this 2005 Energy Bill became the largest, most expensive domestic gas drilling campaign in history.

  • He formed the Energy Task Force
  • Met 40 times with industry leaders of energy groups and once with an environmental group
  • $100,000,000 was spent on lobbying efforts to insert the ‘Halliburton loophole’ into the Safe Drinking Water Act.

This ‘Halliburton Loophole’ authorises Oil and Gas workers exclusively to inject known hazardous materials unchecked directly connected to or adjacent to underwater drinking supplies

This bill was passed as part of Bush’s administration Energy Policy Act in 2005. Because of the exemptions, Fracking chemicals were considered proprietary like the secret formula for Coca Cola.

To solve this act of injustice, a new piece of legislation called the Frack act is set to take the Halliburton loop hole out of the energy policy act. If this gets passed, Oil and Gas companies have to be completely transparent with every chemical they use in the process of Hydraulic Fracturing. If the chemical is deemed toxic and is libel to get into the drinking water, it will be prohibited from use.

As you can see, in both studies, peoples’ rights have been taking from them by large multimillion dollar corporations without them even realising until they got sick or lost a lot of life stock.

What’s unnerving is that no matter what, Oil and Gas companies have a lot of power and without a carefully monitored government legislation and continuous public attention, profit will always be chosen over people.


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