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Who Remembers Rachel Carson?

September 24, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 39

Reading Rudy Baum's editorial on Rachel Carson (C&EN, June 4, page 5) immediately reminded me of my postdoctoral stay at the Polytechnicum in Stockholm, where I read "Silent Spring" in 1962. The editorial provided me with both an adequate retrospective and a stimulating introduction to a meeting I recently attended in Montpellier, France, on sustainable development.

Surprisingly, nobody in the introductory session mentioned Carson's contribution as the precursor for the environmental movement. Instead, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's former prime minister, was often mentioned. In 1987, as acting president of UNESCO's World Commission on Environment & Development, she simply gave—25 years after "Silent Spring"—a definition and a context for sustainable development! Who nowadays in Europe still remembers Rachel Carson?

In Montpellier, the discussions focused instead on the long-debated chemicals regulation program REACH—Regulation, Evaluation & Authorization of Chemicals. After more than five years of tough discussions among ecologists, representatives from administrations, and industries in Europe, a compromise on the use of chemicals was achieved for the sake of the European workers and citizens but to the detriment of the competitiveness of the European economy.

Isn't REACH a kind of answer to Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring"? REACH took effect on June 1, just five days after the 100th anniversary of Carson's birth. Who nowadays in the U.S. even knows about REACH?

It took 45 years for the cry of an American marine biologist to be heard. A practical attempt to stop the misuse and abuse of toxic chemicals has been proposed, but at the European level only. When will industries from other continents, and particularly the U.S., join this legislation?

Of course, it isn't a model. But it tries at least to propose an answer to the controversy raised in the U.S. Senate and reported in Rudy Baum's editorial about the effect of the banning of DDT. Within REACH, the banning of a toxic substance will be effective only if a viable substitute is really available.

Gilbert Schorsch



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