Grassroots and the Ban of DDT

February 27, 2014

Rachel Carson is credited with starting the Environmental Movement.  Her book Silent Spring showed how economic poisons such as DDT were destroying the ecosystems.  I read this book when my children were very young.  We lived across the street from the city park in Grand Haven, MI.  The city fathers were trying to prevent the loss of elm trees from Dutch elm disease by bombarding the park with DDT.  When the children went out to play, everything was coated with sticky DDT.

We saw robins trembling on the grass in their death throes.  The poison quickly builds up in food chains and the worms they fed upon were laden with the poison.  We live near Lake Michigan and so when it rained, the long lasting pesticide washed into the lake and built up in food chains.  Food chains in water are long and poisons magnify.  The fish became unhealthy to eat.  Eagles that fed upon fish were not able to reproduce.  Their eggs broke in the nest. Eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons were disappearing.

“How can you read this book and not do something,” my husband said to me.  He marched down to City Hall and asked the city council to stop the spraying.  They thought he was not believable. For 20 years, the Ag Department at MSU had taught that DDT was the best and cheapest solution for both farmers and cities.  But my husband, Norm Spring is persistent. He didn’t give up. He went to every city council meeting for three years He went back for three years with the same request.  He quoted experts. The city brought Ag Department experts.

Finally the city stopped the wholesale spraying in Grand Haven, MI.  People from Holland, MI came to him and asked how he managed to do this.  Together they formed the Michigan Pesticides Council and met at MSU with both university professors, government officials and ordinary people like my husband and myself.  Michigan was one of the first states to stop the widespread use of DDT and like pesticides.  These were banned nationally in 1972.

Grassroots movements work.  I wrote my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes inspired by Rachel Carson and by what we were able to accomplish.  We see eagles on our lakeshore again.  It took many years for DDT to purge out of the ecosystem, but today the raptors are nesting and flying.  I’m thrilled.

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Norm will be at the Gerald R. Ford Museum on April 10, 7.p.m. 2014 to be inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame.



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