Pesticide Use: Environmental Awareness and Impact of Conservation Organizations

Title: Pesticide Use: Environmental Awareness and Impact of Conservation Organizations

Author: Carol Pilcher

Organization: Iowa State University

Topic: Social Studies

Grade Level: 11

Time frame: Three 50-minute periods

Overview: This module is designed to assist students with understanding environmental concerns related to pesticide use. Rachel Carson was instrumental in bringing pesticide use concerns to the forefront of public awareness. However, people have challenged Rachel’s claims regarding the detrimental nature of DDT. More recently, numerous conservation organizations also have examined the negative aspects of pesticide use. It is important to critically examine the works of Rachel Carson and other conservation organizations to understand their importance in facilitating public awareness. In addition, it is important to evaluate the claims of these individuals and organizations and to assess their role in influencing public concerns.

Purpose: After completion of this module, the student will be able to

  • Understand the history of public concerns associated with pesticide use
  • Identify the importance of Rachel Carson
  • Identify other conservation organizations that examine pesticide use
  • Evaluate a conservation organization and objectively examine its environmental claims and concerns

Materials: The following worksheets will assist with this module

  • Rachel Carson: The Controversy
  • Conservation Organization Report

Getting Ready: The teacher will review the technical information section on the history of public concerns on pesticide use and the history of Rachel Carson. The teacher will need to read a copy of the book Silent Spring for engaging the students in the activities, as well as for extensions of the activities. In addition, the teacher will need to identify a location for Web access for student activities and verify access to the Web sites listed in the Resources Section and the Technical Information Section.

Motivate (Engage): To introduce this activity, the teacher should read a short passage from the book Silent Spring. Choose a passage that exemplifies the concerns associated with pesticide use. Explain the importance that Rachel Carson had on raising public awareness of concerns regarding pesticide use. Have the students divide a piece of paper in half. On one half, have the students list concerns they have heard about using pesticides. On the other half, have the students list advantages of using pesticides. Assist students with developing a discussion on controversial issues on pesticide use.

Activity (Explore):

  1. Have the students complete the exercise, “Rachel Carson: The Controversy.” Discuss the findings of this exercise. Focus on both sides of this issue—the people that believe that DDT is harmful and the people that believe that DDT is NOT harmful.
  2. Have the students choose one of the selected conservation organizations, complete the exercise, “Conservation Organization Report,” and write a report on this organization.
  3. Use a class discussion to facilitate discussion on the importance of conservation organizations. Focus on the productive and destructive activities of these organizations.

Going Further (Extensions):

  1. Have the students read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and write a book report. Some aspects of the book are technical, but try to get the students to understand the general message and the impact this book had on the public sediment concerning pesticide use.
  2. Have the students research the “Alar Scare” that occurred in 1989. Have the students write a report that includes the events prominent during this scare, the claims about pesticide use, and the results of this scare. Some sites that might be helpful are

Closure: Summarize this activity by encouraging students to critically examine all claims (positive and negative) regarding pesticide use. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with pesticide use. Encourage students to make their own decisions about the usefulness and concerns of pesticide use.

Assessment (Evaluation): The written report will serve as an assessment of the concepts learned. Additional exam questions also may be used to evaluate the concepts learned.

Resources:

Published books –

Botrell DR. 1979. (Council on Environmental Quality) Integrated pest management. Washington: Council on Environmental Quality. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Carson R. 1962. Silent spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. 368 pp.

Ehler LE and Bottrell DG. 2000. The illusion of integrated pest management. Issues in Science and Technology (Spring). http://www.nap.edu/issues/16.3/ehler.htm

Nownes AJ. 1991. Interest groups and the regulation of pesticides: Congress, coalitions, and closure. Policy Sciences 24: 1–18.

Pedigo LP. 1996. Entomology and pest management, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 679 pp.

Web sites

  1. Rachel Carson Information Sites: http://www.autopenhosting.org/rachelcarsoncouncil/, http://www.students.haverford.edu/wmbweb/medbios/bbcarson.html
  2. Rachel Carson Challenge Information Sites: http://www.junkscience.com/jan00/century.htm http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm
  3. Environmental Working Group http://www.ewg.org
  4. Greenpeace http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/
  5. National Audubon Society http://www.audubon.org/
  6. Natural Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/
  7. Rachel Carson Council, Inc. http://www.autopenhosting.org/rachelcarsoncouncil/
  8. The Nature Conservancy http://nature.org/
  9. World Wildlife Fund http://www.worldwildlife.org/
  10. Alar Scare Information Sites:

Technical Information: The insecticide era began with use of DDT, during World War II, to combat insects carrying disease-causing organisms that could cause malaria, typhus fever, cholera, and encephalitis (Botrell 1979). The use of DDT saved thousands of lives that would have been lost as a result of malaria and typhus (Pedigo 1996). After the war, other synthetic agricultural pesticides were manufactured for wide-scale use. The increased availability and use of pesticides caused many problems. Reliance on chemicals for pest control caused insects to become resistant to the chemicals and insect numbers soared to higher and higher levels. In addition, some of these chemicals began to negatively impact the environment.

An increase in public concern on toxic chemicals heightened in the 1960s. This awareness can be attributed to the actions of Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Carson and other scientists became alarmed with the widespread use of DDT and other persistent chemicals. They were especially concerned with the environmental impacts associated with these chemicals. Thus, Carson published her work in the New Yorker and then wrote Silent Spring. This book sparked public concerns environmental contamination, especially with the use pesticides.

In 1970, the Nixon Administration responded by establishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Nownes 1991). Furthermore, integrated pest management (IPM) was advanced as a national policy in 1972. This IPM initiative focused on the use of multiple methods of managing pests and a judicious use of pesticides. President Nixon directed federal agencies to advance the concept and apply IPM in all relevant sectors (Ehler and Bottrell 2000).

Others maintained that Rachel Carson was “a hysterical woman” and her claims were false. Carson was threatened with lawsuits and was described as unqualified to write such a book. In addition, claims have been made that DDT is not carcinogenic and does not have deleterious effects on fish, wild birds, and other wildlife. The controversy surrounding DDT still exists.

Public concerns resulted in the development of various conservation organizations. Today, many of these organizations are still very active and exist on the local, state, national, and international levels. Conservation organization activities include research, reports, publications, press releases, congressional lobbying efforts, public demonstrations, and global protests. Some of these activities are productive, whereas other efforts are destructive. It is important to examine each organization and determine whether its purpose and activities are productive.

Some conservation organizations that examine pesticide issues include

Botrell DR. 1979. (Council on Environmental Quality) Integrated pest management. Washington: Council on Environmental Quality. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ehler LE and Bottrell DG. 2000. The illusion of integrated pest management. Issues in Science and Technology (Spring). http://www.nap.edu/issues/16.3/ehler.htm

Nownes AJ. 1991. Interest groups and the regulation of pesticides: Congress, coalitions, and closure. Policy Sciences 24: 1–18.

Pedigo, LP. 1996. Entomology and pest management. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 679 p.

Rachel Carson: The Controversy

1. Learn important information about Rachel Carson. Locate Web sites on Rachel Carson to answer the following questions. Some sites that might help include http://www.autopenhosting.org/rachelcarsoncouncil/, http://www.students.haverford.edu/wmbweb/medbios/bbcarson.html

a. How many Web sites did you find on Rachel Carson?

b. What three areas of study did Rachel Carson pursue after high school? These areas were all important for writing Silent Spring.

c. What specific pesticide was targeted in Silent Spring?

d. Why did Silent Spring cause the public to be concerned about pesticides?

e. What awards did Rachel Carson receive for Silent Spring?

2. Learn important information about people who challenge Rachel Carson’s findings. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, increased public awareness about pesticide use. However, it also sparked a fierce debate. Some challenge Rachel Carson’s claims and findings. Locate a Web site that challenges her claims and answer the following questions. Some Web sites that might help include http://www.junkscience.com/jan00/century.htm http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm http://www.malaria.org/teachingmodules/ddt.html

a. What award did Dr. Paul Müller win for producing DDT?

b. What advantages can be associated with DDT?

c. Identify one claim in Silent Spring that is challenged as being false.

Conservation Organization Report

1. Use the Web to research one of the following conservation organizations: Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rachel Carson Council, Inc., The Nature Conservancy, or World Wildlife Fund.

2. Answer the following questions about this organization. 3. Use this information to assist with your research on this organization.

4. Write a 3-page paper article about the organization you selected.

By using the Web, choose one of these conservation organizations: Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rachel Carson Council, Inc., The Nature Conservancy, or World Wildlife Fund. Each organization examines pesticides.

a. What organization did you choose?

b. What is the URL for this organization?

c. What is the purpose of this organization? What are the objectives of this organization?

d. How does this organization view pesticides?

e. What types of activities does this organization do to deliver their message?

f. What do you think about these activities? Are they productive or destructive activities?

g. Would you join this organization? Why or why not?