Chemical Warfare in My Kitchen?
As they swarm around a discarded lollipop, I position a can of Raid above them.
Then I stop myself.
What am I doing? Spraying toxic chemicals in the very place I prepare food for my family just doesn’t seem sensible. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how we’ve been tricked into believing this is a rational thing to do.
People have been devising ways to kill insects for thousands of years. Naturally-occurring chemical elements, such as sulfur and arsenic, were used for this purpose by ancient civilizations over four thousand years ago. In 1200 BCE, the Chinese approached the problem of caterpillars and wood boring beetles by releasing predatory ants into citrus groves. They helped the ants travel between trees by fastening ropes and bamboo sticks. In the 1700’s, Franz Ernst Bruckmann designed a mechanical trap for insects, placing sugar inside a wooden box that was topped with a spring-loaded lid.
Things changed in 1807 when John Dalton set forth the theory that matter is made up of atoms. He explained that atoms combine, separate and rearrange themselves during chemical reactions. With this discovery, the field of Chemistry exploded wide open. Scientists learned to move atoms around, substituting one for another, thus creating new substances nature had never seen before. The field of Chemical Engineering was born.
Many of the new substances were found to be powerful insecticides. The most well-known, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), was discovered in 1939 by Swiss chemist, Paul Mueller. DDT was the most powerful insecticide the world had ever seen. It became the chemical of choice because it was inexpensive to manufacture, killed a broad-range of insects, and didn’t wash away in the rain.
During World War II, the U.S. desperately needed DDT to protect its troops from malaria-carrying mosquitos and typhus-carrying lice. Soldiers sprinkled DDT directly into their sleeping bags. In 1944, when a typhus epidemic broke out in Italy, over one million civilians were ‘dusted’ with DDT. In other parts of the world, a liquid form of DDT was sprayed on the walls and ceilings of houses. DDT was called a miracle and earned Paul Mueller the Nobel Peace Prize.
After WWII ended, manufacturers found a new market with farmers who wanted nothing more than to kill every insect in sight. The demand for DDT steadily increased. At one point, the U.S. was producing 220 million pounds of DDT a year.
DDT was sprayed liberally all over the world until 1962, when a relatively unknown marine biologist, Rachel Carson, published Silent Spring. In her book, Carson claimed that DDT, along with other similar chemicals, was toxic to living organisms and didn’t naturally degrade in the environment. She described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, eventually causing cancer and genetic damage.
The chemical industry panicked and publicly challenged Carson’s findings, going so far as to even question her sanity. President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee legitimized Carson’s findings in 1963, and in 1972, DDT was banned.
Silent Spring marked the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States. It opened people’s eyes to the fact that the mighty dollar was more important to big business than public health. Chemical companies could not be trusted to keep us, or other living things, safe.
It’s been a little over 50 years since the publication of Silent Spring. Have we come to our senses and stopped experimenting with Mother Nature? On the contrary. Today, chemical companies have so much power, they’re selling us genetically modified food without our consent. It’s time to stop letting ourselves get ‘dusted.’ The ants in our kitchens are not the real enemy.SHARE THIS