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DEP Celebrates 60 Years of Environmentalist, Writer, Pennsylvania Native Rachel Carson’s Seminal Environmental Literary Work, ‘Silent Spring’

09/13/2022

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today hosted a virtual roundtable with environmentalists honoring the late scientist, ecologist, editor, writer, and Pennsylvania native Rachel Carson for her seminal environmental literary work, “Silent Spring.” A recap of the roundtable is available on DEP’s Facebook homepage.

Carson’s “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, helping to usher in the modern environmental movement and making environmental concerns and issues known to the public. Carson, born in southwestern Pennsylvania, was a scientist who took to writing and was able to communicate the importance of environmental protection for all communities.

DEP hosted the roundtable to commemorate Carson’s significant contributions to the field of environmental protection and her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring.”

“Rachel Carson’s contributions to science, through acute observations, are appreciated by all who serve each day to continue her legacy of protecting the environment,” said DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh.

“I am excited to have participated in an event to celebrate such an important Pittsburgher and environmentalist,” said DEP Office of Environmental Justice Southwest Regional Coordinator Ngani Ndimbie, who participated in the event.

Dr. Linda Lear, who participated in the roundtable, is a Rachel Carson historian who has studied Carson’s work for years. Lear wrote the foreword that appears in updated editions of “Silent Spring” and authored “Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.” “History has shown that Rachel was right,” said Lear.

Another participant, Dr. Patricia DeMarco, said she utilizes Carson’s “environmental ethic and principles of science-based policy” in her work and has been influenced to “living in harmony with nature.” DeMarco is the author of the forthcoming book, “In the Footsteps of Rachel Carson,” to be published next year, and has led the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, and then the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University (where Carson studied), and co-produced “The Power of One Voice: A 50 Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson.”

“It is an honor to be part of a conversation highlighting Rachel Carson; I continue to be inspired by her legacy in my own work to collaboratively and intentionally create a fundamentally equitable, resilient, healthy, and prosperous Pennsylvania and beyond,” said Dr. Joylette Portlock, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, who also joined as a panelist.

DEP Press Secretary Jamar Thrasher moderated the virtual event.

Born in Springdale, Pa., Carson’s writings urged tighter controls on pesticides which decimated natural ecosystems and which were extremely harmful to humans. “Silent Spring” is credited with saving the lives of many species, specifically by being instrumental in initiating the move to ban the use of DDT, a heavily used insecticide of the 1940s.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The publication [of ‘Silent Spring’] stimulated widespread public concern over the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls,” and hence, “[i]n 1972, EPA issued a cancellation order for DDT based on its adverse environmental effects, such as those to wildlife, as well as its potential human health risks.” The federal agency, and other governmental authorities, list DDT as a possible human carcinogen.

The discontinuation of DDT brought about greatly improved outcomes. As Carson writes in the final chapter of “Silent Spring” about the impact of pesticides: “…in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.” 

“Throughout my career in environmental education, I have witnessed a remarkable recovery of peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and osprey, which serve as a testament to the impact of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring,’ and serves as an example of an environmental success story for all Pennsylvanians,” said DEP Environmental Education Specialist Program Supervisor Gilbert Myers.

Carson’s career was dogged by criticisms from the chemical industry, who opposed Carson’s environmental warnings. However, that did not stop President John F. Kennedy from announcing that the White House would investigate the claims made in Carson’s book.

Landmarks dedicated to Carson appear throughout Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh, where Carson spent time, there is the Rachel Carson Bridge. In Harrisburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania houses agencies DEP and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in the Rachel Carson State Office Building.

Dr. Mark Madison, another panelist, is the historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where Carson worked for 16 years. He manages the artifacts from Carson's career for the agency. 

“Rachel Carson jump-started the modern environmental movement and it is an honor to celebrate her legacy in her home state of Pennsylvania,” Madison said.

Carson’s bibliography includes “Under the Sea-Wind,” “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea,” and, what is considered her most influential work, “Silent Spring.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Jamar Thrasher, jthrasher@pa.gov, 717-319-1758
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