This week’s post is going to be about poison awareness. It was brought to my attention by a book that I am reading in school called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In her book she discusses the environment we know live in: one filled with chemicals. A couple of the facts, stories, and information that I thought was very interesting and insightful are going to be mentioned in this post.
Michigan State University had been an important stop every year for migrating robins in the spring. Beginning in 1954, the University started spraying for the Dutch Elm disease. The elm trees were sprayed with 2-5lbs of DDT per 50 foot tree every spring and sometimes again in July at half the amount. When the trees were sprayed, the poison would form a film over the leaves that could not be washed off by rain. It would kill the bark beetles, but also beneficial bugs such as pollinators and predatory spiders. In the fall, the leaves would drop and become a favorite food of earthworms, who broke down the leaves. The year after the first light spraying the robins returned in the spring in their usual abundance to nest and find food. Soon after the first arrivals, dead and dying birds were found abundantly. It looked as if the robins were being poisoned, not directly, but indirectly. Earthworms are the major food source in the spring for migratory robins. When crayfish were fed earthworms from the campus, they promptly died. When studied, DDT was found in the digestive tracts and other internal organs of the earthworms. Just 11 worms could transfer enough DDT to kill a robin, and robins usually eat 10-12 worms in as many minutes. It appeared that the spraying had become a lethal trap for each wave of robins that arrived. Within a week of arrival nearly all the robins would be dead and dying. Now there only 2-3 dozen robins that visit the campus each spring, compared to the 370 individuals that used to arrive before the spraying.
Another place in Michigan that took a considerable interest to spraying was Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In order to assess the extensive effect DDT had on birds, they asked for all birds that were thought to be victims to be turned in for examination. Within a few weeks, the Institute’s deep-freeze facilities were full and other specimens had to be refused. In 1959, 1,000 poisoned birds were brought in or reported from the community alone. There were many robins along with 63 other different species.
Spraying is deadly, and there are ways around it. For example, the Klamath weed grew in abundance in the West at one point. Any farm animals who ate it got scabs in their mouths. Land values began to decrees if the weed was found on the property. Over in England, were the plant was native, they had no problems with it because a certain beetle population fed on the plant keeping it from being a problem. The beetles were then introduced out West, and within a few years, as the beetle spread, the Klamath weed was reduced to 1% of its formal abundance.
Along with the animals that spraying effects, it also effects us. Chemicals are sprayed on our food, they leak down to underground water, and they are used in our houses. Every year, 500 new chemicals are introduced for us to use. Here are the important ones to steer clear of: DDT, DDD, Dieldrin (5x as toxic as DDT), Chlordane, Heptachlor, Aldrin (the quantity the size of an aspirin tablet is enough to kill more than 400 quail), and Endrin (5x as poisons as Dieldrin). Check mosquito repellents, bug sprays, lawn care equipment, and insecticide bottles to be sure you are not using these chemicals which damage wildlife, plant life, and you.
Keep this post in mind as we come into the gardening season, and have a wonderful weekend!