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SILENT SPRING: RIVERS OF DEATH

The robins and other birds of Michigan State University represented to Rachel Carson a primary case study for pesticide impacts on land.

Similarly, the Atlantic salmon and other fish of the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada clearly demonstrated impacts on aquatic systems.

In the early and mid-1950s, forests near the Miramichi were sprayed from planes with DDT in an attempt to control the Spruce Budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) that attacks conifers.

While the spraying had variable impact on the budworm, runoff of the pesticide into streams soon resulted in massive fish kills. The pesticide killed aquatic insect larvae that were the diet of young salmon and other fish, resulting in starvation of the fish. The pesticide is also lethal to fish at certain concentrations.

The potential for DDT and other pesticides to kill aquatic animals was known long before Silent Spring.

Studies by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1940s confirmed the death of invertebrates and fish due to DDT poisoning. In fact, many fish species are more susceptible to poisoning than the salmon and trout in Carson’s account of the devastation on the Miramichi River.