[Letters] The grim warning of ‘Silent Spring’ continues

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[Letters] The grim warning of ‘Silent Spring’ continues

Fifty years ago, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring.” She described a situation where we could no longer hear the singing birds in spring as reckless use of insecticides and herbicides destroyed the natural ecosystem. Carson’s warning inspired environmental movements around the world.

How much has changed in the last 50 years? The pesticide DDT, which led to the deaths of birds in the story, is included in the list of banned products. In Korea, DDT has not been produced since 1976 and has been banned for usage since 1979. We now use far less toxic agricultural chemicals and pesticides.

However, new chemical compounds are constantly developed. According to the UN Environment Program’s Global Chemicals Outlook report, the European Union controls more than 140,000 kinds of chemicals. In 2010, $4 trillion worth of chemical substances have been produced worldwide.

We can find chemicals that are proven to be toxic or not yet verified as such in all aspects of our daily lives. According to the National Environmental Health Survey issued on Sept. 26, a considerable number of Korean citizens are routinely exposed to various chemicals. Compared to the time when Carson wrote “Silent Spring,” the probability of chemicals affecting the ecosystem and human health is far higher.

Let’s look at Bisphenol A (BPA), a well-known endocrine disruptor found in plastic products, metal can linings and even in commonly used receipt paper. It is so prevalent that BPA is found in nine out of ten Americans’ urine samples. A grown up weighting 60 kilograms is allowed 3 parts per billion of BPA per day. However, according to a research at the Seoul National University School of Medicine, organs and the reproductive system may be affected even when less than the allowed amount is consumed. However, the risk of BPA is not recognized or controlled seriously.

Just as Carson wrote in her book, excessive use of pesticide is not the only cause polluting the environment and threatening health. Constant exposure to chemicals day after day and year after year is a serious issue, even if the amount is small. Carson said that all organisms survive by adapting to nature, while humans are changing the environment to survive. And the changes are coming back like a boomerang and threatening human existence.

* Yoon Seung-joon President of the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute
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