Friday, Jul. 5, 1963

The Pest-Ridden Spring

The chemical industry had its day on Capitol Hill last week as its spokesmen testified before a Senate committee that is looking into the problem of pesticide control. But hardly anyone seemed to be listening. Marine Biologist Rachel Carson rated TV coverage for spelling the possible dangers of indiscriminate spraying. The chemical men rated a few inches on the inside pages of a few newspapers as they explained the possible dangers of indiscriminate controls aimed at wiping out pesticides instead of pests.

Buried in the long, dull testimony were items that might well have stirred public emotions as strongly as Miss Carson's bestseller Silent Spring. The food abundance that modern countries take for granted, said Parke C. Brinkley, president of the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, would quickly turn to famine without pesticides. Flies and cockroaches transporting germs from sewers and garbage would plague the U.S. Resurgent mosquitoes would drive suburbanites off their patios and back to the sunless screened porches of an earlier era. With the mosquitoes would come malaria. The mystical balance of nature, restored as advocated by some of the more vocal antipesticide people, would balance much of humanity out of existence.

Controls, with Intelligence. The pesticide industry and its customers would not suffer appreciably from intelligent controls. Such controls, indeed, are desirable. But overcontrol would be disastrous. Brinkley pointed out that the long-lasting insecticides (such as DDT), which are under heavy fire, are too valuable to discard. Their very persistence means that they need be applied seldom and in small quantities. Insecticides that decompose quickly must be used many times to protect a crop or hold down insect-borne disease.

And what about the proposed regulation that would assure "the right of the citizen to be secure in his own home against the intrusion of poisons applied by other persons"? Translated, this attractive phraseology means that community spraying campaigns could be stopped by the protest of a single cantankerous or ignorant individual. Under such a regulation, the Florida citrus industry might soon be ravaged by Mediterranean fruit flies. Gypsy moths would again defoliate the forests of the Northeast. Pests that carry typhus, yellow fever, encephalitis, plague, yaws, cholera and tick fever could quickly slip out of human control.

No Long-Term Evidence. Most articulate witness was Dr. Mitchell Zavon, assistant health commissioner of Cincinnati and medical consultant to the Shell Chemical Co. Much of the excitement about pesticides, he pointed out, suggests that they may have long-term bad effects on humans. "All we can say at this time," said Zavon, "is that there is no evidence that longterm, subtle effects exist. None have appeared in the 20 years that scientists have been looking for them."