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Opinion

Environmental protection is a necessity for our country

February 28, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency had its beginnings in the early 1970s, when it was created by then-Republican President Ronald Reagan. It was created as a result of increasing public concerns regarding the environment, which had been growing throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

In Rachel Carson’s seminal work “Silent Spring,” she addressed one particular environmental issue that had been gaining a lot of attention: the growing use of synthetic pesticides and their impact on environmental and human health. Of these pesticides, one in particular gained a lot of attention because of its pronounced effect on bald eagles: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, also known as DDT.

DDT is especially problematic because it is a persistent organic pollutant. This means that it is resistant to biological and chemical degradation, giving it the ability to last upwards of 30 years within the natural environment. Over time, DDT can be transported into lakes and rivers, where it can come into contact with the aquatic life living in those habitats.

Due to its resistance to degradation, quantities of DDT can slowly build up over time in the tissues of aquatic organisms as they eat the chemical and fail to completely get rid of it through excretion. This process is known as “bioaccumulation.” 

Sometimes bioaccumulation can build up to fatal levels and outright kill an animal. Other times, however, the DDT quantities won’t quite reach that level, and the organism will go on living with a non-lethal accumulation of poisons in its body. This opens up opportunities for this smaller organism to be eaten by a bigger organism, which passes on the DDT to the next level of the food chain. 

Because predators tend to eat more than one prey animal (eagles, for example, eat more than one fish over the course of their lifetime), this means that animals that are higher up on the food chain tend to get higher doses of accumulated poison – a process known as “biomagnification.” For example, if an eagle eats two DDT-infected fish, it gets two small doses of DDT, neither of which will be going anywhere since the eagle isn’t capable of excreting the chemical either. Over time, the DDT will build up in the eagle’s tissues and begin to cause problems.

Over time, this biomagnification effect has had tragic results. Due to rampant use of DDT in the U.S., bald eagle populations in the country have diminished to a mere 487 nesting pairs. Under the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1966, these national symbols were listed as endangered and in critical threat to becoming extinct.

This is but one disaster that fed into the growing outrage over environmental pollution within the U.S. There are many who say that regulating industrial waste and pesticide use harms the economic growth of businesses within the country, and that economic growth is the most important of all considerations.

I ask, however: without an environment to sustain us, how can our country exist? How can there be any business or economic system if there is no environmental system to support and sustain human life? Is economic growth the end-all-be-all of human civilization, or is there something greater?

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