I. When and why did petrochemicals emerge?



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The Petrochemical Revolution: Advocates and Critics

I. When and why did petrochemicals emerge?


--late 1800s with industrialization

--WWI and WWII as critical periods of innovation and production

--post-WW2: chemical industry rapidly shifts from military to civilian markets


II. Organic Pesticides and DDT


A. What are synthetic organic pesticides?

  • manufactured (not naturally occurring) chemicals that are based on carbon (earlier pesticides had been based on metals like copper, arsenic)

  • two main classes:

1. organophosphate pesticides (key characteristics=high toxicity to mammals, low persistence in the env)

2. organochlorine pesticides (key characteristic=low toxicity to mammals, high persistence in the env)

B. Proliferation of organic pesticides after WW2


  • no real regulation

  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) 1947—all it requires is that pesticides be effective as advertised…..

C. Controversy over DDT: Long Island Lawsuit, 1958

III. Silent Spring


A. Who was Rachel Carson?

B. Silent Spring as a product of the 1950s

1. proliferation of organic pesticides

2. fears about nuclear fallout

3. ecosystem ecology

4 suburbia as setting

5 audience of middle-class women

C. Carson’s analysis of the problem

D. Reactions to Silent Spring

--popular resonance of her book

--gendered critiques of Carson

 CBS Reports: The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson, 1963


IV. The Beginnings of Pesticide Reform


A. Political response to SS

  • Ribicoff Hearings

  • President’s Science Advisory Commission on Pesticides

  • 1964 minor amendment to FIFRA allowing Sec. Ag to ban pesticides posing “imminent health hazard”

B. DDT Lawsuits



  • EPA ban 1972

C. Legislative Reform



  • transfer of pesticide regulation from USDA to EPA (1970)

  • Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act (1972)—major overhaul of FIFRA

  • New amendments to FIFRA, 1988 –extending deadlines, and weakening requirements passed in 1972

  • limits of existing regulatory system

  • little regulation of “inactive” ingredients;

  • regulation removed from public sphere; confined to “experts” on both sides



V. The impacts of Silent Spring


A. Material/Environmental Effects

-less DDT in env, in human bodies

-fewer pesticides on the market

-shift toward organophosphatesgreater acute risks to farmworkers, sprayers (environmental justice issue)

B. Cultural Effects

-increasing distrust of government experts & dissident science (science is now part of the conflict rather than the solution to the conflict)



-Connections recognized between human health and the environment at the molecular level

-The idea of “ecology” popularized


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