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The Ripple Begins in the Water

Water is a vital resource for life. Without water, we would not be able to grow plants to consume, or truly live. With the effects of poisonous chemicals like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), Rachel Carson looks at how by simply spraying a chemical in one particular area, it has a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem.

Due to the high mineral contents in the vast majority of the Earth’s water, we have to use filtration systems to be able to drink the water and hydrate crops; but this filtration system has become complex due to the other compounds that are now found in water. Since the Industrial Revolution, man has been the center thought on how ecosystems work, the ultimate question has always been,“How can this help man?” Due to our anthropocentristic thought processes, the pollution that travels into our water sources has evolved from “radioactive wastes from reactors, laboratories, and hospitals; fallout from nuclear explosions; domestic wastes from cities and towns[and] chemical wastes from factories (39).” With so many different kinds of pollution that can travel into our waterways, we have to create different purification systems for each chemical, or stop polluting.

One of the main threats of contamination is through groundwater. Groundwater is constantly moving but at a slow pace. In the Rocky Mountains, it has taken 7 to 8 years for chemicals to travel 3 miles (43). To fully understand how much water connects life between ecosystems, we must look at the linkage between how humans and nature interact. When a farmer decides to spray DDT, arsenic, or other chemicals on their crops to help reduce the amount of weeds that grow or unwanted insects on the plants, the chemical seeps into the soil, to the groundwater below. The chemical then travels through the groundwater to larger bodies of water such as ponds and lakes, which can affect the plant and animal life (131) in them as well as water sources for humans, like wells. Another aspect of spraying chemicals onto plant life, it poisons the plant which a human may eat or an animal will eat the plant that has been poisoned and then a human will eat said animal (223). The cycle is endlessly connected (91). As Carson explains, many different areas and times where this ripple effect has happened, she opens the door to environmental ethics and a call to action. Her use of the word ‘fatefully’ (45) pulls on man’s switch from causing the ripple effect to a want to understand why and how things happen. Every ecosystem is affected by man’s decision to spray a chemical.

As technology has increased as have our pollutants that have been released into the atmosphere. One of the largest pollutants in the past years have been carcinogenics, cancer causing agents, some of which can be traced back to water pollution. Cancer is the leading cause of death in school age children (221). Just as DDT or arsenic are sprayed on crops, the amount of these chemicals found in water is increasing, as Carson brings up, how much is a ‘safe dose’ of these chemicals. As entomologist G.C. Ullyett said, “We must change our philosophy, abandon our attitude of human superiority and admit that in many cases in natural environments we find ways and means of limiting populations of organisms in a more economical way than we can do it ourselves.” (261). We must shift our focus from humans to the environments as a whole and how they connect, they are no longer separate.

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