Demand for Tighter Pesticide Controls
The case for stricter government controls over the production and use of pesticides was given dramatic emphasis by a recent finding of the U.S. Public Health Service that endrin, an insecticide widely used in the South to protect cotton and sugar cane crops, had been responsible for the death of millions of fish in the lower Mississippi basin. The report raised new fears about the effects of widespread use of pesticides not only on the mortality of fish and wildlife but also on the health of man.
The fish-kill finding, made public last March, had other repercussions: It set in motion a new phase of a year-long Senate investigation of environmental contamination under the leadership of Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D Conn.); led to launching of new intensive studies of contamination in the Mississippi area; caused the Department of Agriculture to schedule special hearings on whether to sanction continued use of the pesticide in question; and brought government and industry into a new encounter on whether or not tighter government controls over pesticides would improve the situation.
Intensification of the pesticide debate has done little to clarify the question for the average citizen, who does not know whether to cheer or to mourn the purposeful contamination of his environment. He is told on the one hand that pesticides are of inestimable benefit to man and, on the other hand, that their use entails hazards to health which cannot be accurately measured at the present stage of scientific knowledge. The consensus of expert opinion appears to be that while there is little evidence of immediate danger to public health from use of pesticides, the future is fraught with unknown risks. All agree that more research on the subject is in order; opinion divides on whether the potential hazard is sufficiently great to demand an immediate or early cutback in the use of certain pesticides.