THE BOSTON HERALD
January 29, 1958
To the Editor of the Herald:
Mr R. C. Codman, who wrote that he “is actively associated” with the Commonwealth of Mass. aerial spraying programme for alleged mosquito control, also says that the state tests have proved that the mixture used fuel oil with DDT last summer over Plymouth and Barnstable Counties was entirely harmless.
These testers must have used black glasses, and the trout that did not feel the poison were super-fish.
Dr Robert Cushman Murphy, distinguished scientist, observed after New York State sprayed Long Island in the same way, that no fish in still waters survived. All bees in a large section of the state were killed. Indeed, evidence of the havoc wrought by the spraying of DDT is succumbing so rapidly that Mr Codman’s placid assurances become absurd.
...The mosquito control plane flew over our small town last summer. Since we live close to the marshes, we were treated with several lethal doses of poison as the pilot criss crossed our place. And we consider this spraying of active poison over private lands to be a serious aerial intrusion.
The “harmless” shower hath killed seven of our lovely songbirds outright. We picked up three dead bodies the next morning right by the door. They were birds that had lived close to us, trusted us, and built their nests in our trees year after year. The next day three were scattered around the bird bath. (I had emptied it and scrubbed it after the spraying but YOU CAN NEVER KILL DDT). On the following day one robin dropped suddenly from a branch in our woods. We were too heartsick to hunt for other corpses. All of these birds died horribly, and in the same way. Their bills were gaping open, and their splayed claws were drawn up to their breast in agony.
...Mr Codman also says that between DDT and mosquitoes, he prefers DDT. We had no choice; we have had both. All summer long, every time we went into the garden, we were attacked by the most voracious mosquitoes that had ever appeared there. But the grasshoppers, visiting bees and other harmless insects, were all gone.
The remedy of this situation is not to double the strength of the spray and come again. It is to STOP THE SPRAYING OF POISONS FROM THE AIR everywhere until all the evidence, biological and scientific, immediate and long term, of the effects upon wildlife and human beings are known.
All spraying where it is not needed or wanted is inhuman, undemocratic and probably unconstitutional. For those of us who stand helpless on the tortured earth, it is intolerable.
OLGA OWENS HUCKINS
Olga Huckins and her husband Stuart maintained a bird sanctuary on their small farm in Duxbury, Massachusetts. In the summer of 1957, their ponds were devastated by the aerial spraying of DDT, known as ‘the insect bomb’ and sprayed as part of a US government programme to control mosquitoes.
The following year Huckins wrote a passionate letter to The Boston Herald, critiquing those defending the use of DDT and describing, in unfaltering detail, the grim death of her songbirds. She then sent the letter on to her friend Rachel Carson, to try and elicit her support. Huckins’s letter helped to change history. It convinced Carson to turn her literary energies to exposing DDT and to alerting the public about the dangers of chemical spraying.
The results of Carson’s labour, the hugely influential Silent Spring (1962), which led to nationwide ban on DDT, opens with a fable about a happy town in the heart of America, a checkerboard of prosperous farms, one day blighted – the fields withered, the birds gone – the very story of Huckins’s sanctuary.