Birth of EPA

Publication Type:

Journal Article




EPA Journal, Volume 11, p.6ff (1985)






The official birthday of EPA is December 2, 1970. Like any other birth, EPA's needed progenitors, and a family tree stretching back for years. Surely no factor was more pivotal in the birth of EPA than decades of rampant and highly visible pollution. But pollution alone does not an agency make. Ideas are needed--better yet a whole world view--and many environmental ideas first crystallized in 1962.

That year saw the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, first in serial form in the New Yorker and then as a Houghton Mifflin best seller. This exhaustively researched, carefully reasoned, and beautifully written attack on the indiscriminate use of pesticides was not exactly light reading. Yet it attracted immediate attention and wound up causing a revolution in public opinion.

An inveterate bird-watcher, Carson derived her missionary zeal from her fear that fewer species of birds would be singing each spring unless pesticide poisoning was curtailed. The readers of her book, however, were less alarmed by the prospect of a "Silent Spring" than they were about people dying from any number of hidden poisons lurking in what had previously seemed a benign environment. It was not hard to wax hysterical after reading in Carson's book that "the common salad bowl may easily present a combination of organic phosphate insecticides" that could "interact" with lethal consequences to the unsuspecting salad muncher.

Silent Spring played in the history of environmentalism roughly the same role that Uncle Tom's Cabin played in the abolitionist movement. In fact, EPA today may be said without exaggeration to be the extended shadow of Rachel Carson. The influence of her book has brought together over 14,000 scientists, lawyers, managers, and other employees across the country to fight the good fight for "environmental protection..."

See: EPA History Web Page

See: The Origins of EPA

See: Carson, Rachel. (1962). Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print.