de la mort;
Dans son discours
du Jour de la Terre,
Inka Milewski, du
mené à examiner
l'état de nos
rivières. Cela m'a
mis en colère."
Inka parle de
Rachel Carson et
de son livre
"Rivers of Death"
(Rivières de la
mort). Elle affirme
que des mesures
doivent être mises
en vigueur si nous
voulons sauver la
faune de nos
the Miramichi continues to be a river of death for Atlantic salmon
and other fish species.
the mouth of the Miramichi River, effluent from the pulp and paper
mill, plywood mill, groundwood mill, leachate from former and
current industrial chemical dumps, and sewage outfalls create a
formidable soup of chemicals through which fish must pass on their
way up the river or out to sea."
of Death Revisited
A Tribute to Rachel Carson
by Inka Milewski,
Marine Biologist & Director of the
Conservation Council of N.B.
June, 2000, EcoAlert
1962, Rachel Carson brought the world’s attention to the toxic and
persistent effects of pesticides like DDT on wildlife and humans through
her landmark book, Silent Spring. She documented the devastating effect
aerial spraying of DDT had on Atlantic salmon, trout, and aquatic
insects in the Miramichi and other rivers in the United States. In New
Brunswick, aerial spraying of DDT to control spruce bud worm began in
1952. Not only did fish and insects die from immediate (acute) exposure
to these chemicals, but, Carson identified DDT’s potential to cause
long-term (chronic) effects on sexual development, cell division, and
genetic replication. At the time, neither the carcinogenic nor the
endocrine disrupting effects of DDT were confirmed.
For her effort to draw attention to these problems, she was
mercilessly attacked and vilified by the chemical industry. A short time
after Silent Spring was published in 1962, U.S. president Kennedy set up
a special science advisory panel to study the problems associated with
pesticide use. The panel’s report a few months later confirmed Rachel
Carson’s findings. It would take another 5 years before aerial
spraying of DDT would cease in New Brunswick and 28 years before the
Canadian government would completely ban the use of DDT.
DDT was only the first of many pesticides sprayed in New Brunswick.
In fact, New Brunswick’s forests and waterways were subject to the
longest and most extensive aerial pesticide spray program in the world
(Environment Canada, 1989). A very conservative estimate of the amount
of pesticides used between 1952 and 1990 to combat spruce budworm is
100,000 mt (220 million pounds). The annual amount of DDT sprayed from
1952 to 1967 was 5,700 mt (12.5 million pounds) (Environment Canada
DDT was replaced in 1968 by a variety of pesticides. Between 1968 and
1979, approximately 4,000 mt of organophosphates (primarily fenitrothion)
were used. Organophosphates affect the transmission of nerve impulses
and are very poisonous in very minute amounts. Unlike DDT,
organophosphates readily decomposed and are less persistent. Between
1975 and 1985 a carbamate pesticide with the trade name Matacil® was
used. What was known about carbamates at the time was their mutagenic
affect - their ability to change genes and damage chromosomes and cause
mutations. What was not known at the time was that the solvent
(4-nonylphenol), which was three times the weight of the active
ingredient in the pesticide formulation, was an endocrine disrupting
compound. Between 1975 and 1986, a total of 19.392 million hectares of
forests in New Brunswick were treated with pesticides (Environment
Canada, 1991). The only other province that came close to that figure
was Quebec with 13.7 million ha followed by Newfoundland with 0.598
million ha, Nova Scotia with 0.22 million ha, and Ontario with .28
It is difficult to imagine that this long and sustained rain of
pesticides has not had an impact on the overall health of wildlife and
human populations. Nowhere is that effect more evident than in the
decline of Atlantic salmon in the Miramichi River - a decline which
began with the first spraying of DDT in 1952 and continues to this day.
In 1952, Rachel Carson called the Miramichi and other rivers subject to
DDT spraying - rivers of death. Today, the Miramichi continues to be a
river of death for Atlantic salmon and other fish species. At the mouth
of the Miramichi River, effluent from the pulp and paper mill, plywood
mill, groundwood mill, leachate from former and current industrial
chemical dumps, and sewage outfalls create a formidable soup of
chemicals through which fish must pass on their way up the river or out
to sea. In addition, while magnitude of pesticide spraying has decline,
herbicides are still sprayed to control "nuisance" vegetation
in upper reaches of the Miramichi watershed.
Recent research demonstrates that a key contaminant in that chemical
soup is endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) - compounds which do not
outright kill a fish but affect the fish’s behaviour, compromise its
immune system, alter its reproductive capacity, and reduce its overall
fitness. EDCs have been linked to disorders in human sexual development
and reproduction and include such compounds as DDT, DDE, dioxin, furans,
and PCBs. EDCs are potent at levels much lower than the allowable limits
of exposure set by current government standards.
Over the last 40 years many, many efforts have been made to save the
Atlantic salmon. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on
Atlantic salmon hatcheries, enhancement programs, and research. Over the
last 30 years, there have been over 10,000 primary scientific research
publications devoted to Atlantic salmon biology, ecology, and
management. Still the salmon continue to decline. There are renewed
calls for more money and more research to explain the
"mystery" in the decline of Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick.
Until the basic quality of the freshwater that salmon and other
aquatic species live in is addressed, no amount of research is going to
help the Atlantic salmon - that fact has been amply demonstrated. We
know the major point sources of current contaminants - they are pulp
mills, sewage plants, and aerial herbicide and pesticide spray programs.
We need to work to eliminate these sources of contaminants from
Rather than spend more money on research, a more strategic and
immediately effective use of funds would be to assist municipalities in
upgrading sewage plants that dump their effluent in waterways and to
assist industry in making technological improvements that would reduce
the discharge of harmful substances to zero. Groups concerned with the
fate of Atlantic salmon and other aquatic wildlife should be lobbying
federal and provincial governments that issue permits for the discharge
of compounds known to be harmful to fishes and other wildlife for
stricter enforcement and higher standards on chemical discharges. Until
that happens, the Miramichi and other rivers will continue to be
"rivers of death" for salmon.
Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Environment Canada. 1989. Environmental Effects of Fenitrothion Use
in Forestry: Impact on insect pollinators songbirds & aquatic
organisms. W.R. Ernst, P.A. Pearce and T.L. Pollock (Eds). Minister of
Supply and Services (Ottawa).
Environment Canada. 1991. The State of Canada’s Environment -
1991. Environment Canada. Minister of Supply and Services (Ottawa).