Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" alerted the nation decades ago to the depredations of DDT on the nation's songbird and eagle populations. But DDT is not the only killer of birds.
Carbofuran, made by the FMC Corp. and sold commercially as Furadan, has replaced DDT as the chief chemical threat to eagles and migratory birds since the 1972 banning of DDT. The poison is intended for pests, but some birds mistake its granules for food. Eagles and larger avian predators don't make that mistake, but meet the same end when they consume prey that has ingested carbofuran. Federal environmental officials estimated in 1987 that up to 2.4 million birds were poisoned each year due to farmers' use of carbofuran. In 1989, the chemical was blamed for more than 40 massive bird kills.
In March of this year, Maryland agriculture officials joined Virginia officials in restricting uses of carbofuran, requiring farmers to bury it underground with plantings instead of spreading it on top of the soil. This newspaper applauded that move, joining a chorus of environmentally concerned citizens in calling for an outright ban from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Finally, the EPA has acted against carbofuran, announcing a negotiated settlement with FMC Corp., the sole producer. Starting Sept. 1, FMC will begin a three-year phaseout of carbofuran use in Maryland and nine other coastal states, beginning with a gradual reduction of sales to local distributors. Quantities of the product already on the market will be subject to new restrictions on its resale and use.
It is important to protect food crops from pests, but progressive farmers have learned that pesticides are not the only way. Even where pesticides are the best alternative, some chemicals have been found to be more harmful than others. And the manner, frequency and amounts of pesticide use have all been proven to have major effects on the survival of songbirds, eagles and other species needing protection. The EPA's carbofuran ban, long awaited, is a big step forward, but still other safeguards, including extension of no-till farming and low-pesticide cultivation, are still necessary.