College takes alumna's cause to heart

Campus where 'Silent Spring' author matriculated to eliminate toxic chemicals

— Forty years after author Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring" and brought the dangers of man-made pesticides to the nation's attention, her alma mater marked the occasion with a promise the activist would have applauded: The school pledged to eliminate toxic chemicals on campus.

Chatham College, from which Carson graduated in 1929 when it was known as the Pennsylvania College for Women, on Friday celebrated the anniversary of the book's publication by announcing it would use renewable sources of energy, improve its recycling program and phase out the use of certain chemicals.

"This is a lifelong commitment. It's nothing we can uncommit to," said college President Esther Barazzone.

A scientist, editor and chief of publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carson spent years researching chemicals' impact on the environment and published "Silent Spring" in 1962.

Carson, who died at the age of 57 two years after the book was published, didn't live to see chemicals like DDT banned, but she testified at congressional hearings that ultimately produced recommendations to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

Many think of Carson as the mother of the nation's environmental movement, but she also "withstood the attacks of many," Barazzone said.

"The whole chemical manufacturing association immediately responded to the public outcry created by her book by trying to discredit her," said Ellen Dorsey, director of the college's Rachel Carson Institute.

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AP Photo

Students at Chatham College in Pittsburgh take part in a walk to protest pesticides in the environment. The walk Friday was part of the school's program commemorating the 40th anniversary of the publication of "Silent Spring," by environmentalist and school alumna Rachel Carson.

Some of the companies that attacked Carson made the type of products that Chatham is now trying to stop using when it cleans its facilities, paints its buildings and cares for its lawns, Dorsey said.

The campus will immediately stop treating its lawn with a herbicide and will switch to an organic alternative. It plans to use a low-odor interior latex paint that doesn't contain volatile organic compounds, which have been linked with the formation of smog.

With the help of Pittsburgh-based GreenMarketplace.com, it stopped using 20 cleaning chemicals in exchange for one nontoxic product that's mainly made up of citrus oil and coconut oil, said Josh Knauer, the chief executive officer of the company.

"The goal is to phase out the use of all toxic chemicals when we can find viable, nontoxic alternatives," Dorsey said. "We were hoping to come in at existing costs, and we were thrilled to find that the chemicals were equally effective and cost effective."

Chatham could save up to $15,000 a year on the environmentally friendly alternatives, Knauer said.

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