Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are on a roller coaster ascending the first and highest hill on the ride. You hear the click, click, click as the car slowly climbs to the top and you start getting excited, even nervous, the closer you get to the peak. Then the car reaches the pinnacle and for a moment you feel suspended, as if everything has paused. But it doesn’t last long and suddenly you begin your white-knuckled descent screaming in part fear and part excitement until you reach the bottom.
You go up and you go down. The higher you rise the further and faster you seem to fall. Like that up-and-down journey, Michigan’s struggle with toxic substance crises has many peaks and valleys.
Ecosystem health describes the condition of an ecosystem. Keeping to the roller coaster metaphor, the top of a lift hill is equivalent to relatively high ecosystem health. As the car rapidly descends from the top of the hill because of a toxic substance crisis, ecosystem health diminishes rapidly. As the car slowly ascends the next hill, ecosystem health slowly improves until another toxic substance crisis occurs plunging the car down again, symbolizing another rapid decrease in ecosystem health. In Michigan, a number of these incidents stand out in particular.
Winter waterfowl kills due to oil pollution
From 1946 to 1948, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare estimated that 5.9 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products were released into the Detroit and Rouge rivers each year. This substantial volume of oil discharged from industries lining the Rouge and Detroit rivers took its toll in the winter of 1948. Ducks and geese over-wintering on the Detroit River in that time headed for these open waters filled with oil. The result was a massive mortality of 11,000 ducks and geese. Duck hunters from Downriver communities collected the oil-soaked carcasses of waterfowl, threw them into their pickup trucks, drove them to the State Capitol in Lansing and dumped them on the State Capitol sidewalk in protest. They held a press conference with Michigan United Conservation Clubs opposing oil pollution of the Detroit River and the resulting winter waterfowl kills. This single event has been credited with starting the industrial pollution control program in Michigan.
Pesticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT
As early as the 1950s, Michigan State University ornithologist George Wallace found mass die-offs of robins on his campus attributable to DDT application. Wallace’s research was later cited in Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic book “Silent Spring,” which described how pesticides like DDT were poisoning our rivers, lakes, oceans and all life. Not only were songbirds like robins vanishing from DDT exposure, but bald eagles, peregrine falcons and osprey, and it was concentrating in Great Lakes fish and endangering humans that consumed…