The following passage is an excerpt from Our Daily Poison:

DDT and the Beginning of the Industrial Age

"Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?" Rachel Carson posed this question in Silent Spring, published in 1962, considered the founding work of the ecological movement. "They should not be called 'insecticides' but 'biocides.' " She went on: "This industry is a child of the Second World War. In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare, some of the chemicals developed in the laboratory were found to be lethal to insects. The discovery did not come by chance: insects were widely used to test chemicals as agents of death for men."

Fritz Haber's work on chlorinated gases did indeed open the way to the industrial production of synthetic insecticides, the most well-known of which is DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), one of the large family of organo- chlorines. An organochlorine is an organic compound in which one or more hydrogen atoms have been replaced by chlorine atoms, forming an extremely stable chemical structure that is therefore resistant to environmental degradation. Some are considered "persistent organic pollutants" (POPs), because they accumulate in animal and human fatty tissue and because their extreme volatility enables them to move through the atmosphere to contaminate the remotest areas of the planet. I will return to the damaging effects of POPs, several of which—known as the "dirty dozen" (from the 1967 Robert Aldrich film)—were banned by the Stockholm Convention adopted on May 22, 2001, by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), but still pollute the environment and even mothers' milk. Among them are Monsanto's polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), along with nine pesticides, including DDT, the "miracle insecticide" that began its brilliant career during World War II, bringing in its wake many molecules developed between the wars.