Wurster, Charles Frederick (1930 – ) American Environmental Scientist

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Charles Frederick Wurster (1930 )
American environmental scientist

Dr. Charles Wurster, a founding trustee of Environmental Defense (formerly the Environmental Defense Fund, EDF), was instrumental in banning the pesticide DDT. An emeritus professor at the Marine Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Wurster is an expert on the environmental effects of toxic chemicals .

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wurster's interest in birds was evident at a young age. He attended Quaker schoolsGermantown Friends and Haverford Collegereceiving his bachelor's of science degree in 1952. He earned a master of science degree in chemistry from the University of Delaware in 1954 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Stanford University in 1957. Subsequently Wurster spent a year in Innsbruck, Austria, as a Fulbright Fellow. From 1959 to 1962, he worked as a research chemist at the Monsanto Research Corporation.

In 1963, as a research associate in biology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Wurster demonstrated that the ubiquitous pesticide DDT was killing the campus birds. DDT sprayed on elm trees killed 70% of the robins in just two months. Myrtle warblers, who were not even on the campus at the time of the spraying, also were killed, as were all of the chipping sparrows. Furthermore DDT was not saving the trees from fatal blight. Following a two-year battle by Wurster and his colleagues, the local spraying of DDT was halted.

After moving to Stony Brook in 1965 as an assistant professor of biology, Wurster continued his studies on the harmful effects of DDT. Among other results, he found that high concentrations of DDT in Long Island osprey were associated with thin eggshells and poor reproduction. Much of his work was published in the prestigious journal Science.

At Stony Brook, Wurster joined the Brookhaven Town Natural Resources Committee, a group of scientists, lawyers, and citizens. In one of the first-ever legal actions to protect the environment , the committee forced Suffolk County to stop spraying DDT for mosquito control in the marshes of Long Island. In 1967 the committee incorporated as the EDF. The EDF's first major victory came with the 1972 nationwide ban on DDT, with Wurster in charge of the scientific arguments. Wurster is credited with creating a network of scientific expertise within the EDF that lent credibility to the organization. In 1973, while on sabbatical in New Zealand, Wurster helped found the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), modeled on the EDF.

Wurster served as Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at the Marine Sciences Research Center from 1970 until 1994 when he became an emeritus professor. His research has focused on DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other chlorinated hydrocarbons , and their effects on birds and phytoplankton (marine plants at the base of the food web). He also has studied the mortality of diving birds caught on the longlines used for tuna fishing. Wurster's interest in the environmental sciences and public policy has continued. He was instrumental in the banning of the pesticides Dieldrin and Aldrin. In 1990 Wurster assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in its legal case against the Montrose Chemical Corporation, formerly the world's largest producer of DDT. The EDF first sued Montrose in 1970 to stop it from dumping DDT into the Santa Monica Bay. In 2000 Montrose, now owned by other companies, was finally ordered to pay for the clean-up of 17 mi2(44 km2) of ocean floor. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Wurster was a director of Defenders of Wildlife from 1975 to 1984 and a trustee of the National Parks and Conservation Association from 1970 to 1979. He continues as a director of the EDS.

From its beginnings as a small group meeting at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Environmental Defense has grown into one of world's largest and most influential environmental organizations, with 400,000 members and a staff of 250 that includes scientists, economists, and lawyers. Wurster continues to work with the EDF program for the establishment of marine preserves in the United States and in the open ocean and he leads ecological tours for the EDF.

[Margaret Alic Ph.D. ]



Mosser, J. L., N. S. Fisher, and C. F. Wurster. "Polychlorinated Biphenyls and DDT Alter Species Composition in Mixed Cultures of Algae." Science 176 (1972): 5335.

Wurster, C. F. "Beetles and Dieldrin." Science 163 (1969): 229.

Wurster, C. F. "DDT and Robins." Science 159 (1968): 14134.

Wurster, C. F. "DDT Reduces Photosynthesis by Marine Phytoplankton." Science 159 (1968): 14745.


Bowman, Malcolm J. "Charles Wurster: Environmental Hero and Advocacy Pioneer." EDS News, January 2002 [cited June 10, 2002]. <www.eds.org.nz/News_Vol_4.htm>.


Dr. Charles F. Wurster, Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY USA 11794-5000 (631) 632-8738, Email: [email protected],

Environmental Defence Society, PO Box 95 152 Swanson, Aukland, New Zealand 1008 (64-9) 810-9594, Fax: (64-9) 810-9120, Email: [email protected], <http://www.eds.org.nz>

Environmental Defense, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY USA 10010 (212) 505-2100, Fax: (212) 505-2375, Toll Free: (800) 684-3322, Email: [email protected], http://www.environmental defense.org