September 25, 2006


Day of reckoning for DDT foes? (Steven Milloy, September 25, 2006, Washington Times)

Overlooked in all the hoopla over the announcement is the terrible toll in human lives (tens of millions dead, mostly pregnant women and children under age 5), illness (billions sickened) and poverty (more than $1 trillion in lost GDP in sub-Saharan Africa alone) caused by the tragic, decades-long ban. [...]

Rachel Carson kicked off DDT hysteria with her pseudoscientific 1962 book, "Silent Spring." Miss Carson materially misrepresented DDT science in order to advance her anti-pesticide agenda. Today she is hailed as having launched the global environmental movement. A Pennsylvania state office building, Maryland elementary school, Pittsburgh bridge and a Maryland state park are named for her. The Smithsonian Institution commemorates her work against DDT. She was even honored with a 1981 U.S. postage stamp. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of her birth. Many celebrations are planned.

It's quite a tribute for someone who was so dead wrong. At the very least, her name should be removed from public property and there should be no government-sponsored honors of Miss Carson.

The Audubon Society was a leader in the attack on DDT, including falsely accusing DDT defenders (who won a libel suit) of lying. Not wanting to jeopardize its nonprofit tax status, the Audubon Society formed the Environmental Defense Fund (now simply known as Environmental Defense) in 1967 to spearhead its anti-DDT efforts. Today the National Audubon Society takes in more than $100 million yearly and has assets worth more than $200 million. Environmental Defense takes in more than $65 million yearly with a net worth exceeding $73 million.

In a February 25, 1971, media release, the president of the Sierra Club said his organization wanted "a ban, not just a curb" on DDT, "even in the tropical countries where DDT has kept malaria under control. Today the Sierra Club rakes in more than $90 million per year and has more than $50 million in assets.

Business are often held liable and forced to pay monetary damages for defective products and false statements. Why shouldn't the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense, Sierra Club and other anti-DDT activist groups be held liable for the harm caused by their recklessly defective activism?

WHO calls for more DDT use vs. malaria (LAURAN NEERGAARD, 9/15/06, AP)

A small number of malaria-plagued countries already use DDT, backed by a 2001 United Nations treaty that set out strict rules to prevent environmental contamination. But the influential WHO's long-awaited announcement makes clear that it will push indoor spraying with a number of insecticides — and that DDT will be a top choice because when used properly it's safe, effective and cheap.

"We must take a position based on the science and the data," said Dr. Arata Kochi, the WHO's malaria chief. "One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual house spraying. Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT."

"It's a big change," said biologist Amir Attaran of Canada's University of Ottawa, who has long pushed for the guidelines and described a recent draft. "There has been a lot of resistance to using insecticides to control malaria, and one insecticide especially. ... That will have to be re-evaluated by a lot of people."

The U.S. government already has decided to pay for DDT and other indoor insecticide use as part of
President Bush's $1.2 billion, five-year initiative to control malaria in Africa.

Finally: Good News for Malaria Victims (Paul Driessen, September 17, 2006, Chron Watch)
In Kenya alone, 34,000 young children a year perish from malaria, says Health Minister Charity Ngilu. Uganda suffers 100,000 deaths annually, notes Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Malinga – the equivalent of a jetliner with 275 people slamming into its Rwenzori Mountains every day.

Africa has 400 million cases of acute malaria per year; up to 2 million die. Countless millions are too sick to work or go to school, countless millions more must stay home to care for them, and meager family savings are exhausted on anti-malaria drugs.

The disease costs Kenya 170 million working days and billions of dollars annually. It is a major reason that few tourists and investors go to Africa, and that the sub-Sahara region remains one of the poorest on Earth.

Instead of improving, in recent decades the disease rates have worsened. A principal reason, as epidemiologist Robert Desowitz observed, has been insecticide-resistant mosquitoes lethally combined with insecticide-resistant health authorities, who insisted on politically correct policies, instead of proven, practical solutions.

Indeed, since the US banned DDT in 1972, despite an independent commission finding that it was safe for people and most wildlife, malaria has killed an estimated 50 million people. Opponents have focused relentlessly on the alleged risks of using DDT--while ignoring the undeniable tragedies the chemical could prevent.

DDT is no “silver bullet,” nor is it appropriate in all places or cases. However, it is a critical element of many successful malaria control programs. Sprayed just twice a year on the inside walls of homes, it keeps 90% of mosquitoes from even entering, irritates those that do come in so they don’t bite, and kills any that land. No other chemical, at any price, does that.

Look Who's Ignoring Science Now (Sebastian Mallaby, October 10, 2005, Washington Post)
DDT, to give that chemical its more familiar name, works miracles against diseases that are spread by insects. During the Second World War, vast quantities of the stuff were dusted over troops and concentration-camp survivors to kill the body lice that spread typhus. Later, DDT was used widely in Latin America to beat back dengue and yellow fever. But the chemical's noblest calling is to combat malarial mosquitoes. In the early 20th century, Dunklin County, Missouri, had a higher rate of malarial mortality than Freetown, Sierra Leone. Between 1947 and 1949, DDT was sprayed on the internal walls of nearly 5 million American houses, and at the end of that process malaria had ceased to pose a significant threat in the United States.

DDT also helped to eliminate malaria in Europe and parts of Asia, and in 1970 the National Academy of Sciences estimated that the chemical had prevented 500 million deaths. And yet, despite that astounding number, DDT has all but disappeared from the malaria arsenal. Some 500 million people still get the disease annually, and at least 1 million die, but the World Health Organization refuses to recommend DDT spraying. The U.S. government's development programs don't purchase any of the chemical. In June President Bush made a great show of announcing a new five-year push against malaria; DDT appears to play no part in his plans.

But the worst culprit is the European Union. It not only refuses to fund DDT spraying: In the case of at least one country, it has also threatened to punish DDT use with import restrictions.

That country is Uganda, which suffered a crippling 12 million cases of malaria in a population of 27 million in 2003. The Ugandans know perfectly well that DDT can help them: As Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute recently testified to Congress, DDT spraying in one part of the country in 1959 and 1960 reduced the prevalence of malaria from 22 percent to less than 1 percent. Ugandans also know the record in South Africa, where the cessation of DDT spraying in 1996 allowed the number of malaria cases to multiply tenfold and where the resumption of spraying in 2000 helped to bring the caseload down by almost 80 percent.

So the Ugandans, not unreasonably, would like to use DDT. But in February the European Union waved an anti-scientific flag at them. The Europeans said Uganda might need to institute a new food monitoring program to assuage the health concerns of their consumers, even though hundreds of millions have been exposed to DDT without generating any solid evidence that the chemical harms people. The E.U. proposal might constitute an impossible administrative burden on a poor country. Anti-malaria campaigners say that other African governments are wary of even considering DDT, having seen what Uganda has gone through.

Why does Europe impede Uganda's fight against malaria? The standard answer starts with "Silent Spring," the book that helped launch the environmental movement in the 1960s and that painted a scary picture of DDT's potential impact on the food chain. But this is only half right. The book's overblown claims led to the banning of DDT in the United States in 1972 and its disappearance from aid-funded programs thereafter. But "Silent Spring" was really about the dangers of large-scale agricultural use of DDT, not the limited spraying of houses. Today mainstream environmental groups concede that in the context of malarial countries, the certain health benefits of anti-malarial spraying may outweigh the speculative environmental risks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2006 10:57 AM

Utter crap:

"In 1955, the World Health Organization commenced a program to eradicate malaria worldwide, relying largely on DDT. Though this program was initially highly successful worldwide (reducing mortality rates from 192 per 100,000 to a low of 7 per 100,000), resistance emerged in many insect populations over time. DDT was less effective in tropical regions due to the continuous life cycle of mosquitoes and poor infrastructure. It was not pursued at all in sub-Saharan Africa due to these perceived difficulties, with the result that mortality rates in the area were never reduced to the same dramatic extent, and now constitute the bulk of malarial deaths worldwide, especially following the resurgence of the disease as a result of microbe resistance to drug treatments and the spread of the deadly malarial variant caused by Plasmodium falciparum. The goal of eradication was abandoned in 1969, and attention was focused on controlling and treating the disease.[2]."

So, DDT was on the outs even before any "bans," all of which have historically had exceptions for public health use anyway.

The whole argument is a fraud. Your participation in it demeans you.

Posted by: M. at September 25, 2006 7:37 PM

Yes, ineffective use of DDT is ineffective. Effective use works:

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2006 8:10 PM

"Effective use" involves switching to other pesticides when DDT no longer works, since the resistant bugs are using it as mouthwash. Strangely, that's what was done back in the 60's and 70's when the problem first arose, and it's what's being done now. The idea that DDT "bans," which when enforced involve solely prohibition of agricultural spraying, are responsible for millions of deaths is hokum.

There are serious debates going on regarding where, when and how to best deploy DDT in anti-malarial campaigns. Neither the Washington Times, nor its constituency, are contributing anything to those debates.

Posted by: M. at September 25, 2006 8:42 PM

No, the notion that the ban on DDT didn't prevent its effective use and contribute to millions of deaths is simply absurd, assuming it isn't malicious. We wealthy Northern whites refused to fund DDT use because, after all, we don't have a malaria problem and no one cares about Africans.

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2006 8:53 PM

M: DDT was not in decline prior to Carson's book. JunkScience reports DDT usage peaked in 1962, the year Carson published her book, when 80 million kilograms were used and 82 million produced.

The JunkScience article also deals with the 'resistance' canard.

There is no question that Carson flat out lied in her central claim regarding DDT and egg shell thinning:

Rachel Carson sounded the initial alarm against DDT, but represented the science of DDT erroneously in her 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson wrote "Dr. DeWitt's now classic experiments [on quail and pheasants] have now established the fact that exposure to DDT, even when doing no observable harm to the birds, may seriously affect reproduction. Quail into whose diet DDT was introduced throughout the breeding season survived and even produced normal numbers of fertile eggs. But few of the eggs hatched." DeWitt's 1956 article (in Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry) actually yielded a very different conclusion. Quail were fed 200 parts per million of DDT in all of their food throughout the breeding season. DeWitt reports that 80% of their eggs hatched, compared with the "control"" birds which hatched 83.9% of their eggs. Carson also omitted mention of DeWitt's report that "control" pheasants hatched only 57 percent of their eggs, while those that were fed high levels of DDT in all of their food for an entire year hatched more than 80% of their eggs.

The media and the eco-community repeated the lies, and finally William Ruckelshaus issued the EPA ban over the objections of his own scientists and the EPA administrative law judge.

I'd include more but oj doesn't like long quotes. Read the whole thing.

Posted by: Gideon at September 25, 2006 9:35 PM

Though DDT wasn't officially banned for non-agricultural use, it was effectively banned. Countries which requested loans for public health DDT application were denied funding. Also, DDT was never used on a large scale in Africa as it was in south Asia. By the time the international community became concerned with malaria in Africa, DDT was banned. The mosquitos in Africa won't have built up immunity, so the use of DDT in Africa will likely be extremely effective.

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at September 25, 2006 9:36 PM

Yes, DDT use peaked in 1962, the same year that "Silent Spring" was published. That says nothing about its effectiveness, although this was probably still reasonable. The real problems with resistant mosquitos didn't arise until the latter part of the decade.

As for resistance being a "canard," that's a major distortion. The best-documented example is Sri Lanka in the late 60's and early 70's, but the phenomenon was noted elsewhere (although BrianofAtlanta's observations regarding African pests, which were not exposed to DDT so systematically as elsewhere, is perfectly valid). In fact, it was precisely the large-scale, agricultural usage of DDT that contributed most to the emergence of resistant populations, which is why such usage was the exclusive subject of all DDT bans.

Rachel Carson was certainly a propagandist, but her selection of the available evidence (at the time) for the environmental effects of DDT differs from that of Junkscience only in its political persuasion, not in its degree of bias. Subsequent work in the 70's rather sealed the deal, in that DDT clearly has an effect on raptor populations but not other birds. Effects on other organisms, notably fish, were observed firsthand, although usually in connection with especially concentrated releases of DDT associated with agricultural use in the 60's.

I'm not as well-versed in the political history of DDT, so I'll have to take it as given that public health loans for DDT use were denied funding. This conflicts, however, with extensive worldwide experience with DDT nets and localized application of DDT to homes, which has been shown to be marginally effective - nothing beats exterminating the mosquitos wholesale; you have to go outside sometime. It's just that if you don't beat the bugs the first time around, and then usually by combining the chemicals with swamp draining, etc., when they come back the DDT is useless.

Posted by: M. at September 25, 2006 10:18 PM

If they become resistant you just switch to another pesticide and then another and then back to DDT. But pesticide is indeed only one part of the program, even if a vital one.

The stuff about environmental effects is, of course, a canard.

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2006 10:22 PM