A New York Times editorial waded into swampy territory on January 8th with a call for the return of DDT to fight malaria in third world countries.
The writer makes an eloquent argument:
"The poor countries that were able to keep malaria in check tend to be
the same few that continued to use DDT, like Ecuador. Similarly, in
Mexico, malaria rose and fell with the use of DDT. South Africa brought
back DDT in 2000, after a switch to other pesticides had led to a surge
in malaria, and now the disease is under control again. The evidence is
overwhelming: DDT saves lives."
Thankfully, my hero Aaron Hicks returns common sense back to terra firma with this rebuttal on the Native Orchid Conference list:
"The yahoos clamoring to spray DDT are at it again. Wonderful.
The big problem is that DDT is no panacea, aside from its problem with
bioaccumulation. Resistance to DDT is now common; it was first noted in
India in Anopheles culicifacies in 1959, for example. The country
maintains its production capacity at approximately 10,000 metric
tons/year, and Mexico and China can produce pretty much as they want as
well. The problem is that about 1/3 of the skeeters in India are now
resistant. Many countries have a spike in malaria as a function of
cessation of DDT spraying, which is what happens not because of some
sort of international outcry, but because the damned stuff stops
DDT is also not without its hazards. The human data are such that it is
a "possible" carcinogen. However, those data are based on older studies:
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR)/US Public
Health Service, Toxicological Profile for 4,4′-DDT, 4,4′-DDE, 4, 4′-DDD
(Update). 1994. ATSDR. Atlanta, GA.,
- Garabrant, D.H., Held, J., Langholz, B., Peters, J.M. and Mack, T.M.
DDT and related compounds and risk of pancreatic cancer, J Natl Cancer
Newer, more damning research (at Harvard Medical School, if memory
serves) was halted when preliminary data came out that it was a MUCH
more potent carcinogen than had been previously recognized. Out came
the data, and away went the funding. As a result, the work was
incomplete, and could not be published.
1) DDT isn’t a panacea.
2) DDT isn’t as safe as advertised.
3) No, withholding DDT isn’t some bizzare form of racism. There are alternatives, and plenty of ’em.
4) There is no "ban" in place by the United States, other than for use in-country.
4a) People can still get it, and still use it, but the mosquitoes aren’t always susceptible to it.
5) Use of persistent organochlorine pesticides has way more effects up and down the food chain than is good for anyone involved.
These yahoo editorials crawl out of their hole once in a while just to
see if the political climate has changed, in some sort of perverted
parody of Groundhog Day."
Take that, New York Times. Enough of the "Jerry Springer" journalism!
\r\nThese yahoo editorials crawl out of their hole once in a while just to see if the political climate has changed, in some sort of perverted parody of Groundhog Day.
\r\n-AJ (still grumpy because of his back)
\r\n> > Op-Ed Columnist: It\’s Time to Spray DDT
\r\n> > January 8, 2005
\r\n> > By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
\r\n> > If the U.S. wants to help people in tsunami-hit countries
\r\n> > like Sri Lanka and Indonesia – not to mention other poor
\r\n> > countries in Africa – there\’s one step that would cost us
\r\n> > nothing and would save hundreds of thousands of lives.
\r\n> > It would be to allow DDT in malaria-ravaged countries.
\r\n> > I\’m thrilled that we\’re pouring hundreds of millions of
\r\n> > dollars into the relief effort, but the tsunami was only a
\r\n> > blip in third-world mortality. Mosquitoes kill 20 times
\r\n> > more people each year than the tsunami did, and in the long
\r\n> > war between humans and mosquitoes it looks as if mosquitoes
\r\n> > are winning.
\r\n> > One reason is that the U.S. and other rich countries are
\r\n> > siding with the mosquitoes against the world\’s poor – by
\r\n> > opposing the use of DDT.
\r\n> > "It\’s a colossal tragedy," says Donald Roberts, a professor
\r\n> > of tropical public health at Uniformed Services University
\r\n> > of the Health Sciences. "And it\’s embroiled in
\r\n> > environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies."
\r\n> > In the 1950\’s, 60\’s and early 70\’s, DDT was used to reduce
\r\n> > malaria around the world, even eliminating it in places
\r\n> > like Taiwan. But then the growing recognition of the harm”,1]
It’s Time to Spray DDT
Published: January 8, 2005
the U.S. wants to help people in tsunami-hit countries like Sri Lanka
and Indonesia – not to mention other poor countries in Africa – there’s
one step that would cost us nothing and would save hundreds of
thousands of lives.
It would be to allow DDT in malaria-ravaged countries.
thrilled that we’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the
relief effort, but the tsunami was only a blip in third-world
mortality. Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the
tsunami did, and in the long war between humans and mosquitoes it looks
as if mosquitoes are winning.
One reason is that the U.S. and
other rich countries are siding with the mosquitoes against the world’s
poor – by opposing the use of DDT.
"It’s a colossal tragedy,"
says Donald Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at Uniformed
Services University of the Health Sciences. "And it’s embroiled in
environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies."
1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s, DDT was used to reduce malaria around the
world, even eliminating it in places like Taiwan. But then the growing
recognition of the harm DDT can cause in the environment – threatening
the extinction of the bald eagle, for example – led DDT to be banned in
the West and stigmatized worldwide. Ever since, malaria has been on the
The poor countries that were able to keep malaria in check
tend to be the same few that continued to use DDT, like Ecuador.
Similarly, in Mexico, malaria rose and fell with the use of DDT. South
Africa brought back DDT in 2000, after a switch to other pesticides had
led to a surge in malaria, and now the disease is under control again.
The evidence is overwhelming: DDT saves lives.
But most Western
aid agencies will not pay for anti-malarial programs that use DDT, and
that pretty much ensures that DDT won’t be used. Instead, the U.N. and
Western donors encourage use of insecticide-treated bed nets and
medicine to cure malaria.
Bed nets and medicines are critical
tools in fighting malaria, but they’re not enough. The existing
anti-malaria strategy is an underfinanced failure, with malaria
probably killing 2 million or 3 million people each year.
doesn’t work everywhere. It wasn’t nearly as effective in West African
savannah as it was in southern Africa, and it’s hard to apply in remote
villages. And some countries, like Vietnam, have managed to curb
malaria without DDT.
But overall, one of the best ways to protect
people is to spray the inside of a hut, about once a year, with DDT.
This uses tiny amounts of DDT – 450,000 people can be protected with
the same amount that was applied in the 1960’s to a single 1,000-acre
American cotton farm.
Is it safe? DDT was sprayed in America in
the 1950’s as children played in the spray, and up to 80,000 tons a
year were sprayed on American crops. There is some research suggesting
that it could lead to premature births, but humans are far better off
exposed to DDT than exposed to malaria.
I called the World
Wildlife Fund, thinking I would get a fight. But Richard Liroff, its
expert on toxins, said he could accept the use of DDT when necessary in
"South Africa was right to use DDT," he
said. "If the alternatives to DDT aren’t working, as they weren’t in
South Africa, geez, you’ve got to use it. In South Africa it prevented
tens of thousands of malaria cases and saved lots of lives."
Greenpeace, Rick Hind noted reasons to be wary of DDT, but added: "If
there’s nothing else and it’s going to save lives, we’re all for it.
Nobody’s dogmatic about it."
So why do the U.N. and donor
agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development,
generally avoid financing DDT programs? The main obstacle seems to be
bureaucratic caution and inertia. President Bush should cut through
that and lead an effort to fight malaria using all necessary tools –
One of my most exhilarating moments with my
children came when we were backpacking together and spotted a bald
eagle. It was a tragedy that we nearly allowed DDT to wipe out such
magnificent birds, and we should continue to ban DDT in the U.S.
it’s also tragic that our squeamishness about DDT is killing more
people in poor countries, year in and year out, than even a