Annals of DDT: 1946 warning of the dangers of DDT


Warnings from this article in Popular Science in February 1946 are almost eerie in their accuracy.

Popular Science cover, February 1946

Popular Science cover, February 1946; at Google Books

Experiments in Ontario by the Dept. of Lands and Forests show what happens when DDT is used out of doors.  Damage to trees was limiated to burning of leaf edges.  Carnivorous water beetles and some other aquatic animals were not greatly affected but died because the insects on which they fed were destroyed.  Other aquatic insects were killed directly.  Crayfish, which feed on insects and themselves serve as fish food, were very susceptible.  Minnows were killed by contact and trout died from eathing poisoned insects.  Six kinds of frogs and two kinds of snakes were killed, either by contact or by eating poisoned insects.  Any DDT field spray is likely to destroy more than half of these amphibians.  (page 72)

There is an interesting reference to a case of several human deaths due to DDT — these reports of human deaths disappeared from research reports rather quickly, and today critics of environmental protection policies often say that no human ever died from DDT.  What happened to those reports, and are there others?

A further objection to the wide use of DDT in larvae control is the dangers of contaminating the water supply.  Fear of this led us to abandon plans to use DDT extensively at Bear Mountain Park.  Heavy rains might wash the DDT into reservoirs.  We were not fully aware of the deadly effects of the chmical then, but we received word from Okinawa later than several natives had died from eating DDT, and post-morten examination revealed nerve lesions similar to those produced by strychnine.  (p. 72)

 

Brownfielders working against Rachel Carson sometimes claim she manufactured controversy about DDT with the publication of her book in 1962.  Go see this article from 16 years earlier, and see the warnings offered by the author, Dr. C. H. Curran, who was Associate Curator, Department of Insects and Spiders,  at the American Museum of Natural History.

Rachel was right, and still is.

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10 Responses to Annals of DDT: 1946 warning of the dangers of DDT

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-knowledge, runs deep and broad in this nation. It’s quite sad, really.

    Were I “all swole up,” you’d be happy to point out any error, I presume. I would appreciate correction — were there any.

    Are you familiar with the word “hubris?”

    Like

  2. Rob says:

    We get them from a place in NC called Carolina Biological Supply.

    You can get just about any bugs you want by mail.

    Reading everything else you said I’ll repeat what I first said.

    You are all swole up.

    Like

  3. Ed Darrell says:

    I won’t tell you the school, cuz y’all will just be hasslin us. But I will say that we aren’t doing this on paper. Grandpap had some of the old DDT in his garage so we are zapping the skeeters with different types of bug killers and DDT and counting the dead to see which works best.

    A couple of cautions on drawing conclusions:

    1. Not all species of mosquito carry malaria. “Zapping the skeeters” isn’t worth much if the species getting zapped are not those who are part of the various malaria parasites’ life cycles. As we learned in Vietnam, body count is not equivalent to victory.

    2. DDT is generally a pretty good killer over time of any population that has not been treated with the stuff for a decade or so; however, since about 1970, every mosquito on Earth (every one tested, I suppose we should say) has copies of two alleles that make them resistant or immune to DDT. You can get a good skeeter body count the first time. To prevent malaria, you generally need to reapply in six months, and know that the stuff will work again. Alas, sometimes a higher body count is a bad sign — the resistant ones got completely away to breed again. (Your kid would do well to read that excerpt from Weiner’s book — it’s as concise an explanation for why DDT became ineffective as any I’ve ever seen.)

    3. Most American populations of mosquito were never exposed to DDT (but they still have the resistance genes . . .). Results in Texas do not in any way translate to Africa, nor especially India.

    4. Some wag may claim your use of DDT is illegal. Check the regulations to be sure you can back up the legality. If you’re not spraying it outdoors, you’re probably okay.

    5. The advantage of DDT was that minute amounts would remain for months. It is really rather a slow killer — other pesticides are quicker to kill, really. A quick and thorough kill may indicate only massive amounts of DDT and a captive population, and not the ability to kill.

    6. Killing effectiveness is not the only measure malaria fighters look for. Among other things, they have come to understand that DDT also kills the natural predators of mosquitoes; since mosquitoes always come back — always — they hope for a pesticide that will be more selective, not killing the predator insects, arachnids, birds and fish, since they are essential to beating malaria. As I understand your kid’s tests, selectivity is not a criterion.

    7. Bug Girl is the real entomological expert on mosquitoes and DDT. You’d do well to drop her a line. At a minimum, check out what she says on her blog. When you get to the part that says, “Only experts should do this, do not try it at home” — she’s the expert.

    Where are you getting the mosquitoes to test?

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  4. Rob says:

    No, I found it here, and they do allow comments

    http://www.rightsidenews.com/2011011412574/life-and-science/energy-and-environment/greens-lie-africans-die.html

    Your site came up in searches for DDT info with that one. That’s how I ended up here.

    I won’t tell you the school, cuz y’all will just be hasslin us. But I will say that we aren’t doing this on paper. Grandpap had some of the old DDT in his garage so we are zapping the skeeters with different types of bug killers and DDT and counting the dead to see which works best.

    So far DDT wins hands down. The pyrethin stuff does OK but doesn’t kill them all. One of the green bug killers didn’t do much at all. This one http://www.ecosmart.com/ was pretty lame.

    If we have any DDT left I’ll come over and spray your yard for ya this summer if you want.

    ;-)

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    The article our friend Rob cribbed from can be found here, at Liberty Features.

    True to denialist requirements, form and tradition, comments are indicated, but not allowed. Can’t stand to have corrections on such woo.

    And, it’s not that Robert Novak. It’s a medical prof at U of Alabama.

    Like

  6. Ed Darrell says:

    My kid’s got a project on DDT at the DISD science fair coming up on the 21st.

    I hope you’ve acquainted your kid with real science journals, and not Paul Driessen. If not, it’s a sad history that woo often wins at science fairs over hard science. And then, there was that mini-scandal last year when the climate change denialists promoted a fourth-grade kid’s science project that allegedly “disproved global warming.” All hoax, of course.

    Like Driessen’s work against science, against Rachel Carson, and against malaria fighters — all hoax.

    If your kid’s project is on DDT, you’d do well to get her a copy of Silent Spring and spend a Saturday at SMU’s library checking out the citations. It’s pretty amazing — 48 years later, and all of the citations stand up to scrutiny.

    Rachel was right. That is what her science project says, right?

    What schools in Dallas are you affiliated with?

    Like

  7. Rob says:

    Carpool? Hello no, I’ll go deaf listening to your pointless prattles friend.

    My kid’s got a project on DDT at the DISD science fair coming up on the 21st. I’ll let him kick your imaginary intellectual butt, and if you hassle him, so will I.

    You should be the one that is ashamed about malaria deaths. It’s all on the liberals like you.

    Like

  8. Ed Darrell says:

    You should listen to the rants, Rob. The rants are more accurate than Paul Driessen, it pains me to say (how in the world did Novak get tied up with Driessen?).

    A short response — my car pool awaits — and more later.

    You write (quote?):

    Then why did they? Why does half the world’s population remain at risk of getting malaria? Why are some 250 million people infected annually – with 90% of the agonizing chills, fevers, nausea, brain damage and death occurring in sub-Saharan Africa?

    It’s said malaria is a disease of poverty, and poor countries don’t have enough funds, doctors or medicines to treat the disease – or prevent it in the first place. True enough.

    DDT doesn’t cure poverty. That’s one of the key problems with it. DDT works if everything else people with money can do is in place, but DDT can’t cure poverty. Every nation that has beaten malaria did so after campaigns that involved improving housing and improving the availability and delivery of medical care. In the U.S., according to CDC histories, malaria was vanquished by 1939, but there were still some mop-up operations to go. Same solutions: Better housing, screens on the windows, drain the raingutters, get rid of the old tires in the yard, fix the potholes in the road which serve to breed the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT wasn’t even available in the U.S. until 1946, seven years later. We still overused it.

    But the point remains: Prevention of malaria until it’s not a serious problem requires that we fight poverty. DDT doesn’t do that.

    But malaria is also, and much more so, a disease of callous, intransigent environmental extremism and wanton disregard for human life. A disease whose prevention is hampered, and actively thwarted, by pervasive opposition to mosquito-killing insecticides, and mosquito-repelling DDT.

    When DDT use was at its peak, in 1959-1960, more than 4 million people a year died from malaria.

    When DDT was banned for use on agricultural crops in the U.S., in 1972, about 2 million people a year died from malaria. But that was 7 years after WHO had to abandon its campaign to eradicate malaria from the world, because abuse of the stuff bred mosquitoes that were (and still are) resistant and immune to the stuff. So there were dramatic advances against malaria even after DDT use against malaria vectors was slowed.

    Today, largely without DDT, malaria death rates and totals are the lowest they have been in human history, under a million a year. We have reduced malaria deaths by 75% since DDT became dramatically less effective against malaria.

    That reduction was done by health workers and environmentalists who you now scowl show “wanton disregard for human life.”

    You’re dead wrong, but sadly, the deaths are mostly children in Africa.

    DDT was never a panacea against malaria, and it is not a panacea now.

    3 million fewer people die each year from malaria because of work by malaria fighters without DDT — you scoff at them, and call them killers.

    Shame on you.

    Like

  9. Rob says:

    I get tired of hearig your rants around school, maybe this will shut you up. Probably not, you are too pig-headed and all swole up.

    Editor’s note: This article was co-authored by Paul Driessen and Robert Novak.

    Fina’s little body shook for hours with teeth-chattering chills. The next day her torment worsened, as nausea and vomiting continued even after there was nothing left in her stomach. Finally, her vomiting ebbed and chills turned to fever, drenching her body in sweat. Then more chills, fevers, nausea, convulsions, and constant, unbearable pain in every muscle, bone and joint.

    She cried out, and tears mixed with sweat. But no one could help her. She had no money for doctors, medicines or a hospital room. She didn’t even have a mother or father to comfort her. All the orphanage school staff could do was caress her, pray and hope she’d get better – and wait for her to die.

    And in agony that never stopped from the time the malaria first struck her down, Fina Nantume did die. So did 49 of her classmates, out of 500 students in the APEA Primary School for orphans in Kampala, Uganda, in 2005. Most of the survivors were also afflicted with malaria at least once that year. Some became permanently brain damaged. Others died in subsequent years.

    Fina didn’t have to die. None of these spirited, beautiful young students had to die. None of them had to get malaria. The disease is preventable, treatable and curable.

    Then why did they? Why does half the world’s population remain at risk of getting malaria? Why are some 250 million people infected annually – with 90% of the agonizing chills, fevers, nausea, brain damage and death occurring in sub-Saharan Africa?

    It’s said malaria is a disease of poverty, and poor countries don’t have enough funds, doctors or medicines to treat the disease – or prevent it in the first place. True enough. But malaria is also, and much more so, a disease of callous, intransigent environmental extremism and wanton disregard for human life. A disease whose prevention is hampered, and actively thwarted, by pervasive opposition to mosquito-killing insecticides, and mosquito-repelling DDT.

    Anti-pesticide activists say they support other interventions: education, “capacity building,” modern drugs and bednets. Indeed, international funding for malaria prevention and treatment has risen from perhaps $40 million in 1998 to almost $2 billion in 2010. Millions of women and children now sleep under insecticide-treated nets. Millions now get diagnosed quickly and receive decent care and medicines.

    These anti-malaria programs “saved nearly 750,000 lives over the past ten years.” the World Health Organization enthusiastically asserts. “That represents an 18% reduction in child mortality, compared with 2000.” That’s wonderful news. But it’s not good enough.

    We would never tolerate 18% as “good enough,” if American or European kids’ lives were at stake, or if a 70-90% reduction in disease, misery and death rates were possible. And it would be possible, if we could end the lies and obstructionism that restrict access to mosquito killers and repellants that can dramatically reduce infection rates and the need to treat a quarter-billion cases of malaria every year.

    But the lies and obstruction are prevalent, and effective. Here are just a few of the most egregious. “Nets are just as good as insecticides.” Prevention should always be the first line of defense. That’s why we chlorinate drinking water and vaccinate people against measles, mumps, polio and flu. Insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) certainly help and should be used. But they are a supplement to, not a substitute for, larvacides, insecticides and DDT that kill mosquitoes and keep them away from people.

    Bednets help if they’re used regularly and properly. They don’t help if they’re torn, people are working, there are only enough nets for a family’s small children and pregnant women, or it’s too hot to sleep under one. Indoor residual spraying (IRS) eliminates behavior as a consideration; it protects everyone in the house, 24 hours a day.

    “Bednets are more cost-effective than indoor spraying.” This assertion is backed by several studies, appartently financed by anti-pesticide groups and ITN manufacturers. However, the studies compare bednets with IRS using pyrethroids like ICON, instead of DDT. Pyrethroids are far more expensive and must be applied more often than DDT, which raises IRS costs significantly. The studies also fail to include all the costs associated with manufacturing and distributing the nets. Independent analyses found that nets are actually four times more expensive than spraying the inside walls of homes with DDT.

    Much more important, spraying DDT once or twice a year keeps 80% of mosquitoes from entering the home, irritates those that do enter, so they leave without biting, and kills any that land. No other chemical, at any price, has these repellency and irritation features. DDT helps doctors treat more patients with often scarce ACT drugs and dramatically slash disease and death rates – often by 90% or more.

    “Mosquitoes will become resistant to DDT.” This is highly unlikely. DDT use today is restricted to disease prevention, whereas pyrethroids are used extensively in agriculture and ITNs, greatly increasing the risk of resistance to these DDT “alternatives.” Once that happens both non-DDT indoor spraying and bednets will become far less effective, and malaria rates could skyrocket. In addition, there is no evidence that mosquitoes have ever become resistant to DDT’s repellency and irritation effects.

    Moreover, reliance on nets and pyrethroid sprays significantly reduces prevention and increases the need for treatment. This can stretch scarce hospital, medical staff and drug resources to the breaking point. It increases the likelihood that malaria parasites will become resistant to Artemisia-based drugs, especially monotherapies. And it magnifies the pervasive and growing problem of substandard and counterfeit drugs replacing scarce supplies of reputable ACT combination therapies.

    “DDT has dangerous side effects.” Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network, Environmental Defense, International POPs Elimination Network and affiliated radical groups love to say “some researchers think” DDT and its break-down byproduct DDE “could” inhibit lactation, “may” weaken immune systems and are “associated with” low birth weights in babies. Not only is this rank speculation, but malaria definitely has all these side effects; it also causes severe brain damage, an inability to work for weeks on end, and agonizing death. Opposing DDT use on the basis of bogus side effects is infinitely worse than opposing cancer-curing chemotherapy because of the nasty and very real side effects of vincristine, asperaginase, methotrexate and other chemo drugs.

    “DDT will poison the global biosphere.” Anti-pesticide zealots claim even indoor spraying with DDT will “contaminate” soils and waters for decades and “damage entire regional environmental systems.” Baloney. IRS involves small amounts of DDT on walls. The chemical and its derivatives break down. Detection does not equal destruction. Our ability to detect chemicals at the equivalent of one second in 32 years does not equate with damage to any organism, and certainly not to entire ecosystems.

    There is no magic bullet. We need every weapon in our arsenal to control and eradicate this vicious disease. DDT and insecticides aren’t necessary or appropriate in every case – but when needed health officials must be able to employ them, without recrimination or retribution.

    The “net” effect of these bald-faced lies is that anti-pesticide zealots are perpetuating poverty, misery, disease and death in malaria-endemic regions all over the world. Safe in offices made malaria-free by the very chemicals, technologies and prosperity they deny to others, these baby killers and their financial benefactors are violating the most basic human rights of people in poor nations: the right of access to technologies that enhance and safeguard life.

    Their reign of terror must end, before they usher in a disaster of truly epidemic proportions.

    Like

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