Longevity of DDT, in pictures

December 16, 2012

One of the key problems with DDT is its persistence.  That was a selling point early on — one application would last for six months to a year.  In the wild or in a city, DDT can breakdown in about a year, but it breaks down into DDE which is pretty deadly itself and can cause a raft of other trouble while it hangs around.  While DDT will kill young birds and even adult songbirds outright, its most pernicious workings come in the breakdowns.  DDE insinuates itself in the reproductive organs of animals, causing birds to be unable to lay eggs with properly calcified eggshells.  Even if the DDT doesn’t kill the chicks, the DDE gets next year’s generation, making sure the egg cannot protect the chick to hatching.

A treaty adhered to by most of the world’s nations targets DDT specifically, you can tell by the name if you don’t know the content:  The Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs), also known as the Stockholm Convention after the city where it was finally negotiated under the direction of the United Nations’ health care arm, the World Health Organization (WHO).

40 years after DDT use essentially ended in the U.S., traces of it still show up in the tissues of creatures in the wild, in plants, in crops, and in human tissue.

Where does it come from?

Most of what shows up is just circulating in the air, soil, water and living things.  There could be other sources.

I doubt this is a significant source, but a lot of DDT remains stored in barns and sheds on farms and in gardens across North America.  Over at a blog operated by an exterminator in Charlotte, North Carolina, we get a glimpse of history and potential disaster all at once.

Today, I traveled up to a Lincolnton, North Carolina Farm house to give a gentleman a price on Termite Protection for his home. After I performed an inspection, he took me out to his barn to show off a couple of old tractors. Immediately catching my eye on an old work bench was anachronistic blast from the past.

There it was, an unopened bottle of DDT. (See images below)  DDT  was Banned in the United States more than 30 years ago, and  it remains America’s best known toxic substance. Like some sort of rap star, it’s known just by its initials; it’s the Notorious B.I.G. of pesticides. And much like the Notorious B.I.G., it has been put to rest.

Electrolux Insecticide with DDT, Charlotte Pest Control Image

Electrolux Insecticide featuring DDT in the formulation, on a barn workbench in 2012, near Charlotte North Carolina – Charlotte Pest Control image

Did it really have DDT?  Look at the next photo.  It’s badly focused, but you can probably make it out, that line at the bottom of the can.

Contents label of Electrolux Insecticide, showing DDT

Label of Electrolux Insecticide can, showing DDT as the contents. Charlottepestcontrol.me image

DDT put to rest?  If only it were that easy. Not only is the stuff in that can still deadly, it’ll hang around for decades if released from the can.

You’re wondering, of course, just what in the world was Electrolux doing selling DDT?  Look at the label: See that woman using the vacuum rather like a spray device?

Cannister vacuums of the 1950s and 1960s were advertised as universal tools.  Not only would they suck up dirt from a floor, but they could also be used as blowers, simply by reversing the hole into which the hose was plugged.  Manufacturers provided attachments to make vacuums into paint blowers, powdered plant fertilizer spreaders, and liquid or powder pesticide sprayers.  See for example this page from a 1960s-era Universal canister vacuum:

Instruction manual for Universal vacuum, showing use as a sprayer of DDT or wax.  VacuumLand image

Instruction booklet for a Universal-brand cannister vacuum, showing the attachments used to turn it into a sprayer — and on page 28, a sprayer of DDT insecticide. Image courtesy of VacuumLand (go to that site to see the entire instruction manual).

The greatest dangers of DDT came from broadcast use outdoors.  These pictures show indoor use, but in application by an untrained, poorly-equipped amateur.  If your exterminator shows up in heels and pearls, fire that company and hire someone else!

In any case, vacuum manufacturers and resellers would often provide virtually every product that could be added to or used with a machine, often at very high markup.  In this case, Electrolux had some other company package DDT in a can with the Electrolux label.  That can must have been sold before 1972 when over-the-counter sales of DDT ended; it probably was before 1970, when most in-home uses of DDT were ordered to stop.   In the photos I have not detected anything to date it, but it must be at least 42 years old.

What a different time it was, when housewives used their vacuums to thoroughly spray their own homes with DDT!

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Still no ban on DDT: Treaty monitors allow DDT use to continue

December 16, 2012

Real news on a topic like DDT takes a while to filter into the public sphere, especially with interest groups, lobbyists and Astro-Turf groups working hard to fuzz up the messages.

News from the DDT Expert Group of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention was posted recently at the Stockholm Convention website — the meeting was held in early December in Geneva, Switzerland.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pol...

Logo of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs Treaty) Wikipedia image

In the stuffy talk of international relations, the Stockholm Convention in this case refers to a treaty put into effect in 2001, sometimes known as the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs).  Now with more than 152 signatory nations and 178 entities offering some sort of ratification (not the U.S., sadly), the treaty urges control of chemicals that do not quickly break down once released into the environment, and which often end up as pollutants.  In setting up the agreement, there was a list of a dozen particularly nasty chemicals branded the “Dirty Dozen” particularly targeted for control due to their perniciousness — DDT was one of that group.

DDT can still play a role in fighting some insect-carried diseases, like malaria.  Since the treaty was worked out through the UN’s health arm, the World Health Organization (WHO), it holds a special reservation for DDT, keeping DDT available for use to fight disease.   Six years ago WHO developed a group to monitor DDT specifically, looking at whether it is still needed or whether its special provisions should be dropped.  The DDT Expert Group meets every two years.

Here’s the press release on the most recent meeting:

Stockholm Convention continues to allow DDT use for disease vector control

Fourth meeting of the DDT Expert Group assesses continued need for DDT, 3–5 December 2012, Geneva

Mosqutio larvae, image from WHO

Mosqutio larvae, WHO image

The Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), allows the use of the insecticide DDT in disease vector control to protect public health.

Mosquito larvae

The Stockholm Convention lists dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known at DDT, in its Annex B to restrict its production and use except for Parties that have notified the Secretariat of their intention to produce and /or use it for disease vector control. With the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of DDT, the Convention requires that the Conference of the Parties shall encourage each Party using DDT to develop and implement an action plan as part of the implementation plan of its obligation of the Convention.

At its fifth meeting held in April 2011, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention concluded that “countries that are relying on DDT for disease vector control may need to continue such use until locally appropriate and cost-effective alternatives are available for a sustainable transition away from DDT.” It also decided to evaluate the continued need for DDT for disease vector control at the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties “with the objective of accelerating the identification and development of locally appropriate cost-effective and safe alternatives.”

The DDT Expert Group was established in 2006 by the Conference of the Parties. The Group is mandated to assess, every two years, in consultation with the World Health Organization, the available scientific, technical, environmental and economic information related to production and use of DDT for consideration by the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention in its evaluation of continued need for DDT for disease vector control.

The fourth meeting of the DDT Expert Group reviewed as part of this ongoing assessment:

  1. Insecticide resistance (DDT and alternatives)
  2. New alternative products, including the work of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee
  3. Transition from DDT in disease vector control
  4. Decision support tool for vector control.

The DDT expert group recognized that there is a continued need for DDT in specific settings for disease vector control where effective or safer alternatives are still lacking. It recommended that the use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spray should be limited only to the most appropriate situations based on operational feasibility, epidemiological impact of disease transmission, entomological data and insecticide resistance management. It also recommended that countries should undertake further research and implementation of non-chemical methods and strategies for disease vector control to supplement reduced reliance on DDT.

The findings of the DDT Expert Group’s will be presented at the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, being held back-to-back with the meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Rotterdam and Basel conventions, from 28 April to 11 May 2013, in Geneva.

Nothing too exciting.  Environmentalists should note DDT is still available for use, where need is great.  Use should be carefully controlled.  Pro-DDT propagandists should note, but won’t, that there is no ban on DDT yet, and that DDT is still available to fight malaria, wherever health workers make a determination it can work.  If anyone is really paying attention, this is one more complete and total refutation of the DDT Ban Hoax.

Rachel Carson’s ghost expresses concern that there is not yet a safe substitute for DDT to fight malaria, but is gratified that disease fighters and serious scientists now follow the concepts of safe chemical use she urged in 1962.

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