Annals of DDT: Rachel Carson was right, DDT hurts birds

April 6, 2014

Coming up on World Malaria Day 2014, and U.S. Congressional elections, we’ll start seeing repeated false attacks on Rachel Carson as the right’s most-favored representative of environmentalism, and those attacks will include calls to “end the ban” on DDT to roll back the “increase in malaria caused by the ban. ” Facts are that DDT was never banned in Asia nor Africa (not even under a 2001 anti-pollution treaty); Rachel Carson called for no ban on DDT, but instead urged use of “integrated pest management” (IPM)  to combat disease vectors, and IPM used broadly since 1999 has slashed malaria death totals and infections even more; and malaria deaths and infections started a downward trend in the 1960s that continues today, mostly without DDT.
This is one in an occasional series of posts to correct these hoax claims, with citations to information that readers may check for themselves. Much of this post appeared here earlier, in much longer form.

Rachel Carson was very careful in her 1962 book Silent Spring.  She offered more than 50 pages of citations to science papers and hard research to support what she wrote — a “don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself” kind of honesty.

Still, today, there is an organized effort with broad success on the internet to smear Rachel Carson and hide the science she wrote about.  Standard from adherents to this insurgent anti-science movement include are claims that Carson’s book was wrong.  The title comes from a prologue of the book in which Carson described a spring in some future year, a spring which was unheralded by the songs and chatterings of birds.  Carson argued that, if humans do not stop to think about secondary effects of chemicals used, especially as pesticides, whole regions might be devoid of birds, dead from DDT poisoning.

Carson cited research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about just how deadly DDT could be to entire ecosystems.  She was particularly alarmed by research done at Midwestern universities, where DDT sprayed to save American elm trees from Dutch elm blight, quickly killed off most birds who came in contact with the stuff.  Dutch elm blight is spread by beetles, the targets of DDT in those sprayings.

In the 1950s, ornithologists, wildlife managers and bird watchers documented the pending demise of entire species of birds, especially raptors at the top of local food chains.  Audubon bird watchers throughout the eastern U.S. noted that migrations consisted of older birds only, with young and maturing birds appearing to have disappeared. Older birds mated, built nests, and laid eggs. Usually the eggs did not hatch, with chicks dying before the end of gestation.  In the few cases where young hatched, they generally died before they could migrate even one year.

Especially for the American bald eagle, this was a great disappointment. Eagles had been plentiful when European colonists migrated to North America, starting after Columbus’s voyages, 1492-1494.  By 1900, however, eagles had been hunted almost to extinction — well, they were extinct in some states.  Colonists, then farmers and ranchers, saw eagles as pests.  They ate fish the colonists wanted to catch for themselves.  Eagles would sometimes take a farmer’s chicken.  Cases of eagles taking larger prey are sparse to non-existent prior to the latter 20th century — but farmers claimed they did.  And so the birds were hunted mercilessly, simply to shoot them.

In 1911 the federal government tried to solve a many-states-wide problem, with a law protecting eagles from hunting.  It did little good.  In 1941 Congress passed a new law, with criminal penalties for people who poached eagles.  The decline of adult numbers slowed dramatically.  But that problem with hatching fledges stopped the recovery, at least so far as young birds who could replace those who died of old age or accidents.

Carson’s critics argue that eagles were never really in decline.  Steven Milloy and Gordon Edwards invented a fantastic tale that the Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count actually recorded an increase in eagle numbers, a false claim that Audubon certainly never made, based on a twisted misapplication of bird count methods.  USFWS and others noted the decline of eagles speeding up through the 1950s and 1960s.

Carson’s critics then will say that what plagued eagles was hunting and poaching, and not DDT.  While that was true prior to 1941, that was not the case after World War II when the laws were enforced well.

When studies indicated that DDT would stop birds from successfully breeding, Carson cited them. Her critics claim those studies were in error.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon.  US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

But they were not.  In fact, not a single study cited by Carson in Silent Spring has ever been refuted by later peer-reviewed research, nor pulled back for any reason.  A decade after Carson’s death, researchers discovered that residual DDT in birds, especially eagles and other raptors, prevented the females from forming competent shells on the eggs they laid.  Even when the DDT doses were not high enough to kill the chicks outright, the shells could not survive the mother’s sitting on them.  The shells broke, and the chicks inside died.

DDT was a scourge to the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and osprey — and probably many other birds.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right.  Image from VCE Environmental Science.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right. Image from VCE Environmental Science.

 

Discover magazine carried an article about DDT and Carson’s book in November 2007Discover said that, since 1962 when Carson’s book was published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications support Carson’s conclusions, a record remarkable in any branch of science.

In fact, Carson may have underestimated the impact of DDT on birds, says Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and director of the American Bird Conservancy’s pesticides and birds program. She was not aware that DDT—or rather its metabolite, DDE—causes eggshell thinning because the data were not published until the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was eggshell thinning that devastated fish-eating birds and birds of prey, says Fry, and this effect is well documented in a report (pdf) on DDT published in 2002 by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The report, which cites over 1,000 references, also describes how DDT and its breakdown products accumulate in the tissues of animals high up on terrestrial and aquatic food chains—a process that induced reproductive and neurological defects in birds and fish.

History also supports the scientists.  President John F. Kennedy tasked the President’s Science Advisory Council to check out Carson’s book, to see whether it was accurate, and whether the government should start down the path of careful study and careful regulation of pesticides as she suggested.  In May 1963 the PSAC reported back that Carson was dead right on every issue, except, maybe for one.  PSAC said Carson wasn’t alarmist enough, that immediate action against pesticides was justified, rather than waiting for later studies or delaying for any other reason. (The full text of the report may be obtained here.)

Rachel Carson was right.  DDT kills birds.  DDT threatened several species with extinction.

Carson’s science citations were verified by a select panel of the nation’s top biologists including entomologists, certified as scientifically accurate.   Since she published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies have been performed that verify her findings on DDT’s harms to birds.

I have never found a contrary study published in any peer-review science journal, based on research.


2001 press release from NIAID, mosquito genome sequencing project: “DDT was once a powerful tool”

March 24, 2014

Caption from Vanderbilt University: Figure 1. Anopheles freeborni mosquito taking a blood meal. Image reproduced from the Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/mosquitoes/, CDC, public domain.

Caption from Vanderbilt University: Figure 1. Anopheles freeborni mosquito taking a blood meal. Image reproduced from the Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/mosquitoes/, CDC, public domain.

Press release from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID):

Anopheles gambiae Genome Sequencing Project

March 5, 2001

 


Statement of Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


Today, a global network of researchers announced that they are collaborating in sequencing the genome of Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito responsible for most cases of malaria in Africa. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) applauds the efforts of the network and their goal of obtaining sequence data by the end of the year.

This information, together with the knowledge gained from the sequences of malaria parasites and the human genome, will provide researchers with a wealth of genomic data necessary for understanding this complex disease. (See the communiqueExternal Web Site Policy.)

The need for a multifaceted commitment to fight malaria and develop new and improved treatments, diagnostics and vaccines has never been greater. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 300 to 500 million cases of malaria occur annually; in 1999, an estimated 1.1 million deaths were attributed to malaria, most of which occurred in children under the age of 5. Malaria is a public health threat in more than 90 countries, where 40 percent of the world’s population lives. Because of the enormity of this problem, NIAID has made malaria research a central focus of our scientific portfolio and supports a comprehensive research program, which includes basic, field-based and clinical research.

Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite that is spread to humans by mosquitoes. The control of malaria continues to be a challenge because of the dual problems of increased rates of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes and increased rates of drug resistance in the malaria parasites. Reducing disease transmission by mosquito control has been a mainstay of regional and global malaria control programs. The insecticide DDT was once a powerful tool in global efforts to eradicate malaria. With the development of DDT-resistant mosquitoes, new tools are needed to control this disease. An improved understanding of the basic biology of mosquitoes and their genomes will contribute to our ability to understand and monitor insecticide resistance, develop new insecticides, and ultimately help control the malaria pandemic.

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health ®

Some points to ponder, 13 years later:

  1. Dr. Fauci notes that DDT was, at one time, a powerful tool to fight malaria — but no longer.  DDT resistant mosquitoes means new tools must be found to replace DDT.
  2. Fauci makes no mention of a shortage of DDT for any reason.  It appears from the press release that DDT’s widespread use is compromised only by its decreasing effectiveness, not by any ban from any governmental entity.
  3. In 1999, 15 years ago now, about 1.1 million people died from malaria annually; estimates cited here are that 300 million to 500 million people actually got a bout of malaria through the year.  This compares with 2012 figures of fewer than 700,000 dead, and fewer than 250 million infections.
  4. Fauci said that, if malaria is to be defeated, it must be attacked on multiple fronts.  Spraying insects alone is not enough, increasing medical care alone is not enough — no single action provides a panacea.

 


World malaria report 2013 shows major progress in fight against malaria, calls for sustained financing (but not DDT)

March 21, 2014

News release from the World Health Organization:

World malaria report 2013 shows major progress in fight against malaria, calls for sustained financing

News release

Cover of World Malaria Report 2013

Cover of World Malaria Report 2013

11 December 2013 | Geneva/Washington DC - Global efforts to control and eliminate malaria have saved an estimated 3.3 million lives since 2000, reducing malaria mortality rates by 45% globally and by 49% in Africa, according to the “World malaria report 2013″ published by WHO.

An expansion of prevention and control measures has been mirrored by a consistent decline in malaria deaths and illness, despite an increase in the global population at risk of malaria between 2000 and 2012. Increased political commitment and expanded funding have helped to reduce incidence of malaria by 29% globally, and by 31% in Africa.

The large majority of the 3.3 million lives saved between 2000 and 2012 were in the 10 countries with the highest malaria burden, and among children aged less than 5 years – the group most affected by the disease. Over the same period, malaria mortality rates in children in Africa were reduced by an estimated 54%.

But more needs to be done.

“This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century.”

In 2012, there were an estimated 207 million cases of malaria (uncertainty interval: 135 – 287 million), which caused approximately 627 000 malaria deaths (uncertainty interval 473 000 – 789 000). An estimated 3.4 billion people continue to be at risk of malaria, mostly in Africa and south-east Asia. Around 80% of malaria cases occur in Africa.

Long way from universal access to prevention and treatment

Malaria prevention suffered a setback after its strong build-up between 2005 and 2010. The new WHO report notes a slowdown in the expansion of interventions to control mosquitoes for the second successive year, particularly in providing access to insecticide-treated bed nets. This has been primarily due to lack of funds to procure bed nets in countries that have ongoing malaria transmission.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of the population with access to an insecticide-treated bed net remained well under 50% in 2013. Only 70 million new bed nets were delivered to malaria-endemic countries in 2012, below the 150 million minimum needed every year to ensure everyone at risk is protected. However, in 2013, about 136 million nets were delivered, and the pipeline for 2014 looks even stronger (approximately 200 million), suggesting that there is real chance for a turnaround.

There was no such setback for malaria diagnostic testing, which has continued to expand in recent years. Between 2010 and 2012, the proportion of people with suspected malaria who received a diagnostic test in the public sector increased from 44% to 64% globally.

Access to WHO-recommended artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) has also increased, with the number of treatment courses delivered to countries rising from 76 million in 2006 to 331 million in 2012.

Despite this progress, millions of people continue to lack access to diagnosis and quality-assured treatment, particularly in countries with weak health systems. The roll-out of preventive therapies – recommended for infants, children under 5 and pregnant women – has also been slow in recent years.

“To win the fight against malaria we must get the means to prevent and treat the disease to every family who needs it,” says Raymond G Chambers, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria. “Our collective efforts are not only ending the needless suffering of millions, but are helping families thrive and adding billions of dollars to economies that nations can use in other ways.”

Global funding gap

International funding for malaria control increased from less than US$ 100 million in 2000 to almost US$ 2 billion in 2012. Domestic funding stood at around US$ 0.5 billion in the same year, bringing the total international and domestic funding committed to malaria control to US$ 2.5 billion in 2012 – less than half the US$ 5.1 billion needed each year to achieve universal access to interventions.

Without adequate and predictable funding, the progress against malaria is also threatened by emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin, the core component of ACTs, and mosquito resistance to insecticides. Artemisinin resistance has been detected in four countries in south-east Asia, and insecticide resistance has been found in at least 64 countries.

“The remarkable gains against malaria are still fragile,” says Dr Robert Newman, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “In the next 10-15 years, the world will need innovative tools and technologies, as well as new strategic approaches to sustain and accelerate progress.”

WHO is currently developing a global technical strategy for malaria control and elimination for the 2016-2025 period, as well as a global plan to control and eliminate Plasmodium vivax malaria. Prevalent primarily in Asia and South America, P. vivax malaria is less likely than P. falciparum to result in severe malaria or death, but it generally responds more slowly to control efforts. Globally, about 9% of the estimated malaria cases are due to P. vivax, although the proportion outside the African continent is 50%.

“The vote of confidence shown by donors last week at the replenishment conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is testimony to the success of global partnership. But we must fill the annual gap of US$ 2.6 billion to achieve universal coverage and prevent malaria deaths,” said Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. “This is our historic opportunity to defeat malaria.”

Notes for editors:

The “World malaria report 2013″ summarizes information received from 102 countries that had on-going malaria transmission during the 2000-2012 period, and other sources, and updates the analyses presented in 2012.

The report contains revised estimates of the number of malaria cases and deaths, which integrate new and updated under-5 mortality estimates produced by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, as well as new data from the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group.


Ugandan court turned back challenge to DDT use

March 19, 2014

One more news story that demonstrates, first, there is no worldwide ban on DDT (not even with the POPs Treaty); and second, environmentalists probably couldn’t stop DDT use if they tried, in nations where malaria still poses a problem.

Uganda's location in Africa; WorldAtlas.com map

Uganda’s location in Africa; WorldAtlas.com map

Not that the DDT-crazy anti-environmentalist critics of Rachel Carson and WHO will notice, but here’s the news, anyway.

From All Africa, from The Observer in Kampala:

Uganda: DDT Petition Dismissed

By Derrick Kiyonga, 18 March 2014

A petition against the use of DDT to control malaria has been dismissed by the Constitutional court.

Judges said the 2009 petition by the Uganda Network on Toxic-Free Malaria Control (UNETMAC) did not raise any matter for interpretation under article 137 of the Constitution. UNETMAC had argued that indoor residual spraying (IRS) and the continued use of the insecticide was hazardous to Uganda’s agricultural exports.

The ministry of Health had earlier approved IRS in Apac and Oyam districts. The judgment by the five-judge panel was delivered by Justice Kenneth Kakuru.

Uganda’s lack of anti-malaria campaigns due to political unrest through much of the last 40 years appears to have contributed to rather severe problems in some provinces today.  At various points over the past decade, Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) won court fights from business groups, trade groups, farmers, affected citizens and odd environmental organizations.  In each case, courts ruled in favor of DDT use.

IRS involves spraying the walls of a home where mosquitoes rest after biting a victim.  Hypothetically, the mosquito then gets a fatal does of insecticide, and will not live long enough to develop the next cycle of malaria parasites to pass back to human victims (the life cycle of the malaria parasite takes about 14 days in a mosquito’s gut before the bug becomes infectious).  DDT is not approved for outdoor use, but only for fighting disease, and only inside dwellings.

DDT and about a dozen other insecticides are used for IRS, in rotation, to avoid pushing the mosquitoes to evolve resistance to any one poison.  Even so, DDT grows less effective, and health workers increasingly avoid using it at all, in favor of other insecticides.

Despite a few hotspots of malaria in Africa, across the continent malaria infections and deaths continue to decline, a decline steady since the early 1970s, accelerated since 2000.

More:

Uganda. AfricaDiscovery.com

Uganda. AfricaDiscovery.com


Legacy of DDT abuse: Cleaning up old pesticide dumps

February 15, 2014

Contrary to science denialist claims, DDT is not harmless.  Users and abusers of DDT, abandoned stocks of DDT and other pesticides around the world, after the stuff had become essentially useless against insect or other pests originally targeted.

In the U.S., EPA moves in to clean up DDT dumps, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), or Superfund.  In much of the world, various UN agencies find the old pesticides, and clean them up as funding allows.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) documents its cleanup efforts with photos of sessions training technicians to find and catalog dump sites, repackaging of old drums when necessary, extraction, packing and shipping to a disposal site.

Photos tell a story words on paper cannot.

Caption from FAO: TN (Tanzania) before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN - : M. Davis

Caption from FAO: TN (Tanzania) before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN – : M. Davis

Sometimes the toxic wastes did not stay neatly stacked.

FAO caption:  TN before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN

FAO caption: TN before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN View real size

DDT use against insect vectors of disease essentially halted in the mid-1960s.  The Rockefeller Foundation’s and UN’s ace mosquito fighter, Fred Soper, ran into mosquitoes in central Africa that were resistant and immune to DDT. Farmers and businesses had seized on DDT as the pesticide of choice against all crop pests, or pests in buildings.  By the time the UN’s malaria-fighting mosquito killers got there, the bugs had evolved to the point DDT didn’t work the malaria eradication campaign.

Also, there were a few DDT accidents that soured many Africans on the stuff.  Around lakes where local populations caught the fish that comprised the key protein in their diet, farmers used DDT, and the runoff killed the fish.

Use of DDT ended rather abruptly in several nations.  Stocks of DDT that had been shipped were abandoned where they were stored.

For decades.

FAO caption:    Obsolete DDT in Luanda, Angola - July 2008 -  : K. Cassam

FAO caption: Obsolete DDT in Luanda, Angola – July 2008 – : K. Cassam

Prevention and disposal of obsolete chemicals remains as a thorny problem throughout much of the world.  Since 2001, under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty, (POPs), the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has coordinated work by WHO and a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as governments, to make safe the abandoned pesticides, and detoxify or destroy them to prevent more damage.  FAOs efforts, with photos and explanation, is a history we should work to preserve.

DDT provided powerful insect killing tools for a relatively short period of time, from about 1945 to 1965.  In that short period, DDT proved to be a deadly killer of ecosystems to which it was introduced, taking out a variety of insects and other small animals, on up the food chain, with astonishing power.  One of DDT’s characteristics is a long half-life — it keeps on killing, for months or years. Once that was thought to be an advantage.

Now it’s a worldwide problem.


Texas researchers tease out correlation between DDT exposure and late-onset Alzheimer’s

February 12, 2014

Press release from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas:

Research finds elevated levels of DDT metabolite in Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry – UT-Southwestern photo

DALLAS – January 29, 2014 – Exposure to DDT may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a study with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests. While previous studies have linked chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes to DDT, this is the first clinical study to link the U.S.-banned pesticide to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published online in JAMA Neurology, found elevated levels of the DDT metabolite, DDE, that were 3.8 times higher in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to control subjects. The studies were conducted in partnership with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We have additional studies underway that will seek to directly link DDT exposure to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “If a direct link is made, our hope is to then identify the presence of DDE in blood samples from people at an early age and administer treatments to remove it.”

The study found elevated levels of DDE in blood samples of 86 patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 79 control patients from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Researchers made the link between DDE and Alzheimer’s by measuring three components – blood serum levels, severity of the patient’s Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and its relation to serum DDE levels, and the reaction of isolated nerve cells to DDE. Treatment of human nerve cells with DDE caused them to increase the production of the amyloid precursor protein that is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the study underwent preliminary testing to ensure that they didn’t have symptoms of other dementia-related diseases, and were an average age of 74, while the control subjects were on average 70 years old. These findings may help lead to the development of early biomarkers that can determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to DDT exposure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide and is expected to increase three-fold over the next 40 years, according to the researchers.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used extensively as an insecticide in the 1940s, but has been banned in the United States since 1972 after scientists linked the compound to wildlife health and environmental concerns. DDT is still used in other countries to combat the spread of malaria.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.

###

Once again, research seems to demonstrates the wisdom of Rachel Carson, who warned us that we could not know the long-term damage done by untested pesticides applied with abandon in great abundance as if it were a solution to everything.

Carson’s book indicting pesticides regulation, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, with more than 50 pages of footnotes and citations to scientific studies.  In the 52 years since, none of that research has been rebutted by any further research.  Instead, more harms have been discovered, greater questions raised about the damage done by pesticides applied indiscriminantly.


No, Congress did not “overreact” to DDT

October 30, 2013

Looking for something else, I restumbled on the Constitution Club, where they continue to club the Constitution, its better principles, and especially the great nation that the document creates.

And one of those grotesquely inaccurate posts blaming liberals for everything sprang up — bedbugs, this time.  If only those liberals had let the good DDT manufacturers poison the hell out of the entire planet, the blog falsely claims, there would be no concern for bedbugs surging in hotels worldwide today, and especially not in Charlotte, North Carolina, back during the Democratic National Convention.

A meeting of a chapter of Constitution clubs? Wikipedia image

A meeting of a chapter of Constitution clubs? Wikipedia image

Looking through the archives, I now recall I dealt with most of this issue on this blog before.

The post’s author made a response I hadn’t seen.  God help me these idiots do need a trip to the intellectual woodshed.  He said “Congress overreacted on DDT, I think. It likes to do that.”

In reality, Congress did nothing at all, other than pass the law regulating pesticides, if we stick to the real history. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the rule on DDT, which still stands today.  Over react?  Two federal courts had to twist EPA’s arm to get any action at all, and after delaying for nearly two years, EPA’s rule didn’t ban DDT except for outdoor use on crops, which by that time meant cotton in a handful of states in the U.S. — DDT has never been banned in Africa nor Asia, Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty notwithstanding.

Oh, hell. Put it on the record.

I wrote:

Did Congress ever “react” to DDT?

EPA was tasked by the 1950s’s FIFRA to check out safety of pesticides, and did.  FIFRA had recently been amended to give EPA (USDA, before) power to ban a pesticide outright. Two federal courts found DDT eminently worthy of such an outright ban, but refrained from ordering it themselves as they saw the law to require, on the promise of EPA to conduct a thorough scientific review.  At some length, and irritation to the Eisenhower appointees to the courts, EPA got around to an administrative law hearing — several months and 9,000 pages.  In a panic, the DDT manufacturers proposed a new label for DDT before the hearings got started, calling DDT dangerous to wildlife, and saying it should be used only indoors to control health-threats.  Alas, under the law, if DDT were allowed to stay for sale over the counter, anyone could buy it and abuse it.  The hearing record clearly provided proof that DDT killed wildlife, and entire ecosystems.  But, it was useful to fight diseases, used as the proposed label suggested . . .

Administrator William Ruckelshaus took the cue the DDT manufacturers offered.  He issued a rule banning DDT from outdoor use on agricultural crops except in emergencies with a permit from EPA.  But he specifically allowed U.S. manufacturers to keep making the stuff for export to fight malaria in distant nations, and to allow DDT makers to keep making money.

“Over-reacted” on DDT?  Not Congress, and not EPA.  The rule was challenged in court, twice.  The appellate courts ruled that the scientific evidence, the mountains of it, fully justified the rule, and let it stand.  (Under U.S. law, agencies may not act on whim; if they over-react, they’ve violated the law.)

No study conducted carefully and judiciously, and passed through the gauntlet of peer review, since that time, has questioned the science conclusions of that rule in any significant way — if any study questioned the science at all (there are famous urban legends, but most of them lead back to people who didn’t even bother to do research, let alone do it well and publish it).

But so-called conservatives have faith that if Congress will just repeal the law of gravity, pigs can fly.  In the real world, things don’t work that way.

How bedbugs view DDT in the 21st century.

How bedbugs view DDT in the 21st century.

I’ve captured most of the earlier exchanges below the fold; one can never trust so-called conservatives to conserve a record of their gross errors.  They’re there for the record, and for your use and edification.

Read the rest of this entry »


Yes, DDT is deadly to humans, as suicides demonstrate

September 16, 2013

One of the anti-environmental, anti-green false myths kicking around is that DDT is not harmful to humans, and therefore it probably shouldn’t have been banned, “and Rachel Carson was wrong.”

This poster from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illustrates bioaccumulation, theprocess by which larger animals can be killed by acute DDT poisoning.

This poster from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illustrates bioaccumulation, theprocess by which larger animals can be killed by acute DDT poisoning.

Reality is that DDT is a poison, but acute poisoning of large animals tends to take a lot.  Insectivorous animals or their predators can get those fatal amounts, but humans generally don’t.  DDT as a toxin kills mammals and birds and amphibians and reptiles and fish with equal alacrity, slowed only by the size of the organism and whether the organism’s diet consists of other things that consume and accumulate DDT.

Often that misperception is coupled with a claim that DDT does not cause cancer, and so should have its ban lifted.

But, the facts:

  • DDT is a neurotoxin; in accumulates in fat, and if enough of it courses through the blood of an animal at a given point, it kills off parts of the neurosystem including the brain.
  • DDT kills mammals (humans are mammals); in fact the U.S. Army argued to keep DDT on the market to use against bats that infested barracks in training camps (bats are mammals, too).  Death depends on the dose, which depends on body size.  Takes a fair amount to kill off a large mammal, quickly.  DDT is implicated in the near extinction of different species of migratory free-tail bats in the Southwest.
  • DDT is carcinogenic.  Fortunately for humans, it’s a weak carcinogen for most cancers, though research points to a troubling link to some cancers (breast, reproductive organs) that appear very late relative to exposure, especially if exposure to DDT occurs in utero, or in infancy.
  • DDT was not banned as a hazard to human health; it was banned as a hazard to wildlife.  DDT in almost all concentrations becomes an indiscriminate killer of wildlife when used outdoors.
  • DDT can kill humans with acute poisoning.

That last point isn’t easy to document in the U.S.  During the go-go DDT years there was one case of a young girl who drank from a prepared DDT solution, and died a short time later.  The incident was a tragedy, but not unique for the 1950s and 1960s.  It was written off to lax safety standards, and because it occurred long before the origin of on-line databases, essentially it has fallen out of history.  Just try to find a reference to the death today.

Partly, this lack of information on human toxicity is due to the fact that DDT use was slowing dramatically by the late 1960s (it was becoming ineffective), and after the ban in 1972, there were few cases in the U.S. where humans were exposed to the stuff, except in emissions from DDT manufacturing plants.  EPA’s order banning DDT in the U.S. applied only to agricultural use, and the chief agricultural use remaining was on cotton.  Manufacturing was not banned, however, which meant U.S. DDT makers could continue to pump the stuff out and sell it overseas, in Africa, and Asia.  This continued right up to that day in 1984 that U.S. companies became subject to damage for the poisons they make under the Superfund law — almost every DDT maker declared bankruptcy to escape liability in the weeks before the Superfund became effective, saddling taxpayers with a few dozen Superfund sites to be cleaned up on the taxpayer’s dime.

DDT has never been banned in Africa or Asia, however.  And there we find a badly-documented history of people poisoning themselves with DDT, usually in suicides.

Whatever other pathologies these cases may exhibit, they reveal that DDT does, indeed, kill humans.

Like this recent case, from Ghana; yes, that’s the illustration used in the newspaper; from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation:

Sep 11, 2013 at 11:52am
Man commits suicide over wife’s confession

Benjamin Kwaku Owusu, a 40-year-old former Manager of Unity Oil Filling Station in Suhum, has committed suicide by drinking DDT Gamullio 20 insecticide.

A family spokesperson who spoke to the Ghana News Agency on condition of anonymity said Owusu and his wife lived at Suhum and had been married for five years but never had a child.

He said the situation often developed into misunderstanding between them but later the wife got pregnant and left for her home town.

According to the spokesperson, whiles Owusu was preparing for the wife to deliver, he had a shocking message from the wife that the pregnancy belonged to another man and not him.

He said Owusu, who had a shock, rushed into his room and drunk the DDT Insecticide and fell unconscious.

“Owusu was rushed to the hospital but died soon after he was admitted,” he said.

When the police at Suhum was contacted, they confirmed the story and said the body of the deceased had since been buried after post mortem examination at the Suhum Government Hospital.

GNA

Not sure what “Gamullio 20″ means, but it seems to be the brand name of the poison used.

More:


Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to kids about DDT

June 6, 2013

Great accomplishment by this kid from Hudson, Massachusetts — but troubling, too.  He’s winning a persuasive speech competition, persuading people against history, law and science, calling for a return of DDT.

Andrew Brandt of Hudson MA, persuasive speaking champion

Andrew Brandt of Hudson holds his winning certificate at the regional speech and debate tournament in New Hampshire in April. He was one of seven to advance to the national competition. (Photo/submitted)

Hudson – Andrew Barndt, 13, from Hudson will be traveling to Tulsa, Okla., in June to join more than 500 students competing in a National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Andrew has qualified to compete in the Persuasive Speech category with the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). Home-schooled students aged 12 to 18 compete at local and regional tournaments around the country in the winter and spring, culminating in the national tournament in June.

In April, at the regional tournament in Concord, N.H., 27 students competed in the Persuasive Speech category. Andrew’s speech, “DDT: What You Think You Know May Not Be So,” was one of seven chosen to move on the national competition.

According to the NCFCA, “a persuasive speech is an original platform speech that attempts to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view or course of action.”

A competitor will give a speech three times in front of different three-judge panels. Judges can be other parents, members of the community or former competitors. The judges rank them on 17 criteria, including: using outside evidence, relating a clear thesis, demonstrating a logical flow of ideas, incorporating proper vocal technique, having good energy level and making eye contact. The top candidates advance to a final round and the winners are decided. Winners receive a trophy and recognition on the NCFCA website.

Andrew will present his winning speech at the national competition held at Oral Roberts University June 18-22. His speech has three parts: debunking the myth of birds’ eggs being harmed due to DDT, disproving the claim that DDT causes cancer in humans, and pointing out that DDT has saved hundred of millions of lives by reducing mosquitoes that carry malaria. He concludes by urging his listeners to repeal the ban on DDT.

“I’m an avid birdwatcher,” Andrew said. “which is how I became familiar with DDT in the first place.”

According to his mother, Ann Barndt, Andrew also competes in debate. “This year he and his brother, Jonathan, 16, partnered together as a team,” she said. “However, their record was not high enough to advance.”

She said the brothers did enjoy preparing for the tournaments, researching various aspects of the this year’s topic, the United Nations. They plan to partner together again next year.

“As for my future, I’m still thinking about how to merge [bird watching] with a sustainable livelihood,” Andrew said.

For more information about the tournament, visit www.ncfca.org.

At the site of the Hudson Community Advocate, I offered what I hope is gentle but persuasive advice to the kid, from one old debater to another:

I commend the young man on his speaking prowess — but he needs a lot of help with his research chops.

1. Birds eggs are harmed by DDT; worse, that’s just one of four ways DDT kills birds. It also poisons chicks outright, in the eggs, poisons the adults (especially migratory birds), and it disrupts the nervous systems of chicks so that, even when they do hatch, they don’t survive.

2. Although it’s a weaker carcinogen, DDT is listed as a “suspected human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society, CDC and WHO. DDT’s carcinogenic qualities were evidenced long after EPA banned its use because it kills wildlife systems.

3. While DDT played a role in defeating malaria in some countries, it was overused, and it ceased to be so effective as it was. However, malaria rates of infection and total deaths from malaria now are much, much lower than they ever were with DDT. Since malaria deaths are reduced by more than 75%, it’s incorrect math to claim millions died without DDT, wholly apart from the history.

3.1 DDT has never been banned for use against malaria, anywhere. The U.S. ban on DDT, in fact, allowed manufacturing to continue in the U.S., with all DDT dedicated to export. So the U.S. ban, which saved the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican, among others, also multiplied the amount of DDT available to fight malaria in Africa and Asia.

Andrew must be very, very persuasive, to persuade people that DDT, a deadly and mostly useless pollutant, should be revived. Good luck to him in his tournament, and good luck finding better sources next year.

Mr. Brandt must be excused, partly, for his error.  There remains a dedicated and well-funded disinformation assault on the reputation of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on the World Health Organization, on malaria fighters, on scientists and “environmentalists,” and this assault largely succeeds in ruthlessly elbowing aside the facts in internet searches, and elsewhere.  Fox News still employs serial-prevaricator Steven Milloy whose assault hoaxes on Carson and science of DDT should be more legendary than they are.  So-called Christian organizations join the political fray, while Christians like the Methodists actually fight malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign — the workers are too busy to crow, the crowers are too busy to fight malaria.  (One may wonder about this Christian debate group — it caters to the small band of home schoolers.  Their evidence standards aside — standards which would disqualify most of the claims against Rachel Carson and for DDT — one wonders how a speaker would fare in this competition,  who praised Rachel Carson and the EPA for banning DDT, and for keeping the ban.  Accuracy of information is not among the criteria to be used in judging.)

The problem with lying to kids is they often believe the lies.  This isn’t a case of scientific disputes, or conflicting studies or information.  Not a jot nor tittle of Rachel Carson’s research citations has ever been questioned.  What she wrote about DDT in 1962 remains valid today, supported by more than a thousand follow-up studies and contradicted by none.  The destructive nature of DDT on bird populations is not questioned by scientists nor experienced bird watchers.  Where did this well-intentioned kid get led so far astray?

Science communicators?  What’s the solution to this problem?

More:


Rachel Carson/DDT hoaxing from the Ayn Rand Institute

April 21, 2013

Welcome, refugees and truth-seekers from WUWT:  If this site seems a little unusual to you, you should know that at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we try to stick to science, and we don’t censor opposing opinions.  Genuinely interested in the DDT/Malaria issue?  See this collection.

______________

A couple of physicists get together in a podcast from the Ayn Rand Institute, Poke in Your Eye to Eye, and demonstrate that they don’t know biology well, they know less about history, but they don’t hesitate to tell whoppers about Rachel Carson and the value of DDT“Silent Spring 50 Years Later [a special Earth Day podcast].

English: An image of the main entrance of Rach...

A better indication of the legacy of Rachel Carson: Schools across America named after the woman, to inspire children to explore science, and to read and write. Here, the main entrance of Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Earth Day must be coming up.  The usual suspects trot out their usual disinformation and hoax campaigns — and it will continue through Earth Day on April 22, International Malaria Day on April 25, through Rachel Carson’s birthday, and probably all summer.

Mencken warned us that hoaxes, once out of the bottle, can’t be put back.  Twain (and others) remind us that whopping falsehoods travel around the world “while truth is getting its boots on.”  Amanda Maxham, who is listed as an astrophysicist at the Rand site, interviewed physicist Keith Lockitch — and they repeat almost all the hoary old false fables invented by Gordon Edwards and Steven Milloy about malaria, DDT, and Rachel Carson.

A few of the errors committed by the polemicists at the Ayn Rand Institute:

  • ‘DDT doesn’t breed mosquitoes more resistant to the stuff, but instead weakens the population through reducing diversity.’  Absolutely wrong.  Turns out the new alleles mosquitoes pick up that makes them resistant and immune to DDT, are ALSO the alleles that make mosquitoes resistant to the whole class of chemicals, and thereby foul up efforts to develop new pesticides.

    Tanzania - Removing DDT

    Cleaning up DDT in Africa: 40 tons of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, Tanzania – FAO photo

  • ‘Rachel Carson didn’t account for the value of DDT in eradicating malaria.’  They start out claiming DDT ended malaria in the U.S. (it didn’t; CDC had won the fight will just mop up operations left, by 1939; DDT wasn’t even available for another seven years), and run through the false claim that DDT alone had almost eradicated malaria from Sri Lanka, but listening to Rachel Carson, the nation stopped spraying and malaria roared back (the nation stopped ALL of its malaria fighting efforts due to costs and civil war; when the fight was taken up again, DDT was not useful; largely without DDT, Sri Lanka has once again nearly wiped out malaria).
  • ‘Because of a lack of DDT use, malaria continues to ravage the world killing a million people a year.’  Actually, malaria is at the lowest level in human history, killing less than a million a year, with great progress being made against the disease using the methods Rachel Carson urged in 1962.  Had we listened to Carson earlier, we could have saved a few million more lives, and perhaps have eradicated malaria already.  Also, it’s important to remember that DDT was never banned in Africa nor Asia; the ban on use of DDT on cotton crops in the U.S. did not cause any increase in malaria anywhere; since the ban on DDT use in the U.S. malaria has constantly declined in incidence and deaths.
  • ‘DDT is very effective because it’s ALSO repellent to mosquitoes, after it ceases to kill them.’  So in the end, they urge the use of a poisonous-to-wildlife, mildly carcinogenic substance, because it repels mosquitoes?  Bednets are more effective, cheaper, not-poisonous to wildlife, and they aren’t even suspected of causing cancer.

Rachel Carson’s life is a model for budding scientists, aspiring journalists, and teachers of ethics.  That so many people spend so much time making up false claims against her, in favor of a deadly toxin, and against science, tells us much more about the subrosa intentions of the claim fakers than about Rachel Carson.

Want the facts about Rachel Carson?  Try William Souder’s marvelous biography from last year, On a Farther Shore.  Want facts on DDT?  Try EPA’s official DDT history online (or look at some of the posts here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub). Want the facts about malaria?  Check with the world’s longest running, most ambitious malaria fighting campaign operated by the good people at the World Health Organization, Roll Back Malaria,  or see Sonia Shah’s underappreciated history, The FeverHow malaria has ruled mankind for 500,000 years.

More:

Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Wall of Shame (hoax spreaders to watch out for this week):


Pertpetuating Crichton’s version of the DDT hoax

April 16, 2013

If you needed turf grass, would you buy it from someone who doesn’t know beans about pesticides and ecosystems?  Shouldn’t a turf grass provider know a bit more about ecology?

Fairy ring in grass

“Fairy ring” in turf grass — created by the pattern of spores dropping out of the mushrooms, not by fairies. Don’t tell the Saskatchewan Turfgrass Association. They appear to believe in fairies. (No, DDT won’t cure ‘em.) Photo from Wikipedia, from Brisbane, Australia

Found this in the on-line newsletter of the Saskatchewan Turfgrass Association:

“State of Fear” written around 2006 by author Michael Crichton had interesting things to say about the once popular insecticide DDT. He wrote that arguably the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century was the removal of DDT for control of mosquitoes. DDT was the best insecticide on the market. Despite reviews to the contrary, no other products were as efficient, or as safe. Since the removal of DDT, it has been estimated that 30 to 50 million people have died unnecessarily. Before the removal of DDT, malaria had become almost a minor illness with only 50,000 deaths per year throughout the world. Remember the figures above are from 2006.

Nope.  Crichton’s still wrong; he hasn’t corrected his errors since he died.

Malaria deaths are at historic lows, probably the lowest they’ve been in human history – thanks to Rachel Carson‘s integrated vector management methods and hard work by African malaria fighters working without DDT, mostly.

So, after the lie gets around the world before the truth gets its boots on, does the lie ever stop?  Probably not.

We’re coming up on World Malaria Day on April 25.  Corporately-funded hoaxsters will be spreading a lot of disinformation about malaria, about DDT, and about Rachel Carson, over the next month or so.  And, probably for years beyond that.

More:


Eagles! We reduced DDT, and the eagles recovered

January 28, 2013

Love this photo, from the great folks at Yellowstone National Park:

Chris Daniel photo of a bald eagle in Yellowstone National Park, in the snow

From the Yellowstone NP Facebook site: An adult bald eagle perched along the Firehole River on New Year’s Day, near a trumpeter swan that it had either killed or was scavenging. Adult bald eagles usually remain in or near their nest territory throughout winter provided they have access to sufficient prey. Photo courtesy of Chris Daniel. (kd)

It’s a reminder of progress we’ve made in environmental protection.

While bald eagles may not have been the most endangered animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, or any other law, they became the most famous.  In the late 18th century Congress voted to designate the bald eagle as our national symbol.  At the time, the continent was still lousy with the creatures.  But from the arrival of Europeans after 1492, eagles had been hunted mercilessly.  By the early 20th century it was clear the animal was bound for extinction, like the great auk and other species (see here for technical information on the auk).

Ben Franklin complained the eagle was a dirty carrion eater, in a smart and funny polemic favoring the American turkey as the national bird.  Franklin couldn’t know how hunting and in-breeding would suck the nobility out of even wild turkeys over the next 200 years, until species protection laws and hunters pushed governments to invigorate stocks of wild turkeys again.  Compared to the eagle’s troubles, though, the turkey’s genetic torpor and limited habitat was almost nothing.

Americans tried to save the eagle.  After 1890, and during the run on great bird feathers that excited the fashion world and led to the senseless slaughter of millions of America’s most spectacular birds, we passed a federal law against hunting and shooting eagles for sport or no reason.  It was a toothless law, and the decline of eagle populations begun in the early 16th century continued unabated. Migratory bird treaties, providing more legal heft to bird protection, didn’t help the eagles either — not enough of them crossed borders, at least not that hunters and law enforcement could see.  The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, kicking into action in 1941, provided teeth to eagle hunting restrictions, and hunters stopped shooting them so much.  Between 1940 and 1950, eagle populations stabilized, with a good bunch in Alaska, and a few nesting pairs spread from Oregon to Maine, Lake of the Woods to Florida Everglades.  There were so few eagles, and they were spread so far apart, that most Americans could not see one without major effort and travel.

Bird watchers noticed trouble in the 1950s.  Young eagles stopped showing up for the Audubon Christmas bird count, and at the Hawk Mountain migration counts.  Adults went through the motions, migrating, hunting, building nests, laying eggs for all anyone knew, and hatching young that had been seen, sometimes, to fledge — but then the young birds died.  Between leaving the nest, and returning to mate up and breed, the young birds simply disappeared.

Research showed deeper trouble.  On careful observation the birds were seen to be frustrated in hatching and raising chicks.  Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t hatch.  If they did hatch, the chicks died.  The few who lived to fly out, died soon after.

Rachel Carson called attention to the trouble in her 1962 claxon call on pesticide and chemical pollution, Silent Spring (50 years ago in 2012).

Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings wrote a paean to seeing bald eagles in the wild, with a brief and kind mention of this blog. You should go read it there.

Protecting birds?  The Steve Milloys, CEIs, AEIs, Heritage Foundations, CATO Institutes and other dens of smug cynicism and bad citizenship have it all wrong.  It’s not about power for environmentalists.  It’s nothing so cheap or mean.  Heck.  Often it’s not even about protecting the birds so much.

It’s about protecting our own dreams, and places we have to inspire those dreams.  Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that there is something mystical and magical in a frontier that helped form the American character and make us hard-working, smart, and noble.  He was right, of course.  Those frontiers are not simply frontiers of settlement in the wilderness anymore.  We have to work to find them, to declare Alaska the “Last Frontier,” or government reform and Cold War enterprise as the “New Frontier.”  But we still need frontiers.

Eagles still soar there.  Wherever eagles soar, in fact, we find those frontiers, those places to dream and inspire.  The Endangered Species Act isn’t about saving animals and plants.  It’s about saving our own souls.

More:


Passing the 200 post mark on Rachel Carson, DDT and Malaria

January 13, 2013

I’m running behind in listing some of the articles, but since Utah Rep. Rob Bishop first alerted me to the stupidity raging on Rachel Carson‘s reputation, DDT‘s dangers and malaria, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub hosted more than 200 articles on the topics.

Palau's stamp honoring Rachel Carson

Postage stamp honoring Rachel Carson, part of the “20th century environmental heroes” set from the South Pacific nation of Palau, PlanetPatriot image

Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that Rachel Carson was right, DDT is still dangerous and needs to be banned, but malaria still declines, even with declining DDT use.

You can look at the list of 200 articles, in reverse chronological order, here.

More:


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!

More:


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.

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,992 other followers

%d bloggers like this: