SOME KIND WORDS FOR DDT — in the New York Times, no less. “Today, indoor DDT spraying to control malaria in Africa is supported by the World Health Organization; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the United States Agency for International Development. . . . Even those mosquitoes already resistant to poisoning by DDT are repelled by it.”
The debate over DDT is over. There’s scientific consensus. Anyone who disagrees is a DDT denialist and a mouthpiece for Big Mosquito.
No, Glenn, the debate is not over so long as people continue to deny the harmful effects of DDT and act as mouthpieces for Big Poison, Big Garbage, Big Cancer, Big Pollution, voodoo science and Big Stupid.
There is a scientific consensus, but Reynolds misstates it. Scientists agree that DDT kills birds, bats, reptiles and beneficial insects that prey on malaria-bearing mosquitoes, making control of malaria more difficult (among many other harms). Consequently, DDT use under the rules laid down by the U.S. EPA in 1972 make a lot of sense. Those rules are the same as agreed to in the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs) — no DDT use in broadcast spraying, especially on crops; DDT use is allowed when necessary to fight disease; alternatives to DDT must be researched and created. The POPs Treaty lists DDT as one of the “Dirty Dozen” persistent pollutants.
POPs are a set of chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment for long periods of time, and biomagnify as they move up through the food chain. POPs have been linked to adverse effects on human health and animals, such as cancer, damage to the nervous system, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Because they circulate globally via the atmosphere, oceans, and other pathways, POPs released in one part of the world can travel to regions far from their source of origin.
Reynolds appears not to have read the treaty, nor even the article he cites, by Donald Roberts, from the odd, industry-funded Africa Fighting Malaria; even the most optimistic DDT fanatics generally nod in the direction of the dangers. Roberts wrote:
It would be a mistake to think we could rely on DDT alone to fight mosquitoes in Africa. Fortunately, research aimed at developing new and better insecticides continues — thanks especially to the work of the international Innovative Vector Control Consortium. Until a suitable alternative is found, however, DDT remains the cheapest and most effective long-term malaria fighter we have.
Africa Fighting Malaria is apoplectically happy to have one study that shows some repellent effects of DDT. As Bug Girl and Deltoid note, AFM urged unreasonable responses from many of us (I got their request, too). The study is encouraging, but it fails to make DDT the panacea Roberts paints it, and the study completely ignores the dangers of DDT, which have not changed a whit.
The best solutions to fighting malaria do not require DDT. Other new studies show that simple mosquito netting is amazingly effective — in Kenya, a switch in policy to give the nets out for free reduced malaria incidence by 44%. Under policies urged by U.S. conservatives, Kenyans had been required to pay for the nets previously. Reducing the cost of the nets left them beyond the means of many poor Kenyans.
Where is Glenn Reynolds’ promotion of non-poisonous and non-polluting, effective means to fight malaria. Why does he only go for the damaging solutions?
Perhaps Glenn Reynolds and Donald Roberts could make a showing of good faith in this case. Since this one study did tend to break their way, perhaps they could show their gratitude by calling on Sen. Tom Coburn to stop acting like a brat throwing a tantrum and remove his holds on the bill that would name a post office in Pennsylvania for Rachel Carson, honoring her work against pollution. (Coburn cites junk science and voodoo science as his justification — and he’s an M.D.!)
Or, would making a statement against pollution be contrary to their politics?
To the chronically science challenged, DDT is an answer to more ills than you can imagine. We face new infestations of bed bugs — how long before AFM’s editorial ghosts have people urging DDT spraying wholesale to fight bed bugs? West Nile virus continues to plague the U.S., and already articles have appeared calling for broadcast spraying of towns and marshes to fight it, though that would probably be exactly the wrong thing to do.
The fight against ignorance goes on, but some wear ignorance like a badge of honor.