Continued Use of DDT Is a Global Health Concern
Scholars who attended the Eugene Kenaga International DDT Conference on Health and the Environment at Alma College are drafting a consensus statement urging global policymakers to reconsider the future use of the synthetic pesticide DDT.
The scholars acknowledge that the use of DDT has prevented millions of infections and deaths from insect-borne diseases, especially malaria. Yet, substantial exposure to DDT poses serious health risks for human populations and the environment, says Edward Lorenz, director of the Public Affairs Institute at Alma College.
“The consensus of the scholars was a recognition of the serious impediments to further restricting DDT use, given that several million people die each year from malaria, most of whom are under the age of five,” says Lorenz. “However, these scholars have documented in numerous human health studies what can be called a ‘deepening understanding of the effects of DDT use on humans.’ The collective wisdom of the experts at the Kenaga Conference was that world policymakers need to use extreme caution when considering easing restrictions on DDT use.”
The March 14 conference attracted international experts in the areas of public health and the environment, including South African scholars Riana Bornman, Henk Bouwman and Christiaan de Jager; Aimin Chen of Creighton University; Barbara Cohn and Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California at Berkeley; Henry Anderson of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health; Suzanne Snedeker of Cornell University; Diane Henshel of Indiana University; Darwin Stapleton of the Rockefeller Archives; Lorenz and John Leipzig of Alma College; and Felicia Leipzig of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force.
The anticipated DDT conference “consensus statement” is expected to list the following summary statements and recommendations, says Lorenz:
- Repeated use of DDT results in serious health risks for humans.
- Many sites of chemical-manufacturing facilities continue to be a source of DDT contamination to area residents. While clean-up efforts continue, some DDT proponents, such as John Tierney (New York Times, June 5, 2007), have claimed that, “the billions spent cleaning up Superfund sites would be better spent on more serious dangers.”
“The experts at the DDT Conference unanimously disagree with Tierney’s assessment,” says Lorenz. “Because of the known DDT impacts on human health, the experts not only support continued Superfund clean up, but also endorse assessment of health impacts on residents of communities with DDT sites, such as St. Louis, Mich.”
- Children and pregnant women in malaria endemic areas where DDT is used are most at risk.
- Studies have shown that DDT impedes breast milk production, the best source of infant nutrition in many parts of the world.
“Because of the negative impacts on breastfeeding, resulting in more low birth weight babies, communities potentially exposed to DDT to control malaria must be told that the short-term benefits of DDT may spawn longer-term problems,” says Felicia Leipzig.
- New methods of malaria control should be encouraged and tested.
“Those who are lobbying for DDT use should focus on support for research into alternative chemicals and public health strategies that ultimately will allow for the full phase-out of DDT,” says John Leipzig, director of Alma’s Center for Responsible Leadership.
- The socio-economic development of malaria-affected communities is the best solution to malaria eradication.
- Conference experts call for “full support for the Stockholm Convention that will phase out the use of the 12 most dangerous persistent organic pollutants, including DDT,” says Lorenz.
“The Stockholm Convention mandates that each country using DDT have an implementation and management plan on controlling the use of DDT,” he says. “Ultimately it envisions eventual reliance on sustainable methods of disease vector control.”
The scholars argue that sufficient evidence exists that DDT exposure is occurring and posing significant health risks.
“Because of both DDT related Superfund sites and continued use of DDT, exposure to the pesticide is occurring around the world with significant health risks to current and future generations,” says Lorenz.
“The conference experts are challenging policy makers to provide support to further determine health risks associated with DDT exposure in both the developing world and in U.S. communities near contaminated Superfund sites,” he says. “The experts were especially critical of special interests groups and their lobbyists who negate the clear evidence of human health dangers of DDT exposure.”