U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not start a “worldwide ban” on using DDT to fight malaria. EPA instead lifted a court imposed ban on use of the pesticide to fight disease.
At least a couple of times a week I run into someone who claims that environmentalists are evil people, led by Rachel Carson (who, they say, may be as evil as Stalin, Hitler and Mao put together), and that their hysteria-and-n0t-fact-based “worldwide ban” on DDT use led to tens of millions of people dying from malaria.
Each point of the rant is false.
But lack of truth to claims doesn’t stop them from being made.
Serious students of history know better, of course. Federal agencies, like EPA, cannot issue orders on science-based topics, without enough hard science behind the order to justify it. That’s the rule given by courts, inscribed in law for all agencies in the Administrative Procedure Act (5 USC Chapter 5), and required of EPA specifically in the various laws delegating authority to EPA for clean air, clean water, toxics clean up, pesticides, etc. Were an agency to issue a rule based on whim, the courts overturn it on the basis that it is “arbitrary and capricious.” EPA’s 1972 ban on DDT use on certain crops was challenged in court, in fact — and the courts said the science behind the ban is sufficient. None of that science has been found faulty, or the DDT manufacturers and users would have been back in court to get the EPA order overturned.
Reading the actual documents, you may discover something else, too: Not only did the EPA order apply only to certain crop uses, not only was the order restricted to the jurisdiction of the EPA (which is to say, the U.S., and not Africa, Asia, nor any area outside U.S. jurisdiction), but the order in fact specifically overturned a previously-imposed court ruling that stopped DDT use to fight malaria.
That’s right: Bill Ruckelshaus ordered that use of DDT fight malaria is okay, in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world.
Quite the opposite of the claimed “worldwide ban on DDT to fight malaria,” it was, and is, an order to allow DDT to be used in any disease vector tussle.
How did the ranters miss that?
Here are the relevant clauses from the 1972 order, from a short order following a few pages of explanation and justification:
Administrator’s Order Regarding DDT
Order. Before the Environmental Protection Agency. In regard: Stevens Industries, Inc., et al. (Consolidated DDT Hearings). I.F.&R. Docket No. 83 et al.
In accordance with the foregoing opinion, findings and conclusions of law, use of DDT on cotton, beans (snap, lima and dry), peanuts, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, fresh market corn, garlic, pimentos, in commercial greenhouses, for moth-proofing and control of bats and rodents are hereby canceled as of December 31, 1972.
Use of DDT for control of weevils on stored sweet potatoes, green peppers in the Del Marva Peninsula and cutworms on onions are canceled unless without 30 days users or registrants move to supplement the record in accordance with Part V of my opinion of today. In such event the order shall be stayed, pending the completion of the record, on terms and conditions set by the Hearing Examiner: Provided, That this stay may be dissolved if interested users or registrants do not present the required evidence in an expeditious fashion. At the conclusion of such proceedings, the issue of cancellation shall be resolved in accordance with my opinion today.
Cancellation for uses of DDT by public health officials in disease control programs and by USDA and the military for health quarantine and use in prescription drugs is lifted. [emphasis added]
In order to implement this decision no DDT shall be shipped in interstate commerce or within the District of Columbia or any American territory after December 31, 1972, unless its label bears in a prominent fashion in bold type and capital letters, in a manner satisfactory to the Pesticides Regulation Division, the following language:
- For use by and distribution to only U.S. Public Health Service Officials or for distribution by or on approval by the U.S. Public Health Service to other Health Service Officials for control of vector diseases;
- For use by and distribution to the USDA or Military for Health Quarantine Use;
- For use in the formulation for prescription drugs for controlling body lice;
- Or in drug; for use in controlling body lice – to be dispensed only by physicians. [emphasis added]
Use by or distribution to unauthorized users or use for a purpose not specified hereon or not in accordance with directions is disapproved by the Federal Government; This substance is harmful to the environment.
The Pesticides Regulation Division may require such other language as it considers appropriate.
This label may be adjusted to reflect the terms and conditions for shipment for use on green peppers in Del Marva, cutworms on onions, and weevils on sweet potatoes if a stay is in effect.
Dated: June 2, 1972
William D. Ruckelshaus
[FR Doc.72-10340 Filed 7-6-72; 8:50 am]
Federal Register, Vol. 37, No. 131 – Friday, July 7, 1972 pp. 13375-13376
Here is the entire order, in .pdf format. ddt-ruckelshaus order
- EPA history of Ruckelshaus’s first term as EPA Administrator, 1970-1973
- Public Health Rep. 2010 Mar-Apr; 125(2): 337–342. PMCID:PMC2821864. “Debating the Health Effects of DDT: Thomas Jukes, Charles Wurster, and the Fate of an Environmental Pollutant,” Elena Conis, MS, MJ
- We discussed exactly this issue on this blog back in 2009, when Jim Easter’s Some Are Boojums republished Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney’s entire report of the 1971 EPA hearings on DDT. Easter noted then, on his blog, that EPA’s order “did nothing to restrict the chemical’s [DDT] use against malaria.”