Letter to IVCC: Please correct history of DDT

May 11, 2015

Screen capture of IVCC's introductory film, explaining benefits of mosquito bednets and the need for new pesticides to replace those now in use, to which mosquitoes have developed resistance and immunity.

Screen capture of IVCC’s introductory film, explaining benefits of mosquito bednets and the need for new pesticides to replace those now in use, to which mosquitoes have developed resistance and immunity.

Text of an e-mail I sent to the non-profit vector control group IVCC at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.  “Vector” is the fancy name for “disease-carrying arthropod,” usually an insect.

Dear IVCC,

Generally your website is very useful.  I am happy to recommend it for most people, for most purposes.

However, I’ve discovered errors in history you need to correct. On this page: Highlights of vector-borne disease history | IVCC

You say:

1962: Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring; a powerfully written book arguing that DDT is not safe. The reaction is immediate in several US states: DDT is banned. A nation-wide ban follows ten years later.

When Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring hit the shelves, it caused outrage.

Carson’s engaging and populist style meant the book appealed to many ordinary people, not just scientists. Carson used the scientific evidence of many researchers to argue that DDT can kill animals, cause bird populations to decline and lead certain pests to proliferate. Workers who handled the chemical suffer health problems and exposed fish got liver cancer. She also found evidence of DDT in mother’s breast milk and in the bodies of babies. Several US states immediately banned the use of DDT as a pesticide and for crops. In 1972, the USA banned it outright.

But there was a problem. DDT was and is the most effective means of reducing malaria incidences, particularly in developing countries. DDT is cheap, effective, easily stored and transported and relatively safe for the person spraying. It does not have to be applied very often and provides the best means of protection possible. But how could the USA promote DDT through its aid programmes if DDT was a banned chemical at home?

In 2000, a worldwide ban on DDT nearly ensued but it was stopped at the last minute. Today, DDT is still produced in China and India and available globally for use uniquely in anti-malarial efforts.

I find that to be an inaccurate history, and one that falsely contributes to the idea that scientists, the World Health Organization, and African malaria fighters are fools.

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an order banning DDT from use on crops. The order specifically worked around then-current U.S. law which would have required an absolute ban on DTT, or “outright” as you call it.  But the U.S. action was not “outright.”

EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus fully appreciated the utility of DDT for fighting insect vectors of disease. The regulation banned ONLY crop use, and specifically exempted from ban the use of DDT to fight insect vectors — in the U.S., as well as world wide.  See this article, and follow the links for the actual text of the regulation:  Oh, look: EPA ordered DDT to be used to fight malaria in 1972!

You can see EPA’s action also did not ban manufacturing in the U.S.  Many scientists in the U.S. saw this as a bow to chemical manufacturers who would have lost money invested in manufacturing plants.  Production of DDT in the U.S. continued, almost exclusively for export, until 1984.  In 1984, there were exports of 300 tons of DDT from the U.S.

DDT remains a deadly toxin, one that kills indiscriminately in the wild.  It is not at all clear to me that the POPs Treaty negotiations were speeding to a complete ban on the stuff — but in any case, a special carve out was created to allow DDT use to continue, to fight disease.   That amendment was proposed first in early negotiations — not a “last-minute” change of mind.

DDT was never “the most effective means of reducing malaria incidences;” it was a key part of WHO’s eradication program, precisely because it is so toxic, and precisely because it is long-lasting, the two key features that make it a “persistent organic pollutant.” DDT only works when coupled with a program of medical care to cure humans of the disease while mosquito populations are temporarily knocked down — a point you recognize at other places on your website.  Alone, DDT sets a stage for malaria to come roaring back, as soon as the DDT effectiveness wears off due to wall washing, painting or time, and when the mosquitoes come roaring back resistant to DDT, they will spread any malaria left in the population of humans.

I hope you can make corrections.  There is a widespread, well-funded effort to claim DDT is perfectly harmless to humans, that evil scientists and environmentalists prevailed on WHO and nations to stop using DDT, that the complete cessation of DDT use led to a massive expansion of malaria, and that therefore we should ignore scientists, environmentalists, NGOs and anyone else like the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who advocate doing anything other than massive DDT spraying campaigns to fight malaria.

Please don’t contribute to that political and science hoax campaign.

Sincerely,

Ed Darrell
Dallas, Texas

We’ll see whether anyone is awake and tending the message box at IVCC in Liverpool.  I hope the project is not dormant.

Fighting malaria requires accurate information if malaria fighters are to be able to outsmart malaria, which has outsmarted humans for a half-million years.

IVCC’s film of introduction:

More:

[Not sure why WordPress wants this post to show up on May 11’s schedule, when I posted in on May 21.  Haven’t figured out how to fix it; so I’ve reposted this closer to when it was written.  FYI.]


Fly your flags today in Minnesota: 157th Minnesota Statehood Day, May 11

May 11, 2015

Flag etiquette following the U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly U.S. flags on the day of statehood for the state in which you reside.

Minnesota joined the Union on May 11, 1858.

Minnesota Capitol Chandelier, lit for Statehood Day, May 11.

Caption from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: The Minnesota Capitol chandelier was illuminated today, May 10, 2013 in celebration of Statehood Day. It has 92 bulbs surrounded by 40,000 crystal beads strung together and was recently painstakingly cleaned and refurbished. The fixture is traditionally lit once per year on Statehood Day. Minnesota became a part of the United States as Minnesota Territory in 1849, and became the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858.

At the Library of Congress’s outstanding American Memory site, a much more detailed history of Minnesota statehood is featured on “Today in History,” reproduced here in its entirety:

The Star of the North

facade of a domed building
Capitol Building, exterior, St. Paul, MN
St. Paul, Minnesota 1902
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920

On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted into the Union. Minnesota’s application for statehood was submitted to President James Buchanan in January, but became entangled with the controversial issue of Kansas statehood, delaying it for several months until it was finally approved by Congress.

Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” or “Star of the North,” Minnesota is the northern terminus of the Mississippi River’s traffic and the westernmost point of an inland waterway which extends through the Great Lakes and, with the St. Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Dakota (Sioux) were among the tribal peoples who first made this land their home. For them state borders were non-existent, and their territory extended far beyond what is today Minnesota. The French claimed this region from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s, developing a strong fur trade but ceding lands east of the Mississippi to Britain. The U.S. acquired the area and its rich natural resources through the Treaty of Paris (1783), and the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

U.S. administration of the northwest lands formally began with the 1787 passage of the Northwest Ordinance. The ordinance, one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by the Continental Congress, set out the requirements for a territory to become a state. The American Memory collection Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 features a discussion of the Incorporation of the Western Territories. For additional information on England’s yielding of land west of the Appalachian Mountains, see the Today in History feature on the Surrender of Fort Sackville. A representation of Fort Sackville is accessible on The George Rogers Clark National Historic Park site.

From the 1820s on, protected the growth of the area now called Minnesota. During the Civil War, the fort served as a training center for thousands of young Minnesota volunteers who joined the Union Army. Twenty-four thousand soldiers who trained at the fort fought in the Union Army, serving gallantly at Gettysburg or during the Indian Outbreak. Once a military outpost at the edge of a small settlement, Fort Snelling is now located at the center of Minnesota’s “Twin Cities”—Minneapolis and St. Paul.

wheat bundle stacks
Wheat Bundle Stacks, Fosston, Minnesota, circa 1900.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

a horse in a farming rig in a field
Horse powered threshing rig, Blue Earth, Minnesota, 1898.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

Until the second half of the nineteenth century, immigration into Minnesota was slow. However, as the value of the state’s woodlands and fertile prairie was realized, settlers poured into the region with New England lumbermen leading the way. Between 1850 and 1857, the state population skyrocketed from 6,077 to over 150,000. As a large state with land for homesteading, Minnesota attracted immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and those seeking to own land in the United States. An 1878 brochure published by the Minnesota State Board of Immigration, describes the many reasons for moving to the state.

19th century advertisements to get people to move to Minnesota. Library of Congress images

19th century advertisements to get people to move to Minnesota. Library of Congress images; see description and link details below

Advertisement for a steamboat company
Northern Line Packet Co.,
Advertisement for a steamship company in The Minnesota Guide. A Handbook of Information for the Travelers, Pleasure Seekers and Immigrants…, 1869.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910

Still a leader in farming, lumbering, milling, and medical research, Minnesota is also an important center for the printing industry and a major producer of iron ore. Its largest city, Minneapolis, is home to the University of Minnesota, numerous museums, and theaters such as the Tyrone Guthrie Theater and the Walker Arts Center, and the world’s largest cash grain market.

St. Paul is the state capital.

Bird's eye view of Duluth
Bird’s Eye View of Duluth, Minnesota, copyright 1914.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

More:

U.S. and Minnesota flags flying together. Minnesota state flag photo by AlexiusHoratius - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons, via Wikipedia

U.S. and Minnesota flags flying together. Minnesota state flag photo by AlexiusHoratius – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons, via Wikipedia

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


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