Letter to IVCC: Please correct history of DDT (repost)

May 21, 2015

[WordPress is misbehaving, or the programmers have put in some new wrinkle that haven’t mastered. This piece I posted this morning shows up back on May 11; I repost it here, now, to get it where it belongs.]
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 DDT, 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:

Save


One billion nets to Africa

May 21, 2015

Malaria No More reports a billion mosquito nets in Africa produce great results in the fight against malaria.

Malaria No More reports a billion mosquito nets in Africa produce great results in the fight against malaria.

Interesting week.

All that, and the World Health Assembly 68 is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.  Among top items on the agenda of the world’s top public health experts: What are the next steps in fighting malaria?

Malaria No More produced this short video in time for World Malaria Day, April 25, 2015 — but I just saw it this week.  It depicts the Ochieng family in Kenya, and the effects of malaria, and beating malaria, have on the family:

One Billion Nets to Africa

Description of the film:

Meet the Ochieng family. They are one of the families that received the #OneBillionNets to Africa and is now protected from malaria-transmitting mosquitoes because of this unprecedented global effort. See more at 1BillionNets.org

  • Music:  “Eyes Wide Open” by Tony Anderson

This film caught my interest on a personal scale.  One of my great students at Molina High School in Dallas was a Kenyan immigrant, named Ochieng.  Can’t help but wonder if there is a relation.

Bednets, and a concentrated, international campaign to prevent mosquito bites and cure infected humans of the disease, have cut malaria deaths from just over 1 million per year in 2000, to fewer than 600,000 per year in 2014.  This progress produces hope again that malaria can be beaten, though there are many more hurdles blocking the path.

You may have noted: The malaria fighters at Malaria No More make no plea for more DDT, nor do they claim any handicap from the U.S. having banned the use of DDT on agricultural crops in the U.S.  In saving lives, disease fighters don’t have time to deal with destructive hoaxes.

Tip of the old scrub brush to PMI, the President’s Malaria Initiative:
http://twitter.com/PMIgov/status/596689144618823680


Homestead Act of 1862: Socialist land giveaway that appealed to free-market Americans, then and now

May 21, 2015

We passed an important anniversary in American history this week.  I’m not sure anyone noted it.

I am constantly amazed at how much of our history gets ignored in conservative politics, especially with regard to the role the government played in stimulating development of the nation with subsidies and give-aways.  What would America be without the Homestead Act?

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

History and demographics of the United States were forever changed when the Homestead Act became law early in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, on May 20, 1862.

With Congress paralyzed and unable to act to do even minor good things now, it’s astonishing to think how the Congress of 1862 could do so much to open the American west, in the middle of the American Civil War.  Perhaps Congress was able to act because legislators from the South were absent, and did not oppose progress.

In any case, the Homestead Act encouraged Americans who lacked property, or who wanted to go west, to strike out for the western territories and states, to make a new life, to found new towns, cities and farms, and fulfill the nation’s “manifest destiny.”

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

Here’s the history from the National Archives:

The notion that the United States government should give free land titles to settlers to encourage westward expansion became popular in the 1850s. During that time the U.S. House of Representatives passed numerous homestead bills but southern opposition in the Senate prevented enactment. In 1860, during the 36th Congress, the Senate narrowly passed a homestead act but President James Buchanan vetoed it and the Senate failed its override attempt.

When the 37th Congress convened for its brief summer session in 1861, now without members from seceded states, it was preoccupied with Civil War-related legislation. The House took up briefly the homestead issue in December but postponed further consideration of it until the following February. The House finally passed the Homestead Act on February 28, 1862 by the large margin of 107 to 16. The act worked its way through the Senate until May 6, 1862 when it passed easily by a vote of 33 to 7. After a few minor changes in conference committee—which both houses agreed to without controversy—Congress sent the final legislation to President Abraham Lincoln who signed the act into law on May 20, 1862.

The Homestead Act encouraged western migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for a nominal filing fee. Among its provisions was a five-year requirement of continuous residence before receiving the title to the land and the settlers had to be, or in the process of becoming, U.S. citizens. Through 1986, when the last claim was made in Alaska, the Homestead Act distributed 270 million acres of land in the United States making it arguably one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in American history.

More:

Much of this post has appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub before; the Homestead Act deserves commemoration.


%d bloggers like this: