[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.]
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.
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
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.
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: