India, world’s top DDT user, socked with malaria increase

July 22, 2015

Were it true that DDT is a magic solution to malaria, by all measures India should be malaria free.

Not only is India not malaria-free, but the disease increases in infections, deaths, and perhaps, in virulence.

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Since the late 1990s a small, well-funded band of chemical and tobacco industry propagandists conducted a campaign of calumny against Rachel Carson, environmentalists in general, scientists and health care workers, claiming that an unholy and wrongly-informed conspiracy took DDT off the market just as great strides were beginning to be made against malaria.

As a consequence, this group argues, malaria infections and deaths exploded, and tens of millions of people died unnecessarily.

That’s a crock, to be sure. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, inspired an already-established campaign against DDT. But the malaria eradication program begun with high hopes by the World Health Organization in 1955, foundered in 1963 when the campaign turned to central, tropical Africa. Overuse of DDT in agriculture and minor pest control had bred DDT-resistant and immune mosquitoes.  Malaria fighters could not knock down local populations of mosquitoes well enough to let medical care cure infected humans.  (The campaign was not helped by political instability in some of the African nations; 80% of houses in an affected area need to be sprayed inside to stop malaria, and that requires government organizational skills, manpower and money that those nations could not muster.)

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

That was just a year after Carson’s book hit the shelves. DDT had been banned nowhere. WHO’s workers tried to get a campaign going, but complete failures stopped the program in 1965; in 1969 WHO’s board met and officially killed the malaria eradication program, in favor of control.

Malaria infections and deaths did not expand with the end of WHO’s campaign.  At peak DDT use, roughly 1958 to 1963, malaria deaths are estimated by WHO to have been as high as 5 million per year, 4 million by 1963. Total malaria infections, worldwide, were 500 million.

The first bans on DDT use came in Europe. When the U.S. banned DDT use on crops in 1972, okaying use to fight malaria, malaria deaths had fallen to more than 2 million annually by optimistic estimates.  Death rates and infection rates continued to fall without a formal eradication campaign. By the late 1980s, malaria killed about 1.5 million each year, a great improvement over the DDT go-go days, but still troubling.

Beating malaria is a multi-step program.  Malaria parasites must complete a life cycle in a human host, and then when jumping to a mosquito, another cycle of about two weeks in the mosquito’s gut, before being transmissible back to humans. Knocking down mosquito populations helps prevent transmission temporarily, but that is only useful if in that period the human hosts can be cured of the parasites.

In the late 1980s, malaria parasites developed strong resistance and immunity to pharmaceuticals given to humans to cure them.  Regardless mosquito populations, human hosts were always infected, ready to transmit the parasite to any mosquito and send drug-resistant malaria on to dozens more.

From about 1990 to about 2002, malaria deaths rose modestly to more than 1.5 million annually.

New pharmaceuticals, and new regimens of administration of pharmaceuticals, increased the effectiveness of human treatments; coupled with much better understanding of malaria vectors, the insects that transmit the disease, and geographical data and other technological advances to speed diagnosis and treatment of humans, and increase prevention measures, WHO and private foundations started a series of programs in malaria-endemic nations to reduce infections and deaths. Insecticide-impregnated bednets proved to be less-expensive and more effective than Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) featuring DDT or any of the other 11 pesticides WHO authorizes for home spraying.  (Home spraying targets mosquitoes that carry malaria, and limits expensive overuse of pesticides, plus limits and prevents environmental damage.)

Health care workers and most nations made dramatic progress in controlling and eliminating malaria, between 2000 and 2015, mostly without using DDT which proved increasingly ineffective at controlling mosquitoes, and which also proved unpopular among malaria-affected peoples whose cooperation is necessary to fight the disease.

By 2014, fewer than 220 million people got malaria infections, worldwide, a reduction of about 55% over DDT’s peak-use years. This is remarkable considering the population of the planet more than doubled in that time, and population in malaria-endemic areas rose even more. Malaria deaths were reduced to fewer than 600,000 annually, a reduction of more than 80% over peak DDT years. By 2015, malaria-fighters once again spoke of eradicating malaria from the planet.

In contrast, India assumed the position of top producer of DDT in the world, still making it even after China and North Korea stopped making it. But malaria control in India weakened, despite greater application of DDT.  The world watches as DDT, once the miracle pesticide used in anti-malaria campaigns, became instead a depleted tool, unable to stop malaria’s spread despite increasing application.

Were DDT the magic powder, or even “excellent powder” its advocates claim, India should be free of malaria, totally. Instead, Indians debate how best to get control of the disease again, and start reducing infections and deaths, again. Below is one story, rather typical of many that crop up from time to time in India news; this is from the Odisha Sun Times. (Note: Lakh is a unit in the Indian number system equal to 100,000; crore is a unit equal to 10,000,000.)

Odisha has 36% of malaria cases in India; ranks third in deaths

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Mar 15:

Odisha has earned the dubious distinction of having a hopping 36% share of all malaria cases in India and ranking third in the list of states with the most number of deaths leaving most of its neighbours way behind.

Malaria Mosquito

These startling revelations have been made in a report tabled by the Union Health and Family Welfare department in the Parliament.

What is more disturbing is that the number of persons getting afflicted with the disease in the state is rising every year despite the state government spending crores of rupees to arrest the spread of the disease.

The state government has been spending crores of rupees on a scheme christened ‘Mo Masari’ (“My Mosquito Net’) and has been claiming that the number of afflicted has been falling in the state. But the Central government report has exposed the hollowness of the claim.

According to the report, out of the 10.70 lakh people who were afflicted with malaria in India in the year 2014, about 3.88 lakh (36.26%) were from Odisha. In 2010, around 3.95 lakh were afflicted with the disease. The number had come down to 3.08 lakh in 2011 and had further scaled down to around 2.62 lakh in 2012, the report says.

But the number of malaria patients in Odisha is again rising at a faster pace since then, according to the Health Ministry report.

Even though the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are identified as malaria prone states, much less people are afflicted with malaria in these states as compared to Odisha. In 2014, only 1.22lakh people were affected with the disease in Chhattisgarh while only 96,140 persons were affected by malaria in Jharkhand in the same year.

Statistics cited in the report also reveal that Odisha has left many states behind and has marched ahead of others in the matter of number of deaths due to malaria. It ranks third on this count in the country.

In the year 2014, a total of 535 persons had died of malaria across the country. Out of them 73 (13.64%) were from Odish while Tripura had the maximum number of deaths in terms of percentage at 96 (17.94%) followed by Meghalaya, another hilly state, with a toll count of 78 (14.58%).

Another disturbing fact that has emerged from the report is that out of those who have died of malaria in Odisha, 80 percent are from tribal dominated areas.

The districts of Gajapati , Kalahandi , Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada and Sundargarh account for both the maximum number of deaths due to malaria and maximum number of persons afflicted with the disease.


EPA’s history of the cancellation of the pesticide registration of DDT, 1945-1975

July 21, 2015

Regulation of DDT in 1972 by the Environmental Protection Agency was either a great victory for science and environmental protection, or a gross miscarriage of justice that led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of millions of people, depending on which sources one cites from the internet.

Much history from 1950 to 2000 is simply lost to the internet. Partisans often make reference to things “everybody knows,” but which turn out not to be true, if one digs for the real history.

Alas, some of the best digging places have fallen victim to unpaid website hosting bills, lack of interest in an agency’s maintenance of legacy history sites, or sometimes just changes in indexing by a group.

With such gaps in history, hoaxsters can have a field day.

The history of DDT and its regulation is an area filled with false histories promulgated by partisans hoping students and researchers, and policy makers, will never find the accurate sources on the internet, nor anywhere else.

EPA composed a history for a committee of Congress in 1975.  Included in that history were details about the steps taken by government and others leading up to EPA’s 1972 ban on the use of DDT in agriculture. That history is particularly delicious to hoaxtsers, because it is so badly recorded online.

Here’s what EPA said, in 1975, from EPA’s official history at a site I fear may go away one day. This preserves the information.

Illustrations and any links to any site other than EPA’s history are added here.

DDT Regulatory History: A Brief Survey (to 1975)

[EPA report, July 1975]

Background

DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), for many years one of the most widely used pesticidal chemicals in the United States, was first synthesized in 1874. Its effectiveness as an insecticide, however, was only discovered in 1939. Shortly thereafter, particularly during World War II, the U.S. began producing large quantities of DDT for control of vector-borne diseases such as typhus and malaria abroad.

After 1945, agricultural and commercial usage of DDT became widespread in the U.S. The early popularity of DDT, a member of the chlorinated hydrocarbon group, was due to its reasonable cost, effectiveness, persistence, and versatility. During the 30 years prior to its cancellation, a total of approximately 1,350,000,000 pounds of DDT was used domestically.

Caption from WFIWC: Stearman spraying DDT over the western edge of Blacktail Plateau near Lava Creek in Yellowstone N.P. during one of the last spruce budworm control projects in the Park, July 1955. The ensuing controversy over environmental damage done by this insecticide hastened the adoption of a more passive management policy in the 1960's regarding forest insects in the Park (Furniss & Renkin 2003, Figure 17B). Coeur d'Alene FIL photo from Wester Forest Insect Work Conference (WFIWC) archives. - See more at: http://www.wfiwc.org/history/photos/yellowstone#sthash.hPfPuWGI.dpuf

Caption from WFIWC: Stearman spraying DDT over the western edge of Blacktail Plateau near Lava Creek in Yellowstone N.P. during one of the last spruce budworm control projects in the Park, July 1955. The ensuing controversy over environmental damage done by this insecticide hastened the adoption of a more passive management policy in the 1960’s regarding forest insects in the Park (Furniss & Renkin 2003, Figure 17B). Coeur d’Alene FIL photo from Wester Forest Insect Work Conference (WFIWC) archives. – See more at: http://www.wfiwc.org/history/photos/yellowstone#sthash.hPfPuWGI.dpuf

After 1959, DDT usage in the U.S. declined greatly, dropping from a peak of approximately 80 million pounds in that year to just under 12 million pounds in the early 1970s. Of the quantity of the pesticide used in 1970-72, over 80 percent was applied to cotton crops, with the remainder being used predominantly on peanut and soybean crops. The decline in DDT usage was the result of (1) increased insect resistance; (2) the development of more effective alternative pesticides; (3) growing public concern over adverse environmental side effects; and (4) increasing government restrictions on DDT use.

In addition to domestic consumption, large quantities of DDT have been purchased by the Agency for International Development and the United Nations and exported for malaria control. DDT exports increased from 12 percent of the total production in 1950 to 67 percent in 1969. However, exports have shown a marked decrease in recent years dropping from approximately 70 million pounds in 1970 to 35 million in 1972.

Public Concern

Certain characteristics of DDT which contributed to the early popularity of the chemical, particularly its persistence, later became the basis for public concern over possible hazards involved in the pesticide’s use. Although warnings against such hazards were voiced by scientists as early as the mid-1940s, it was the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 that stimulated widespread public concern over use of the chemical. After Carson’s alert to the public concerning the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls, it was only natural that DDT, as one of the most widely used pesticides of the time, should come under intensive investigation.

Throughout the last decade, proponents and opponents of DDT have faced one another in a growing series of confrontations. Proponents argue that DDT has a good human health record and that alternatives to DDT are more hazardous to the user and more costly. Opponents to DDT, admitting that there may be little evidence of direct harm to man, emphasize other hazards connected with its use. They argue that DDT is a persistent, toxic chemical which easily collects in the food chain posing a proven hazard to non-target organisms such as fish and wildlife and otherwise upsetting the natural ecological balance.

Both the pros and cons of DDT use were considered by four Government committees who issued the following reports: (1) may 1963, “Use of Pesticides,” A Report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC); (2) November 1965, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment,” A Report of the Environmental Protection Panel, PSAC; (3) May 1969, Report of the Committee on Persistent Pesticides, Division of Biology and Agriculture, National Research Council, to the Agriculture Department; (4) December 1969, Mrak Commission Report. All four reports recommended an orderly phasing out of the pesticide over a limited period of time.

Public concern further manifested itself through the activities of various environmental organizations. Beginning in 1967, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League and other environmental groups became increasingly active in initiating court proceedings leading to the restriction of DDT use at both local and Federal levels.

State Regulatory Actions

Varying restrictions were placed on DDT in different States.

DDT use was outlawed except under emergency conditions in Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, and Washington have all placed some limitation on the use of DDT.

Although the remaining States have provisions for the “restricted use” classification of pesticides, no specific mention is made of DDT.

Initial Federal Regulatory Actions

The Federal Government has not been oblivious to the hazards of DDT use as is indicated by various Government studies and actions undertaken since the late 50s.

  1. In 1957, as a matter of policy, the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), prohibited the spraying of DDT in specified protective strips around aquatic areas on lands under its jurisdiction.
  2. In 1958, after having applied approximately 9-1/2 million pounds of the chemical in its Federal-State control programs since 1945, USDA began to phase out its use of DDT. They reduced spraying of DDT from 4.9 million acres in 1957 to just over 100,000 acres in 1967 and used persistent pesticides thereafter only in the absence of effective alternatives. The major uses of DDT by the Forest Service have been against the gypsy moth and the spruce budworm. The development of alternative pesticides such as Zectran, which was in operation in 1966, contributed to further reduction in DDT use by the Department.
  3. In 1964, the Secretary of the Interior issued a directive stating that the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons on Interior lands should be avoided unless no other substitutes were available. This regulatory measure, as well as others which followed, was reaffirmed and extended in June 1970, when the Secretary issued an order banning use of 16 types of pesticides, including DDT, on any lands or in any programs managed by the Department’s bureaus and agencies.
  4. Between November 1967 and April 1969, USDA canceled DDT registrations for use against house flies and roaches, on foliage of more than 17 crops, in milk rooms, and on cabbage and lettuce.
  5. In August 1969, DDT usage was sharply reduced in certain areas of USDA’s cooperative Federal-State pest control programs following a review of these programs in relation to environmental contamination.
  6. In November 1969, USDA initiated action to cancel all DDT registrations for use against pests of shade trees, aquatic areas, the house and garden and tobacco. USDA further announced its intention to discontinue all uses nonessential to human health and for which there were safe and effective substitutes.
  7. In August 1970, in another major action, USDA canceled Federal registrations of DDT products used as follows: (1) on 50 food crops, beef cattle, goats, sheep, swine, seasoned lumber, finished wood products and buildings; (2) around commercial, institutional, and industrial establishments including all nonfood areas in food processing plants and restaurants, and (3) on flowers and ornamental turf areas.

EPA Regulatory Actions

On December 2, 1970, major responsibility for Federal regulation of pesticides was transferred to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  1. In January 1971, under a court order following a suit by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), EPA issued notices of intent to cancel all remaining Federal registrations of products containing DDT. The principal crops affected by this action were cotton, citrus, and certain vegetables.
  2. In March 1971, EPA issued cancellation notices for all registrations of products containing TDE, a DDT metabolite. The EPA Administrator further announced that no suspension of the registration of DDT products was warranted because evidence of imminent hazard to the public welfare was lacking. (Suspension, in contrast to cancellation, is the more severe action taken against pesticide products under the law.) Because of the decision not to suspend, companies were able to continue marketing their products in interstate commerce pending the final resolution of the administrative cancellation process. After reconsideration of the March order, in light of a scientific advisory committee report, the Administrator later reaffirmed his refusal to suspend the DDT registrations. The report was requested by Montrose Chemical Corporation, sole remaining manufacturer of the basic DDT chemical.
  3. In August 1971, upon the request of 31 DDT formulators, a hearing began on the cancellation of all remaining Federally registered uses of products containing DDT. When the hearing ended in March 1972, the transcripts of 9,312 pages contained testimony from 125 expert witnesses and over 300 documents. The principal parties to the hearings were various formulators of DDT products, USDA, the EDF, and EPA.
  4. On June 14, 1972, the EPA Administrator announced the final cancellation of all remaining crop uses of DDT in the U.S. effective December 31, 1972. The order did not affect public health and quarantine uses, or exports of DDT. The Administrator based his decision on findings of persistence, transport, biomagnification, toxicological effects and on the absence of benefits of DDT in relation to the availability of effective and less environmentally harmful substitutes. The effective date of the prohibition was delayed for six months in order to permit an orderly transition to substitute pesticides. In conjunction with this transition, EPA and USDA jointly developed “Project Safeguard,” a program of education in the use of highly toxic organophosphate substitutes for DDT.
  5. Immediately following the DDT prohibition by EPA, the pesticides industry and EDF filed appeals contesting the June order with several U.S. courts. Industry filed suit to nullify the EPA ruling while EDF sought to extend the prohibition to those few uses not covered by the order. The appeals were consolidated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.On December 13, 1973, the Court ruled that there was “substantial evidence” in the record to support the EPA Administrator’s ban on DDT.

Actions Taken Under the New Pesticide Law

On October 21, 1972, the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act, a far-reaching amendment to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was enacted. These amendments provide EPA with more effective pesticide regulation mechanisms than were previously available under the FIFRA.

  1. In April 1973, EPA, in accordance with authority granted by the amended law, required that all products containing DDT be registered with the Agency by June 10, 1973.
  2. On April 27, 1973, EPA granted a request by the States of Washington and Idaho for a temporary registration of DDT for use against the pea leaf weevil. A similar application was approved on February 22, 1974, for use of DDT during the 1974 growing season. The chemical was registered for 90 days following a determination by EPA that control of the pea leaf weevil was an economic necessity and that DDT was the only practical and effective control agent available. The EPA order designated spray restrictions, monitoring guidelines, and research requirements for the control program. The order provided for further testing of three chemicals–methoxychlor, Imidan, and malathion ULV–which have shown some promise as alternatives to DDT. Other possible long-range alternatives to DDT were tested in 1974, as well.
  3. On February 26, 1974, EPA granted a request by the Forest Service for use of DDT to combat the Douglas-fir tussock moth epidemic in the Northwest. Previous requests by the Forest Service had been denied on the grounds that the risks of DDT use were not outweighed by the benefits. A week long investigation in September 1973, a technical seminar on November 16, 1973, and a series of hearings in January 1974, aided EPA is reassessing the need for DDT. On the basis of information acquired during these sessions, the Administrator concluded that the potential for an economic emergency existed in 1974 and that no effective alternative to DDT was available. The control program was carried out under strict spraying restrictions and with a requirement that research programs evaluate alternatives to DDT, and monitoring activities be conducted by the Forest Service.Use of a canceled pesticide is made possible by the recent amendments to FIFRA which permit EPA to exempt any Federal or State agency from any of the provisions of the Act if emergency conditions exist. All such requests are considered on a case-by-case basis.
  4. On March 14, 1975, the Administrator denied the State of Louisiana a request for emergency use of 2.25 million pounds of DDT on 450,000 acres of cotton to control the tobacco budworm in 1975. This decision was affirmed by the Administrator on April 1, 1975, after reconsideration on the grounds of “no substantial new evidence which may materially affect the 1972 order with respect to the human cancer risk posed by DDT, the environmental hazards of DDT and the need to use DDT on cotton.” (Federal Register, April 8, 1974, p. 15, 962).

Excerpt from DDT, A Review of Scientific and Economic Aspects of the Decision To Ban Its Use as a Pesticide, prepared for the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives by EPA, July 1975, EPA-540/1-75-022


Hoax victims afraid to discuss their misplaced DDT & malaria anger . . .

July 20, 2015

We see it almost daily — probably because we’ve got searches set to find comments on malaria and DDT.

British robin, or robin redbreast. Image found on Pinterest, and also ironically used to illustrate Pointman's screed for DDT.

British robin, or robin redbreast. Image found on Pinterest, and also ironically used to illustrate Pointman’s screed for DDT. Ironic, because Britain didn’t use as much DDT, and European robins were not so badly affected as U.S. robins. Not sure if Pointman knew that and used the photo to intentionally mislead, or if he’s just really bad at identifying species.

Some well-meaning guy (or woman) writes a long piece about conscience, and then claims to have lost respect for science, or medicine professionals, or the World Health Organization (WHO), or Rachel Carson or environmentalists, or all of them at once, because Rachel Carson’s ban on DDT meant malaria infections and deaths exploded, and libruls just won’t allow anyone to fix it.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that story is impossible, because:

The standard rant against Rachel Carson in favor of DDT is impossible in three ways:

  1. EPA’s regulation cannot travel back in time to cause an end to WHO’s malaria eradication campaign (1963) nine years before the rule was made (1972); nor can history and international law be changed to make EPA’s campaign stop the use of DDT outside the U.S.
  2. Mosquitoes do not migrate thousands of miles, across oceans. EPA’s ban on spraying U.S. crops with DDT, chiefly cotton, did not cause mosquitoes to migrate from Arkansas to Africa to spread malaria.  Had they done so, DDT in Africa had a pretty good chance to getting them, anyway.
  3. A reduction of malaria deaths from 4 million to 584,000, is not an increase in deaths.

These impossibilities do not even act as speed bumps to people in a hurry to condemn science, Rachel Carson, malaria fighters and environmentalists, in a mad rush to praise DDT, a deadly poison that doesn’t do what we hoped it would, any more.

Those undeterred from slandering Rachel Carson and environmentalists often don’t want to be informed of any errors in their rant. And so, Pointman, with a nasty false indictment of science, law and environmentalists, refuses to allow my posts to correct his errors.

His screed here.  It contains at least 6 gross errors, repeating all the impossibilities listed above, and slandering both Rachel Carson and William Ruckelshaus as “mass murderers,” with the false claim that EPA stopped DDT use against malaria.

My response, dealing with a small part of the errors, below (and here at Pointman’s blog; but in moderation, so you can’t see it, at the time of this posting).

EPA’s order banning DDT use in the U.S., on crops, specifically lifted the court-imposed ban on DDT manufacture, and specifically allowed use of DDT in the U.S. or anywhere else on Earth to fight vector-borne diseases — that is, malaria.

DDT manufacture continued in the U.S. until late 1984, when a new law made DDT manufacturers responsible for not poisoning their neighbors and neighborhoods. Most DDT manufacturing arms of larger chemical companies were spun off as separate enterprises, and they declared bankruptcy rather than assume any liability for the poisons they made for huge profits.

See description of EPA order and links to the original documents here: https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/oh-look-epa-ordered-ddt-to-be-used-to-fight-malaria-in-1972/

I waited several days, and send two notices asking to spring the comment from moderation. I don’t think “Pointman” is interested in discussion.

[Update]
Further reflection, a further thought — “Pointman” probably is not interested in discussion, not because he fears it — he’s probably armed, what does he have to fear? — but because he no longer caresHe’s seen the effects of good intentions gone wrong, and if it ever occurs to him it’s not his intentions, nor his going, that might be wrong, he’ll never let on.

More:


Spreading the news: Environmental Health News says we can learn from saving eagles, to save honeybees now

July 5, 2015

Environmental Health News invites repostings of this story, with attribution and links back to EHN’s original story.

It’s a good article. Can’t improve on it much, so let’s save time and pass it directly.

Can we learn from the success in saving the bald eagle from extinction, to save our domestic bee industry and native American pollinators?

Unintended consequences

How a law that failed to protect eagles could offer a lesson to save honeybees

June 6, 2015

By Peter Dykstra
Environmental Health News

Spraying DDT on a beach

Historic photo from EPA

The Bald Eagle Protection Act, signed into law 75 years ago on June 8, 1940, was well-intended. A multi-pronged assault on the raptors was taking its toll — habitat loss, lead-shot poisoning, and bounty-hunting by ranchers and fishermen all contributed to a growing threat. (Click here to see how this played out in Alaska.)

Congress passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed, the act to outlaw the “taking” of eagles and their eggs, disruption of their nests, or sale or possession of eagle feathers or parts.

It didn’t work. Bald eagle populations accelerated their decline, for reasons that Congress, wildlife officials, and FDR couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Throughout the late 1930’s Swiss chemist Paul Müller labored to find the right mix of synthetic chemicals to control moths. Not only did dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane do the trick, but Müller’s lab work found it was effective against lice, houseflies, beetles, and the dreaded mosquito. Müller’s employers, J.R. Geigy AG, applied for the first DDT permit about two months before the Eagle Act passed.

Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame

Swiss chemist Paul Muller, of A. G. Geigy corporation; the man who discovered DDT kills.  Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame

The rest is natural and human history. Cheap to produce and an effective defense against lice-borne typhus and mosquito-borne malaria, DDT quickly became a fixture in farm fields, living rooms, and World War II battle theaters. Müller became a science rock star, garnering a Nobel in 1948 and — wait for it — membership in the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame in 2004.

But bald eagles continued to decline. So did hummingbirds, robins, ospreys, pelicans and peregrine falcons. Years of science, met with serious blowback from the chemical industry, eventually proved that DDT was thinning birds’ eggshells, not to mention causing impacts in fish, humans, and other mammals. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring drew international attention to the threat, and in the U.S., DDT was outlawed on the last day of 1972. Bald eagles, ospreys, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons have all since staged remarkable comebacks from the Endangered Species list.

Which brings us to today’s threat to other ecologically priceless wildlife — pollinators. Honeybee populations have been in freefall for more than a decade. Like the threats to eagles, the potential causes are multiple: loss of habitat and native plants, parasites, and a mix of insecticides and fungicides. Newest, and most notable among the suspects, are neonicotinoid pesticides. Like DDT, neonics were developed in the 1980’s and 1990’s and welcomed as a step forward, since they were thought to be effective on insect pests but relatively benign on non-target wildlife and ecosystems. Today they are a billion-dollar agricultural product, ubiquitous on common crops like corn and soybeans.

But mounting evidence shows that neonicotinoids may be part of the frontal assault on bees and other pollinators. In 2013, the European Union banned the use of three of the most contentious types of neonicotinoids, citing a clear and immediate risk.

In 2014, President Obama ordered the creation of a federal pollinator strategy. Its first draft came out last month, calling for everything from creating bee-friendly habitat to further study on neonics and other agricultural chemicals. The first edition of the strategy, issued in May, outlines a multi-year process for re-examining use of neonics.

If the EPA and other federal agencies concur with other studies on the potential harm of neonicotinoids, the U.S. will issue assessments for neonics in 2016 and 2017, and may or may not take action until 2018 to 2020. All of this will take place under a new president who may or may not take interest in protecting bees.

That timetable may work. Or not. Or, with a president with little more than a year left in office and a hostile Congress, it may be a moot point.

But perhaps a more important point is that in 1940, the President and Congress took action on the known threats to eagles. They didn’t know about the chemical risk from DDT. If neonics are as big a threat as the science suggests, the current president and Congress won’t have ignorance as an excuse for waiting.


EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

Prior to the 20th century, all eagles, including bald eagles were regarded as pest predators and pest carrion eaters.  Populations of the birds plunged between 1492 and 1900.  The first eagle protection law in 1918 did little to stop the decline in eagle populations.  A harder-toothed anti-hunting law in 1941 helped, as discussed above. Anti-environmentalists often seize on these historic facts to claim that DDT was not to blame for the failure of the eagles to recover after 1941.  But recovery of the birds started as soon as DDT was banned.  Fecundity of bald eagle populations rose in direct proportion to the drop in residual DDT and DDT breakdown products in the flesh and fat of eagles.

In Silent Spring Rachel Carson provided 53 pages of notes and citations to science journals, documenting the dangers and the unknowns of DDT and a variety of other chemicals. The book was published in 1962.  It is a tribute to Carson’s meticulous research that every study she pulled from is still accurate today. Later research only supported her conclusions, or in the case of bird damage and eggshell thinning, provided documentation of even more and greater harms.

Do we learn from history?


Early history of EPA: Pesticides regulation and DDT

June 24, 2015

This is an excerpt from EPA’s official shorthand history, online since the 1990s.  I include this part here, dealing with the EPA’s famous regulation of the pesticide DDT, because I refer to it and link to it in several posts — and because over three different administrations, the URL has changed several times.  I fear it will one day go dark.  Here it is for history’s sake, found on June 24, 2015 at http://www2.epa.gov/aboutepa/guardian-epas-formative-years-1970-1973#pest.

Opening to the entire piece; links to subsections go to EPA’s site:

The Guardian: EPA’s Formative Years, 1970-1973

EPA 202-K-93-002
September 1993
by Dennis C. Williams

Table of Contents

The section on DDT hearings and regulation:

Pesticides and Public Health

Unlike the air controversy, which erupted after the agency’s establishment, EPA’s creation coincided with the culmination of the public debate over DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane). A chlorinated hydrocarbon, DDT proved to be a highly effective, but extremely persistent organic pesticide. Since the 1940s, farmers, foresters, and public health officials sprayed it across the country to control pests such as Mexican boll weevils, gypsy moths, and pesky suburban mosquitoes. Widespread public opposition to DDT began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s influential Silent Spring. Reporting the effects of DDT on wildlife, Carson demonstrated that DDT not only infiltrated all areas of the ecological system, but was exponentially concentrated as it moved to higher levels in the food web. Through Carson, many citizens learned that humans faced DDT-induced risks. By 1968 several states had banned DDT use. The Environmental Defense Fund, which began as a group of concerned scientists, spearheaded a campaign to force federal suspension of DDT registration–banning its use in the United States. Inheriting Department of Agriculture (USDA) pesticide registration functions, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) of 1964, EPA was born in the midst of the DDT storm.

In January 1971, a tribunal of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ordered Ruckelshaus to begin the process of suspending DDT’s registration, and to consider suspending its registration immediately. At the end of a sixty-day review process, the administrator reported that he had found no good reason to suspend DDT registration immediateIy. It and several other pesticides–including 2, 4, 5-T (Agent Orange), Dieldrin, Aldrin, and Mirex–did not appear to constitute imminent health threats. This action infuriated many environmentalists.

By 1971, the Environmental Defense Fund had mobilized effective public opposition to DDT. The furor created by Ruckelshaus’s refusal to stop DDT use prompted many to look for sinister political motivations. Some suggested that Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten had used his position as chairman of the agricultural appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to make Ruckelshaus conform to the interests of the agrichemical lobby. While actually, Ruckelshaus took his cautious stance for less menacing reasons.

At its creation, EPA not only inherited the function of pesticide registration from USDA, but also the staff that served that function. The USDA economic entomologists who designed the pesticide registration process in the first place preached the advantages of effective pesticides and minimized discussion of debatable health risks. The same staff that had backed USDA Secretary Clifford Hardin’s earlier claim that DDT was not “an imminent hazard to human health or to fish and wildlife” 8 provided Ruckelshaus with the same counsel.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring led to banning DDT and other pesticides.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring led to banning DDT and other pesticides.

Between March 1971 and June 1972, American newspapers reported both sides of the pesticide debate. Some articles recalled the glory days when pesticides saved thousands of lives in World War II; how they had increased agricultural productivity and allowed relatively few farmers to feed the world’s growing population; and how the most besieged insecticides, such as DDT and Mirex, had little human toxicity. Other journalists praised alternative approaches to pest management such as biological controls (predator introduction, sterile males, and pheromone traps), integrated controls (crop rotation and carefully delimited pesticide use), and refinement of other, less persistent chemicals. Some reported the near panic of Northwestern fruit growers facing beeless, and therefore fruitless, seasons. They attributed the lack of pollinating insects to pesticide use.

Throughout the spring of 1972, Ruckelshaus reviewed the evidence EPA had collected during the agency’s hearings on DDT cancellation and the reports prepared by two DDT study groups, the Hilton and Mrak Commissions. Both studies suggested that DDT be phased out due to the chemical’s persistent presence in ecosystems and noted studies suggesting that DDT posed a carcinogenic risk to humans. In June, he followed the route already taken by several states he banned DDT application in the United States. Though unpopular among certain segments of EPA’s constituency, his decision did serve to enhance the activist image he sought to create for the agency, and without prohibitive political cost.

The DDT decision was important to EPA for several reasons. While it did not stop the debate over what constituted appropriate pesticide use, DDT demonstrated the effect public pressure could have on EPA policy decisions. It also made very visible the tightrope act a regulatory agency performs when it attempts to balance the demands for protection of human and environmental health against legitimate economic demands. Furthermore, EPA’s decision set a precedent for regulatory decision-making. As an advocate of the environment, Ruckelshaus and the agency chose to risk erring on the side of protecting human health at the expense of economic considerations–a course that would bring the agency under heavy criticism before the end of its first decade.


Rachel Carson’s 108th birth anniversary

May 27, 2015

Rachel Carson, the great biologist and author, was born on May 27, 1907.

Last year, Google’s Doodle featured Ms. Carson, and the crazy, ill-informed, hoaxing and hoaxed right wing, came unglued.

Less flap this year, but I suspect it’s only because there’s been no great public recognition of the date.  Hoaxsters who insist DDT was always safe, or that banning DDT on cotton crops in Arkansas and Texas somehow caused malaria in Africa, or that Idi Amin became a great fan of Rachel Carson and stopped spraying DDT in Uganda to save American eagles, or other similarly silly-but-vicious things, or who just hate anything to do with protecting the environment, usually erupt on Earth Day, World Malaria Day, and Rachel Carson’s birthday.

Not much on her birthday this year (but stay tuned).

Meanwhile, our country’s sober liberal conscience, The Nation, looks back at their review of Silent Spring, and does a little cringing. Probably not necessary:

Rachel Carson, date unknown. (US Department of Agriculture) - via The Nation

Rachel Carson, date unknown. (US Department of Agriculture) – via The Nation

It is difficult not to cringe at the sight of the headline to the following review of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring—“Man and Other Pests”—given that it was a review of what was then probably the most influential intellectual contribution by an American woman to date.

Miss Carson is indignant about the unexpected effects of our thoughtless broadcasting of pesticides. She writes persuasively, for she has taken great pains to gather and check her facts. Parts of the book were published in The New Yorker magazine last summer, and immediately provoked wide interest, discussion and controversy. This reaction will undoubtedly intensify with the publication of the book. No one is in a better position than Miss Carson to arouse the indignation of the public and the conscience of the chemical industry, and it may well be that she has made a real contribution to our salvation.

[At The Nation, you can read the entire review quoted from above.]

Happy birthday, Ms. Carson.  You have become a hero to thinking people, conservationists, scientists and women everywhere.

You’ll be pleased to know the American symbol, the bald eagle, is back from extinction’s verge, along with the brown pelican, peregrine falcons and osprey.  You’d be surprised to know that, despite gross abuse of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s that caused mosquitoes all over the world to carry alleles resistance and immunity, DDT was saved from complete worthlessness by a reduction in use, and is still used in a few places today, indoors to protect wildlife, to fight malaria.  You were right about DDT.

You were right about fighting malaria, too.  You said in Silent Spring we should use integrated pest management to battle the mosquitoes that provide a site for part of the life cycle of the malaria parasites, and who then spread the disease.  When DDT failed the malaria eradication campaign in the 1960s, malaria fighters were left with little else. Malaria deaths have plunged, from the 4 million to 5 million per year you knew, to fewer than 500,000 per year now.  Worldwide, we’ve cut malaria deaths 45% just since 1999, when a group of non-governmental organizations and the World Health Organization formally adopted integrated pest management as the best way to fight the disease, and began distributing mosquito nets in a big way.

You were right, Rachel Carson. Humanity is a part of nature, and if we fight nature we end up fighting and killing ourselves.

More:

One of my favorites from Gus Arriola (also appearing at the DDT Chronicles):


Highlights from the World Health Assembly #68, in graphic form

May 26, 2015

World Health Organization (WHO) summary of the World Health Assembly #68, which met in Geneva last, May 18-26.

Not a peep about “more DDT to fight malaria.’

Graphic from the World Health Organization on major actions of the World Health Assembly 68, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18-26, 2015

Graphic from the World Health Organization on major actions of the World Health Assembly 68, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18-26, 2015

 

 


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