Suicide with DDT: DDT can kill humans

February 13, 2017

Label on a can of DDT. BigPictureEducation image

Label on a can of DDT. BigPictureEducation image

It’s a footnote, but an important one right now, when the anti-science, anti-environmental protection, anti-learning wing of American culture again gears up to attack the memory of Rachel Carson, the science findings that led to the ban on crop use of DDT in America, and upon health care and medicine and science in general.

DDT kills. DDT can kill humans.

Daily Beast, usually a sober-enough, accurate enough online news organ that has absorbed the old print magazine Newsweek, recently carried a column by Paul Offitt, repeating the hoax claims that DDT was banned contrary to science, by a conspiracy of power-made environmentalists, that DDT is harmless to humans, and that had DDT not been banned, millions of humans would have survived malaria.

Long-time readers of this organ know each of those points is false, hoaxes ginned up to impugn science, leftists, environmental protection, or just for the hell of it. Offitt’s is just the first of several of these hoax-based articles which will cause us all grief this spring, I predict.

Probably the most difficult-to-explain hoax claim is the one that says DDT is “harmless” to humans.

DDT usually doesn’t come in a dose great enough to kill humans outright.  That should not be mistaken for safety. DDT was known to kill early on, and as it turns out, it has become a method of human suicide across Asia. Unfortunately for policy study, those cases rarely get reported in science journals.

Some medical researcher should study the issue, to determine how widespread DDT suicide might be, what physicians do to save a person so poisoned, if they ever can. And I often wonder, is any suicide by insecticide reported as “DDT,” though it may be some other toxin?

I stumbled across the story of a DDT suicide in India some time back. It was a short report. I found no follow ups.

Some time ago I was surprised to hear an author talking about DDT suicide, which she had mentioned in one of her stories. The story was published in The New Yorker, “A Sheltered Woman.” The magazine interviewed the author, Yiyun Li; Li explained why she mentioned DDT suicide in the story.

This week’s story, “A Sheltered Woman,” is about a baby nurse named Auntie Mei, a Chinese immigrant who has established a solid career for herself looking after infants and their breast-feeding mothers in the Bay Area. When did the character of Auntie Mei first come to you?

A year ago, while rummaging through old things, I found a notebook that I had bought at a garage sale in Iowa City when I first came to America—I had paid five cents for it. The notebook was in a good shape; though it remained unused. A character occurred to me: she paid a dime and asked if there was a second notebook so she did not have to have the change back. Such greed, the character said, laughing at herself. From that moment on I knew I had a story.

Auntie Mei keeps a distance between herself and her charges, rarely staying longer than the first month of a baby’s life and establishing an orderly regime in the households she enters. Yet her disciplined approach starts to falter when she’s faced with Chanel, a disgruntled young mother, and her son. Why is Chanel able to unsettle Auntie Mei? Did you know this would happen when you starting thinking of the way the two characters would interact?

Auntie Mei’s life has a reliable pattern: the moment she enters a house to take care of a new set of mother and infant she can already see the exit point. But any pattern is breakable. When I started the story, I knew that the situation would change for Auntie Mei. Chanel, by not being ready to be a mother, forces Auntie Mei into a dilemma: When the baby in her charge is not loved by his parents, should she step in and offer her love? And what danger would she find herself in if she does not suppress that love?

You said in a recent interview that your characters don’t struggle as immigrants but are concerned rather with internal struggles and with the problems they’ve brought with them from China. That’s certainly the case here, where Auntie Mei is haunted by the legacy of the two women who raised her, her mother and her grandmother, who rejected the men in their lives. Does Auntie Mei’s childhood reflect anything in particular about Chinese-village life? Could you imagine a similar situation had she grown up in America?

Part of Auntie Mei’s childhood reflects Chinese-village life. For instance, her mother threatened to kill herself with DDT. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, but, when I grew up, it was widely used in China, and, in the countryside, suicides by DDT were common. The peculiarities of Auntie Mei’s grandmother and mother would have been less readily accepted had she grown up in America, or even in a big city in China. However, Auntie Mei’s struggle is not specific to China. I imagine it’s a situation that can happen in any country. Our knowledge of history in general is limited, but at least there are historians who strive to enlighten the public. The murkiest history is within one’s own family, and oftentimes things remain unexplored and unsaid, and what is said may be misrepresentation or even distortion. Auntie Mei is not alone in her struggle with a shadowy past. In fact, I wonder how many people are truly exempted from the past.

One more anecdote, but one we may put stock into. DDT suicide is a thing. DDT can kill humans acutely, when the dose is great enough. Statements that DDT is harmless are inaccurate.

It’s a good short story, by the way.


Report that malaria and DDT hoaxsters hope you never see

January 21, 2016

 Cover of World Health Organization's "World Malaria Report 2015," which reported dramatic progress controlling malaria.

Cover of World Health Organization’s “World Malaria Report 2015,” which reported dramatic progress controlling malaria.

World Malaria Report 2015 dropped in mid-December, with United Nations-style fanfare.

Which means, you probably heard little to nothing about it in U.S. media, and “conservatives” and anti-science hoaxsters hope you won’t ever see it, so they can claim contrary to the facts that liberals kill kids in Africa.

My cynicism about the fight against malaria dissipates some, but my cynicism about hoaxes substituting for political dialogue grows.

World Health Organization (WHO) releases an annual report near the end of every year, detailing the fight against malaria and progress or lack of it.

Good news this year: WHO estimates deaths to malaria fell below 500,000 per year in 2015. That’s at least a 50% reduction since renewed vigor in the malaria fight in 2000, and it’s a 90% reduction from peak DDT use years, 1958-1963, when WHO estimated 5 million people died each year from malaria.

About 80% of malaria deaths take children under the age of 5.

Bigger picture: Malaria is on the run. Humans are winning the fight against malaria. Much remains to be done, however. Plus, malaria fighters warn that malaria can come roaring back, if governments neglect to follow through on promises of funding, and with well-run programs to cure humans of malaria and prevent new cases.

World Malaria Report 2015 should influence policy discussions in U.S. elections. But generally, this report was ignored.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub will feature in-depth discussions of parts of the report, and simple repetition for the record of the report, as part our long-term battle against hoaxsters who claim the U.S. ban on use of DDT on U.S. farms somehow increased malaria in Africa, and killed millions, when malaria actually decreased and millions were saved from death.

Malaria loses only with hard work on the ground by medical people treating and curing humans of the disease, and by public health people working hard to prevent new infections. Most of that work is not glorious, occurs relatively anonymously and away from television cameras and photographers with access to social media.  Which is to say, the hard work of defeating malaria goes unsung around the world. We should work to change that.

What did others say about World Malaria Report?

A collection of Tweets, and other links, for your study.


Resources for World Malaria Day 2013

April 25, 2013

Not a word about condemning Rachel Carson.  No plea to use DDT to try to poison Africa or Asia to health.  That’s a great start.

More:

Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria.  Columbia University MVSim image

Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria. Columbia University MVSim image


Myanmar freedom of the press? Progress, but not there yet

August 26, 2012

English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN ...

Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Economist carries the good news, with the sober warning that press freedom remains beyond the grasp of Myanmar journalists:

But as part of a wider reform programme introduced by President Thein Sein, the old media rules have gradually been relaxed. For several months many editors have no longer been required to submit articles for prepublication censorship on such subjects as the economy. The latest announcement removes the need to submit articles on more sensitive topics, such as politics or Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.

The country’s journalists welcome the news, but they also give warning that this by no means ends restrictions on press freedom. These remain numerous and burdensome. In particular, two bits of repressive legislation remain: the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, dating from the start of military rule in 1962, and the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law. Under the first, publications can lose their licences if they supposedly harm the reputation of a government department, threaten peace and security, and much else. Under the second, a person can be imprisoned for up to 15 years for distributing via the internet information that the courts deem harmful to the state. Meanwhile, the censor board itself seems likely to remain in business, ready to punish reporters or editors who overstep the mark.

But, good news is good news, yes?  See the entire article at The Economist.


World Blog – The race to contain drug-resistant malaria

January 23, 2011

NBC News’s World Blog carried a series on malaria and fighting it around the world.  Here’s part I:

PAILIN, Cambodia – The border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia at Pailin has a rather bleak feel about it at the best of times. In the heavy monsoon rain, the dingy checkpoints are reduced to gray smudges.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

World Blog – The race to contain drug-resistant…, posted with vodpod

 

See more video information from NBC, here.


Lancet special issue on malaria eradication: No call for more DDT

October 30, 2010

Lancet is one of the premiere research journals in the world for all of science, but especially for issues of health and medicine.

Image from Lancet illustrating malaria story

Image from Lancet –
Mother and child under a mosquito bite-preventing bednet.

On October 29, 2010, Lancet published a special report, “Malaria Elimination.”  Much science.  Much history.  No call for more DDT.

A plan for research is laid out.  Plans to eradicate malaria from more than 90 nations are laid out, explained and debated.  Calls for more research are made.  Calls for disciplined action from nations and health care organizations, and donor organizations.

But no call for more DDT.

Go take a look at the issue.  Several of the articles are available for no charge, out from behind the usual Lancet paywall.

Get the real science, real history, real policy.  Environmentalists are not evil villains there.  malaria is the villain in that story, and serious health care researchers and deliverers discuss serious methods to beat the disease.  Consequently, DDT has only a bit part.

Resources:


World Malaria Day, 2010 – April 25

April 18, 2010

April 25, 2010, is World Malaria Day.

Malaria plagues too many nations, still.  Between 400 million and 500 million people in the world get infected with one form of the malaria parasites every year.  About a million die, most of those children.  Death disproportionately strikes pregnant women, too.

Life cycle of malaria, from the World Health Organization (WHO)

World Health Organization (WHO) chart on the life cycle of malaria

Advances in medicines and advances in controls of the insects that help transmit the disease led to several campaigns to eradicate the disease over the past 60 years.  Malaria no longer torments most of Europe and most of North America, but it remains a serious, economy-crippling disease across Africa and Asia.

Malaria also poses as a political football.  Over the next couple of weeks you can find dozens of articles on valiant efforts to fight malaria, including the RollBack Malaria Campaign, and efforts by the Gates Foundation and histories of the work of the Rockefeller Foundation.  But you can also find a pernicious political campaign against malaria fighters and “environmentalists,” claiming that DDT is a magic potion that could have ridded the world of malaria by killing off all the mosquitoes, if only that great mass murderer, Rachel Carson, had not imposed her will on the unstable dictators of African nations who did all they could to prove to Ms. Carson that they were environmentally friendly by banning DDT.

All of that is a crock.  But we see it every year.

It’s already shown up in the formerly-known-as-accurate Wall Street Journal, European edition.  (Please watch — I may have more to say on that piece, later.)

Over the next two weeks I will ask myself a hundred times, why do these people fiddle with trying to impugn scientists, physicians and environmentalists, while fevers burn in the brains of children across Africa and Asia?

With action, hope is that we can save the million lives lost annually by stopping malaria, by 2015.  Please consider joining the effort.

You should wonder about that, too.  If you find a good answer, please let me know.

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

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