Bring Back D.D.T.

Overspraying Made Pesticide Look Worse Than It Deserved

Editor’s Note: Author Edward Wheeler doesn’t beat around the bush. Are mosquitoes carrying Malaria, or West Nile Virus? Then kill them all with D.D.T. Is the globe warming? Because if it is, environmentalists, then Malaria and West Nile Virus won’t be just stories on television any more. According to Wheeler, the pesticide D.D.T. has gotten a bad rap. Used responsibly, he asserts, D.D.T. is the safest, most inexpensive, and most effective pesticide ever known. Only massive over-use of D.D.T. causes the kind of harm to ecosystems and organisms that got it banned. Meanwhile throughout the tropical world, Mosquito-borne disease is on the rise. While we sit comfortable in the cool north we can afford our articles of faith – D.D.T. is evil – yet still tens-of-millions in the tropics die each year of diseases brought to them by Mosquitoes. These diseases are preventable, and indeed, when D.D.T. was in widespread use, were nearly eradicated. Not anymore. Maybe it’s time to reopen the discussion about D.D.T., and whether banning its use causes more harm than good. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Environmentalists have been around a long time in America.

Audubon Logo

The Audubon Society, John Muir, even Teddy Roosevelt, but the environmental movement really didn’t take off until 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. At that time, U.S. farmers were dumping around 80,000 tons of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (mercifully known as DDT) a year on every poor insect existing, good or bad. It was the “miracle” insecticide, just as the relatively new antibiotic, penicillin, was called a miracle drug (which we now know was also WAY overused).
The main problem with DDT is that it takes years for it to chemically break down, so that much of the runoff from the sites that were sprayed with those 80,000 tons of DDT found its way into streams, rivers, and ultimately the oceans and persisted there. It builds up in fatty tissues of all animals, including humans.

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Silent Spring Book Cover
Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson

Ms. Carson alleged that DDT was killing off all kinds of birds, especially seabirds, by causing eggshell thinning (thus the title of the book), and that it was a potent carcinogen in humans. She went on to predict that a cancer epidemic would hit practically 100% of the human population (probably based on a 1961 epidemic of liver cancer in trout that was later found to be caused by aflatoxin, a VERY potent NATURAL fungal toxin and carcinogen).

In fact, DDT is not now and never was a carcinogen in humans, or even a cancer prone lab rat carcinogen. In contrast to its effect on bugs, it is remarkably non-toxic in humans, at least acutely. You can even drink the stuff and suffer no ill effects (no thanks anyway). Its indiscriminate spraying also, as a side effect, eliminated malaria in the U.S.

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Protection Agency

So what happened? After considering 7 months of court testimony in 1971, then EPA administer William Ruckelshaus banned the use of DDT in the U.S. This in spite of the fact that the presiding judge in the hearings, after hearing all the arguments, concluded that DDT was not a hazard to humans, and probably wasn’t responsible for egg shell thinning in birds either. Not coincidently, Mr. Ruckelshaus was an activist member of the Environmental Defense Fund.

I personally believe that the use of DDT should have been severely restricted, given the fact that long term effects on the environment were not known, and it was being used so indiscriminately. Ms. Carson’s book, although totally alarmist and unscientific, at least made us pause and consider the possible ill effects of overuse of any chemical that builds up in the environment. It also provoked chemical companies to develop more environmentally friendly pesticides that do not persist in the environment.

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World Wildlife Fund

So why is DDT still the poster child (along with dioxin) for “all chemicals of any kind are bad” environmental groups? For example, the World Wildlife Fund wants to ban its use altogether, anywhere.

My own feeling is that environmentalism is a religion for many zealous members of various radical groups. They don’t want to be confused with scientific evidence that may contradict their beliefs. But in the case of DDT, there is a compelling reason to resume or continue its use (it is still used in about 24 countries) in parts of the world where malaria is endemic, regardless of one’s faith.

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World Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 25 million lives were saved between 1940 and 1973 by its use (overuse, to be sure). They now advocate its LIMITED use for malaria control in poor countries when adequate treatments are not available, such as sub Saharan Africa.

It is about 75% less expensive than pyrethroids, and persists much longer and kills the mosquitoes far more efficiently. How to use it? Spray the mosquito netting for beds and the inside walls of houses every six months. It will kill the bugs if they land on the wall, but even better, it is a very efficient repellant. Mosquitoes fly in, then fly out without biting. Even the venerable and liberal New York Times calls for its use, estimating that malaria now kills about 1 in 20 African children each year.

Let’s consider a great example of my point. For 50 years, South Africa used DDT to control its malaria problem, but in 1996 it stopped using it because it was found in the breast milk of mothers and there was great international pressure to ban its use. In no time at all, the rate of malaria infection went from a few thousand per year to over 50 thousand per year.
Last year, ignoring howls of protest from various environmental groups, South Africa began indoor spraying of DDT at only a few grams per square meter. Guess what? The malaria epidemic ended as quickly as it began. The same story is true in Belize.

And just in case you need more convincing, has anybody here ever heard of the West Nile virus? What blood sucking little insect (40 different species of them) do you think spreads that microbe? The virus has been found in 42 states in the U.S., and infected more than 1400 people in 2002 and killed at least 66, and it’s SPREADING. It is time to rethink some of the general chemophobia that exists in the developed world.

Edward Wheeler, Ph.D in chemistry from U.C. Berkeley (long ago during hippie times), is a noted biochemist who has had extensive experience in food chemistry, cancer research, and toxicology. He has authored numerous articles in refereed scientific journals on those subjects, and holds 12 U.S. patents in the areas of reduced calorie foods and lower calorie “natural fats”.

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5 Responses to “Bring Back D.D.T.”
  1. Carolyn says:

    What company does Edward Wheeler work for?


  2. Thanks for the question, Carolyn.

    Edward Wheeler was once a contributing author on the site, but has since moved on to other projects, we believe.

  3. Jesscia says:

    when was this article written?

  4. Jessica, this article was published back on March 4, 2004.

  5. Oliver says:

    Good day. Can you gve us an idea what specific companies and countries still utilize DDT and under what pesticide brand? Oliver Tolentino


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