DDT fights for survival: Lives of millions at stake
The world is full of paradoxes. But one of the most tragic is the DDT/malaria paradox. Here we have the safest pesticide ever invented, one that is essentially nontoxic, being withheld from a world that is dying from malaria-dying by the MILLIONS, and they are mostly children. (Where's Hillary "Evita" Clinton when you need her?)
I've talked about this before, but just a few months ago, this life-saving substance received its final, possibly fatal, blow. In May, a pact made by the United Nations (U.N.) back in 2001 went into full effect--making it illegal to use DDT. It has been banned in many countries since the 1970s, but this "pact" now makes using it an outright crime.
There are a few exceptions: 25 countries will still be allowed to protect themselves with it. But that's less than half of the number of countries just in Africa, let alone any of the other malaria-ravaged regions of the world. And given the fact that, based on the U.N.'s own estimates, malaria kills one African child every 30 seconds, only permitting 25 countries around the globe to use the most effective anti-malarial weapon just isn't good enough, especially when the arguments against it are flimsy at best and outright lies at worst.
Let's take a look at the case-or cases-against DDT and set the record straight once and for all.
No link to cancer
DDT does not cause cancer and, in fact, may prevent certain cancers. Research done by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed no link between DDT and breast cancer. The principal author of the analysis, Francine Laden, Sc.D., said, "We found that the combined results from these five studies do not support an association between plasma or serum concentrations of [DDT] and an increased risk of breast cancer."
In fact, Dr. William Hazeltine, one of the great medical scientists of this century, found that DDT protects rats from leukemia and breast cancer. A 1972 study also found it reduced tumors in animals.
Premature judgment about premature babies
Several years ago, there was a bit of a stir resulting from a study that implicated DDT in some premature births in the 1960s. First of all, keep in mind that the study making these claims is not conclusive and the authors did not claim that it was.
The scientists reviewed the medical records of 2,380 children born between 1959 and 1966 and examined their mothers' blood samples stored during pregnancy. Five hundred and eighty-two children out of the 2,380 were premature or small at birth.
This figure of 582 children is almost 25 percent of the total sample. One wonders, with this extremely high level of prematurity and low birth weight, what kind of background they came from. Were the mothers malnourished? Did they smoke or drink heavily? What real toxins were they exposed to? What medications or other drugs were they taking during the pregnancy? Of these 582 children, how many, if any, were small or premature because of DDT levels in the blood? It's impossible to say.
According to one Associated Press report, this study "is the strongest evidence yet that DDT could be harmful to humans. It has previously been proven hazardous to wildlife."
While the first part of the statement may be true, it isn't much of a case. If an inconclusive study is the strongest evidence against DDT, that should tell researchers something.
The second part of the above statement-that DDT has been proven hazardous to wildlife-is completely false. Eagle eggs have not been thinned. Animal birth rates have not been affected. No mutant animals have been born. The irresponsible green movement made up these preposterous stories.
Dr. Matthew Longnecker, the lead author of the study, did say that he was not condemning DDT, but, the AP reported, "he said the benefit of controlling mosquitoes with the chemical might need to be reassessed."
There is a simpler and more practical solution. Pregnant women should stay away from all chemicals. DDT should not be banned anywhere, as it is a great asset to mankind.
No proof of the polio parallel
DDT has also been fingered as a cause of polio. What is the incidence of polio in South Africa, Ethiopia, and other tropical countries? Is it less, more, or the same in countries that still use DDT as compared with those that have banned its use? We don't know because medical records in most of these war-ravaged countries are unreliable.
The anti-DDT people, the U.N., the environmentalists, and most scientists, claim that DDT causes polio. Sure, their graphs show polio increasing as the use of DDT increased. But, as any good statistician will tell you, correlation does not mean causation. I am not saying that polio causes DDT or that DDT causes polio. In my opinion, they are unrelated events traveling in parallel on a graph.
But the fact is, you don't see millions of children dying of polio but you do see tens of millions dying of malaria where DDT is not in use. And while polio is still present in that part of the world, it is not the killer it used to be.
How many people is the DDT ban REALLY protecting?
Only prevention will stop malaria. And the only known preventive that has proven effective is DDT. But now, suddenly, the "concern" has turned to people living in the Arctic.
"The chemicals are swept north by ocean currents and winds and end up lodging in fatty tissues in the apparently pristine Arctic," Reuters reports. Well, how much is lodged in fatty tissue?
By the time DDT sprayed in the tropics reaches the Arctic, the dilution factor is so immense ("swept north by ocean currents and winds") that it's hard to believe even gullible Americans would fall for this scare mongering.
Jim Willis, head of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) chemicals division has the usual (impractical) advice for stopping the malaria pandemic without putting the snow bunnies at such "great" risk. He said, "broader anti-malaria policies included clearing stagnant water where mosquitoes breed, placing nets around beds at night, targeted use of alternative anti-mosquito pesticides, and development of new medicines," is the answer.
I am sure you mean well, Jim, but who is going to "clear the stagnant water" in African villages where there is no concept of an orderly environment? There are potholes, gopher holes, rat holes, termite mounds, tire and wagon tracks, old tires, abandoned toilet bowls, and an assortment of stuff you can't imagine. Even if the village itself is neat and refuse-free, and many are, if you go a few hundred yards in any direction, you're back in the jungle, and you're not going to "clear the stagnant water" from the jungle.
"Placing nets around beds" sounds nice, but most of these people sleep on the floor. What use is mosquito netting to them?
As for "new medicines," the old ones didn't work--they merely suppressed the symptoms, and new ones are likely to be the same. And, besides, they can't afford old medicines, much less new ones.
My African experience, and so my malaria experience, was in Uganda. There, they ignored the U.N. busybodies and continued to use DDT to defend themselves against malaria. Their malaria problem has lessened but, because of under-use of DDT, it has not been eradicated. And, by the way, polio is not listed as a major cause of death there.
Keeping our best option open-and legal
It is true that DDT was used indiscriminately after WW II. Crops were inundated with it; it was everywhere. Everyone seems to agree that DDT should not be used in agriculture.
But it MUST be used in houses and huts in the tropics or millions more will die from malaria. People will not get polio, cancer, or anything else from the correct use of DDT.
The evidence simply isn't there.
"Set for ban, DDT lingers in battle against malaria," Reuters News, 5/13/04
"'Dirty dozen' toxins are banned by UN pact," The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), 5/17/04
"Is it time to dismiss calls to ban DDT?" BMJ 2001; 322(7,287): 676-676
"Junk science of the century: The DDT ban," Junk Science.com, 1/1/01
"1,1-Dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene and polychlorinated biphenyls and breast cancer: Combined analysis of five U.S. studies," J Natl Cancer Inst 2001; 93(10): 768-775
"Dimethylbenzanthracene-induced mammary tumors in rats: inhibition by DDT." Life Sci I. 1972; 11(17): 833-843
"DDT use in United States linked to premature births in 1960s," The Associated Press, 7/13/01
"Association between maternal serum concentration of the DDT metabolite DDE and preterm and small-for-gestational-age babies at birth." Lancet 2001; 358(9,276): 110-114
"The gelding of America: Is DDT to blame?" Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine's Civil Defense Perspectives (www.oism.org) 1995; 12(1)