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WHO Backs DDT Use:

Today's WSJ reports (link for subscribers):

The World Health Organization, in a sign that widely used methods of fighting malaria have failed to bring the catastrophic disease under control, plans to announce today that it will encourage the use of DDT, even though the pesticide is banned or tightly restricted in much of the world.

The new guidelines from the United Nations public-health agency support the spraying of small amounts of DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, on walls and other surfaces inside homes in areas at highest risk of malaria. The mosquito-borne disease infects as many as 500 million people a year and kills about a million. Most victims are in sub-Saharan Africa and under the age of 5. . . . .

DDT already is on a list of WHO-approved chemicals for indoor spraying. But until now, the agency hadn't strongly endorsed its use, and donors funding malaria programs were reluctant to finance purchases of it. As a result, countries hit hardest by malaria generally have been unable to afford substantial supplies. The WHO's new stance is aimed partly at encouraging even countries that ban the pesticide to help finance its use in areas ravaged by the disease. . . .

Other pesticides and malaria-fighting methods have often proved to be less-effective and more costly than DDT. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets hung in sleeping areas are successful, but cost, distribution problems and varying usage make them less effective than they could be. Malaria experts say deployment of a malaria vaccine that is now in development could still be years away.

Pressure has been growing in the past few years for the WHO to support DDT more aggressively. Jon Liden, a spokesman for the Global Fund, which pays for indoor spraying of DDT or other pesticides in 41 countries, says the organization welcomes the WHO's move. "The Global Fund....is ready to finance increased use of the strategy if affected countries request it," he says.

The U.S. government has stepped up support for indoor pesticide spraying of homes in Africa. While it spent less than $1 million on such programs in 2005, it plans to spend $20 million in fiscal 2007, according to Admiral R. Timothy Ziemer, coordinator of the President's Malaria Initiative and the U.S. Agency for International Development's malaria programs. This year, the U.S. government purchased DDT for a spraying program in Zambia.

This seems like a very positive development. While excessive DDT use in the United States was linked to reproductive problems in several bird species, respnsible indoor spraying of DDT is an important, cost-effective component to a comprehensive malaria-control strategy in developing nations.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on WHO's New Support of DDT:
  2. WHO Backs DDT Use:
Stonecutter:
WHO Backs DDT Use?

We do! We do!
9.15.2006 9:33am
Chris E.:
Last year a progressive friend and I had a discussion about the use of DDT in Africa, He, of course, was against the idea because DDT eventually weakens bird egg shells. "What about the dying children," I asked. He told me that saving birds is more important than saving children. Jaw dropping, but honest. Very progressive indeed.
9.15.2006 9:56am
Tim Lambert (mail) (www):
Sigh. WHO has always supported DDT use where it is the most effective technique. It's only because of widespread false claims that they don't, that they have to re-emphasize their support.
9.15.2006 10:12am
abb3w:

While excessive DDT use in the United States was linked to reproductive problems in several bird species, respnsible indoor spraying of DDT is an important, cost-effective component to a comprehensive malaria-control strategy in developing nations.

Nope, sorry; still sounds like a bad idea to me. Yes, in theory, such responsible use might have low enough impact to be an acceptable trade-off. However, "The difference between theory and practice is that in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there usually is." Consider as comparison the historical (ab)use of antibiotics in the developing world; over-, under-, and sheer mis-prescription led to the evolution of ultra-resistant disease strains.

While the evolution of a DDT resistant mosquito seems biochemically unlikely, I don't see how the proposal would ensure that the use of the DDT would remain as limited as proposed. What will keep this stuff from being swiped to the black market, and then abused in all the classic ways by the same grade of ignorant folk who believe that polio vaccines spread AIDS and cause sterility? And worse, DDT is obviously good for killing bugs — so why not use it to kill bugs outside the home?

Let me repeat: bad idea.
9.15.2006 10:22am
tefta2 (mail):
While visiting Montpellier in the south of France a couple of summers ago, we were shocked to learn they use DDT for mosquito control in order to attract tourists to the area.
9.15.2006 10:27am
JohnAnnArbor:
I remember reading a few years back that DDT isn't just an effective mosquito KILLER; it's an effective REPELLANT. That implies that much less can be used in homes than was used before, and that just a bit around window frames, on curtains, etc. would be effective against mosquitos.

The 1948 Nobel Prize in Medicine was for the discovery of DDT. It was a big deal because it was effective and much safer than other insecticides around people.
9.15.2006 10:35am
Nick P.:
While the evolution of a DDT resistant mosquito seems biochemically unlikely

According to this tutorial accompanying Mark Ridley's textbook on Evolution, DDT-resistant mosquitos were first identified in India in 1959, and they remain at low frequency only when DDT use is minimal.

Here's what the Washington Post says:

What people aren't remembering about the history of DDT is that, in many places, it failed to eradicate malaria not because of environmentalist restrictions on its use but because it simply stopped working...

Though widespread use of DDT didn't begin until WWII, there were resistant houseflies in Europe by 1947, and by 1949, DDT-resistant mosquitoes were documented on two continents.

By 1972, when the U.S. DDT ban went into effect, 19 species of mosquitoes capable of transmitting malaria, including some in Africa, were resistant to DDT.


I'm not sure about the 1959/1949 discrepency between Ridley and the Wash Post. Perhaps a typo, or perhaps they are describing different populations.

Googling "DDT resistance" will turn up scientific papers describing the biochemical and genetic basis for DDT resistance.
9.15.2006 10:54am
thedaddy (mail):
Rachel Carlsen {sp?} was a foaming idiot who is singularly responsible for the death and suffering of millions of people and yet people like tefta2 and abb3w still cling to her rediculous premise.
Wake up -- the science is on the side of DDT use,
Simple, safe and extrodinarily effective.

thedaddy
9.15.2006 10:55am
M (mail):
Tim Lambert has written a lot on this subject. I certainly trust his take much more than most people's. You can find a large number of his posts on it here:
http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/ddt/
9.15.2006 10:56am
thedaddy (mail):
Articles in the WaPo are unreliable -- especially when they are in favor of their "enviromental" leanings eg. "Global Warming" , Drilling in Anwar etc.
I discount them all.

BTW DDT use was banned because of the supposed effect on birds not because of its ineffectiveness on mosquitoes.

thedaddy
9.15.2006 11:03am
JohnAnnArbor:
Resistance can be resisted (ha!) by applying smaller amounts in homes and using it as a repellant and last line of defense as opposed to the massive spraying and dusting of the '40s and 50s.
9.15.2006 11:06am
Nick P.:
TheDaddy,
Articles in the WaPo are unreliable
I also gave a link to a standard textbook on evolutionary biology and suggested that you could peruse the primary scientific literature.

BTW DDT use was banned because of the supposed effect on birds not because of its ineffectiveness on mosquitoes.

The Wash Post article didn't claim otherwise. It claimed that by the time DDT was banned in the US, resistance in mosquito populations was already reducing the usefulness of pesticide. If it had continued in common use, its effectiveness would be even lower today.

DDT can be a useful component of malaria control if used in combination with other unrelated pesticides -- this requires careful control, because some mutations can cause resistance to multiple pesticides. DDT resistance can also make an insect resistant to pyrethroids which are another very important group of pesticides with low toxicity to humans. DDT is not a magic bullet, and if its overuse had continued in the 1970s, it would probably be almost useless today. We can actually count ourselves lucky that it is still effective against mosquitos. Fruitflies are almost 100% resistant, because DDT-resistance confers other advantages. (see: McCart et al. (2005) Current Biology 15:R587-R589)
9.15.2006 11:31am
Truth Seeker:
Clearly people on the left prefer birds to humans. Why do they hate themselves? Is it guilt over their easy life in the greatest society in human history, or just some sort of mental illness? Someone should do a study why the left is so self-hating.
9.15.2006 11:34am
Shangui (mail):
Clearly people on the left prefer birds to humans. Why do they hate themselves? Is it guilt over their easy life in the greatest society in human history, or just some sort of mental illness? Someone should do a study why the left is so self-hating.

Yes, this is clearly true for all the left. Thank you for this keen and accurate observation.

But more on topic, I'm strongly in favor of limited DDT use in situations like this. Those few people on the left who might really think birds are more important than people (like those few people on the right who think a tiny clump of cells is more important than the human being carrying them), clearly have to re-assess their priorities.
9.15.2006 12:00pm
DJR:
I am on the left and I prefer humans to birds, and I prefer the absence of mosquitos to just about anything else. I would gladly give up a few bird species in order to eliminate mosquitos. Maybe even a lot of bird species.
9.15.2006 12:27pm
Still Learning:
I am on the left and I prefer humans to birds, and I prefer the absence of mosquitos to just about anything else. I would gladly give up a few bird species in order to eliminate mosquitos. Maybe even a lot of bird species.


Then you're not on the left. You just grew up thinking the left was cool. But as you grew up and thought about it you started abandoning their crazy ideas, but you still want to identify with the left because you can't admit that the right was right all along.
9.15.2006 12:35pm
Shangui (mail):
Then you're not on the left. You just grew up thinking the left was cool. But as you grew up and thought about it you started abandoning their crazy ideas

You are correct, because large political tendencies are best defined by one's relative feelings towards birds and mosquitos.

I hate mosquitos and like birds. But where does that put me? Is there an online quiz I can take somewhere?

Some of us grew up think the right was cool because it represented freedom and capitalism. Then the last 6 years happened and now it suddenly equals Jesus, massive gov't power, and run-away spending. But if it's still strongly anti-mosquito maybe I'll stick around.
9.15.2006 12:53pm
JohnO (mail):
A wise man once said, "DDT did a job on me, now I am a real sickie," so DDT clearly must be bad for humans. Would Joey Ramone lie?
9.15.2006 1:18pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Rachel Carlsen {sp?} was a foaming idiot …

Rachel Carson was an idiot, but I don't know about a foaming part. A long time ago I read a critique of her book "Silent Spring." Some of the accusations didn't seem credible (how could she be that stupid) so I went out and bought the book. Egad she did write that! Here is one example. She claimed that the percentage of children dying from leukemia was much greater in 1970 than in 1900 and this proved that the chemical industry was dangerous because exposure was so much less in 1900. Let's put aside the fact that records from 1900 might not be as accurate as in 1970. What she didn't grasp is the concept of competing risks. By 1970 we had already cured or prevented most of the childhood diseases that killed children in 1900. So naturally the fraction of the children dying from leukemia would increase—duh. She really needed to compare incidence rates.

After that experience I tended to scrutinize claims by environmentalists much more carefully, and have generally found them to be a pack liars and ignoramuses. I actually worked in the field for about four years doing risk assessment, mostly the effects of air pollution on trees. I was lucky; the people I worked with were sane and intelligent, but to my dismay I found out they were an unusual bunch.
9.15.2006 1:37pm
JerryM (mail):
Enviromentalists (sic) have killed more humans than all the Communist put together, and continue to kill 2 million a year due to malaria.

http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm


"To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT... In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable."

[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. The Life Sciences; Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs; The World of Biological Research; Requirements for the Future.]
9.15.2006 2:39pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
While the evolution of a DDT resistant mosquito seems biochemically unlikely

Why? Do you understand the biochemicals at issue? Do you understand how DDT kills insects, and how a DDT-resistance gene would, in theory, function?

Neither do I, so I don't mean to be snarky.

The thing is, it's already happened. A very small percentage of the population of at least some mosquito species was already carrying the genes before DDT was even invented.

Starting from that small group, if you throw DDT into the mix, that group is going to multiply much faster than the non-resistant group.
9.15.2006 2:50pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Whoops, make that 1970 into 1960 as Carson was dead by 1964. But while I'm here read some excerpts from what NRDC still says about Carson today.

Carson, a renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was uniquely equipped to create so startling and inflammatory a book.

Silent Spring took Carson four years to complete. It meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage.

One of the landmark books of the 20th century, Silent Spring's message resonates loudly today, even several decades after its publication.

Her careful preparation, however, had paid off. Anticipating the reaction of the chemical industry, she had compiled Silent Spring as one would a lawyer's brief, with no fewer than 55 pages of notes and a list of experts who had read and approved the manuscript.

From Wikipedia on Silent Spring.


The book attracted hostile attention from scientists, commentators and the chemical industry. In general, her book did not receive positive reviews from the science field. One of Carson's claims was that DDT is a carcinogen. Subsequent studies have failed to prove a link between DDT and cancer.
9.15.2006 3:09pm
Tony2 (mail):
This is an issue that I selected a couple of years back to look into in depth, with the aim of understanding why the debate was so intractible. I found lots of mendacity on both sides. The science, though, is clear, if you go back to the primary publications (I went as far as reading abstracts.)

In short: very bad for raptors, harmless to chickens and other gallinaceous birds that were often used as study subjects. Minimum direct human impact. Indoor spraying is good for malaria control. Outdoor spraying, particularly agricultural, renders indoor spraying ineffective and gets you back to square one in just a few years.

Allowing indoor spraying while controlling agricultural use may be very hard, because there are huge incentives to use a little DDT on your crops if the usage is otherwise rare.

This BS about "environmentalists killing people" is really depressing - it's sad to see important arguments hijacked by such irresponsible rhetoric, because lives are at stake.
9.15.2006 3:55pm
Fub:
abb3w wrote:

While the evolution of a DDT resistant mosquito seems biochemically unlikely, I don't see how the proposal would ensure that the use of the DDT would remain as limited as proposed. What will keep this stuff from being swiped to the black market, and then abused in all the classic ways by the same grade of ignorant folk who believe that polio vaccines spread AIDS and cause sterility? And worse, DDT is obviously good for killing bugs — so why not use it to kill bugs outside the home?

Let me repeat: bad idea.
Beyond the present issue of DDT, this general line of reasoning has always struck me as the political root cause of most general prohibitions. The act or substance is not always considered inherently evil by itself, like slavery for instance. The argument for the prohibition is instead based on what everybody[1] will do absent the general prohibition.

We must ban DDT because everybody will use it inappropriately and bring a plague of resistant insects or kill off all the birds.

We must ban guns because everybody will kill each other with them.

We must ban witty double entendre speech on airwaves because otherwise everybody will broadcast filth to our children 24/7/365.

We must ban drugs because everybody will use them and become crazed killers or at least lazy loafers.

We must ban "hate speech" everybody will use it to oppress somebody.

We must ban political speech before elections because everybody rich will buy more political speech than somebody poor, and get elected.

We must ban fatty foods because everybody will eat themselves to an early death or burden the healthcare system.

In aggregate, the ultimate agenda seems to be to ban everything because otherwise everybody will always do the wrong thing.

The underlying rationale is always that everybody is either so craven or so stupid, that disaster will ensue if anybody is allowed to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

Maybe we should just get on with it.

I, for one, welcome our new impoverished and powerless, thin, sober, gunless, politically correct speaking, non-insecticide-resistant insect overlords.

[1] "everybody" means "everybody but me and thee, and I'm not too sure about thee".
9.15.2006 4:23pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Rachel Carson's description of the effects of DDT in Silent Spring was entirely based on her suppositions at the time the book was written. Research later showed she was right about two things: (1) insect populations did develop resistance to DDT when it was as widely used as it was at the time she wrote; (2) DDT did affect the reproductive success of certain bird species at the higher end of the food change.

However, the radical anti-DDT legislation that her book created was due almost entirely to panic at Carson's shriller, and later disproven, assertions that DDT was responsible for a plethora of deadly diseases in humans. It is hard for me to generate a lot of sympathy, let alone respect, for the woman and her followers.

By the way, a natural experiment involving human consumption of DDT started sometime either before or at the beginning of WW II. A standard bar drink at the time was a "Mickey Slim", a shot of gin with a tablespoon or so of DDT mixed in. The mother of a friend bartended during the War and used to mix this drink regualarly. She said that the addition of DDT was supposed to give drinkers a bit of a buzz. There's no evidence that drinking them caused any permanent harm.
9.15.2006 4:31pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Rachel Carson's description of the effects of DDT in Silent Spring was entirely based on her suppositions at the time the book was written.

That's true-- she was limited by the data available at that time. But that does not explain her inability to reason correctly about evidence and inference. Either that or she deliberately intended to mislead her readers about the human effects. The latter is a possibility as many people feel it's ok to be deceptive in pursuit of a greater good.
9.15.2006 4:50pm
JohnAnnArbor:
AppSocRes, that's one of the reasons DDT was such a hit--it wasn't poisonous to people, like most insecticides are (many are similar to nerve gases, and Zyklon-B, the infamous killing gas at Auschwitz, was an insecticide). I've seen film of it being used liberally as a delousing agent in the WWII time frame.

But, again, as others have pointed out above, the best use is sparingly and in the boundaries of the homes, depending both on its repellent and its killing actions, not dumping tons of it out of airplanes flying over whole counties. Raptors will not be likely to get much, even up the food chain, that way. Perhaps make it so that it can only be sold in small cans or something, with no bulk sales, even to governments.
9.15.2006 4:51pm
SSD:
According to this article the studies linking bird thin-egg issues to DDT were poorly designed. I haven't checked back to any of the articles/studies discussed in the article, so I have no idea if the author is being biased or not. For all I know he has his own axe to grind. Regardless, here is the article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,202447,00.html
9.15.2006 5:07pm
happylee:
Fub is funny.

What worries and greatly saddens me is that no one is out there researching the next generation of super-insecticides. Think about how glorious it was to discover something that could be made cheaply, had no harmful effect on humans (the species we should all care about the most...) and was very effective at killing its target. Okay, some some birds may have suffered declining numbers. But the next generation of DDT (maybe named DDT-light) could have solved this problem (or non-problem, if you don't buy into "species extinction" theories of tree huggers). In other words, human ingenuity could've moved us up one more level.
But that's not going to happen. According to Harper's, no one is looking to invent this kind of stuff any more. Whether it's mosquitos in Minnesota, bed bugs in NYC or fire ants in VA, no one is looking for substitute pesticides and the once-conquered pests are making a triumphant return.
Why? Because, like any and all industries in the history of mankind, once government is given license to kill ideas before they are born, the industry built upon such ideas dies. Just imagine if an agency like the EPA could control the development of software. I'd be typing this in Wordstar or a selectric typewriter.
In another Harpers (or maybe it was Atlantic) article, the author wrote how some popular herbicide is soon to be banned because some sub-species of a sub-species of frogs develop more deformed testes when exposed to it. That's it! That's all it takes to end the production of something that benefits millions of humans by significantly boosting agricultural production. And even worse, no one is spending money to find alternatives because the licensing process is more onerous than the one needed to build a refinery or fill a bloody wetland.
Now that's news.
Bring back DDT. Woohoo.
9.15.2006 5:39pm
liberty (mail) (www):
If DDT is ineffective (due to genetic adaptation of mopsquitoes) or deadly, then why did it work when it was used in all of the other countries where it was used to wipe out malaria (including the US)?
http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/history/index.htm
http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/ddt/01.htm

There would also be real evidence of harmful effects, agreed upon by all scientists, rather than the wide agreement by scientists that it is probably harmless to humans, while only environmentalists consider it dangerous. Lives are at stake, and environmentalists (and socialistic governments and the UN) are to blame for the deaths due to malaria in Africa that could have been prevented with DDT.

As to the concern "What worries and greatly saddens me is that no one is out there researching the next generation of super-insecticides. ... According to Harper's, no one is looking to invent this kind of stuff any more."

Actually, government has not killed off this industry. There are some great insecticides and herbicides being made for agricultural use that are biochemically genius and cannot harm humans or mammals - literally cannot - but you'll still find them as targets of the environmentalist movement. Consider Roundup.

The biochemical pathway only exists in plants, I learned about it in my biochemistry class and there is no reason to be concerned that any amount of it (short of drowning yourself drinking it) could hurt a human. The pathway simply doesn't exist in humans, nor in mammals generally. Yet, the environmentalists claim that it is more evil than the last one, of course.
9.15.2006 6:10pm
tefta2 (mail):
thedaddy, I thought my sarcasm was obvious. What amazed me was the perfidy and hypocrisy of the French lecturing us for destroying the environment while blithely using one of the chemicals most reviled by the tree huggers.
9.15.2006 6:24pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Tony 2 had about the shortest, best and most accurate post on the issue. The only thing one might add is that DDT impregnated nets are also very useful if there is not overspraying.

Finally, being a bunch of lawyers, you might actually try and look for the laws and regulations that you think banned DDT worldwide. Please note that a ban for agricultural use is not a ban against use as an insecticide. Here is a place to start.
9.15.2006 8:54pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Finally, being a bunch of lawyers, you might actually try and look for the laws and regulations that you think banned DDT worldwide."

It was the WSJ that said it was "banned or tightly restricted worldwide". I think most people here would recognize that its not actually banned worldwide, however many African countries have policies against its use and it is therefor not imported and is difficult to get. Those who need it are left without it because the UN, the environmental groups and the various governments are against it, discourage it and sometimes regulate it.
9.15.2006 10:25pm
Toby:
My father-in-law likes to tell an army story about being stationed in the South Pacific after WWII. They had DDT foggers. They had [warm] beer.

Army Protocol was to place the fogger in the center of camp and pop the top. It would then spray for some minutes. As usually happens when you release pressure from a can for a long period of time, the fogger would cool down, eventually icing up.

Accepted Field Procedures, then, was to place [warm] beer around the base of the fogger. Pop the top and initiate mosquito control procedures. When complete, retrieve cold[er] beer from the base of the DDT sprayed and sit in the fog, relaxing. Some evenings required more than one fogger.
9.16.2006 10:58am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Well, it isn't that lefties prefer birds to their own lives. It's that lefties prefer birds to the lives of brown people on the other side of the world.
9.16.2006 9:43pm
douglas (mail):
Richard, you left off:
-'all the while trying to convince you that they care more than you do; and you're a bigot, capitalist pig for disagreeing with them.'
9.20.2006 4:32am