Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why are they trying to bring back DDT?

Besides pissing on Rachel Carson's grave for being one of the first environmentalists, there has been a move to blame her for the return of malaria because of her stand against DDT. Who is behind this? What chemical company owns the rights to the poison? Why on earth (in every sense of the word) would we want to return to silent springs?

Tim Lambert of Deltoid:

Members of the "we hate Rachel Carson" club have been touting a new study on indoor residual spraying as showing that DDT remains effective against malaria even when the mosquitoes are resistant. For examples, see Angela Logomasini and Ron Bailey. The study found that DDT-resistant mosquitoes were still repelled from huts sprayed with DDT so that occupants would be protected from 73% of mosquitoes. But it also found that there was 92% protection with dieldrin, which mosquitoes were not resistant to. In other words, an insecticide that killed the mosquitoes worked better, as you might expect.

So while the study suggests that DDT might be more effective than tests on how effectively it kills mosquitoes suggests, it does not seem a good idea to continue to use it where the mosquitoes are resistant -- a switch to a more effective insecticide would seem wise. The experience in Sri Lanka where DDT resistance led to a malaria epidemic despite DDT spraying also points to the wisdom of switching.

Raw Story tracks the money and the Senator who blocked the Congress from honoring Carson's birthday:
A Republican Senator who successfully prevented the US Senate from honoring the centennial of the birth of environmentalist and Silent Spring author Rachel Carson received campaign donations from a member of the board of directors of a group that sponsors pro-DDT advocacy, RAW STORY has found.

William Dunn, President of Dunn Capital Management in Stuart, Florida, gave $4,000 to the campaign of Senator Tom Coburn in 2004, according to Federal Election Commission records. Dunn sits on the board of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group that promotes the use of DDT to fight malaria, and has sponsored a website called "Rachel Was Wrong," which condemns the environmental scientist and activist for her famous book.


The CEI-sponsored campaign criticizes Carson in the strongest of terms.

"Today millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm. That person is Rachel Carson, author of the 1962 best selling book Silent Spring," reads a message on the front page of the website.

CEI has been accused of serving as a pro-industry advocacy group against various environmental causes. A 20th Anniversary Report on the CEI website showed that 31% of its 2003 income came from corporations.

Additionally, a CEI staff member told the Inter Press Service in 2004 that the group received funding from Monsanto, the agribusiness corporation that originally manufactured DDT, although it no longer produces the pesticide.

Monsanto also supports the work of the Congress of Racial Equality, another pro-DDT group that contributes content to the 'Rachel Was Wrong' website, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America.

A spokeswoman from PANNA, Stephenie Hendricks, argued to RAW STORY that although Monsanto was no longer manufacturing DDT itself, it was sponsoring efforts to promote the pesticide's use in anti-malaria campaigns to "create a more broadly permissive environment for agricultural chemicals."

Monsanto did not respond to RAW STORY's inquiries on whether it had a hand in the anti-Carson activities of Senator Coburn or CEI.

Monsanto. Again.

Update: Bug Girl at Bug Girl's Blog asks why there is such a push to bring back DDT:

Why, if insects are already resistant to DDT, and you have other compounds that perform as well or better with less risk of resistance and toxic effects for both people and environment, is anyone so determined to justify keeping DDT in use??

It just doesn’t make sense. The cost/benefit analysis comes into play, but I really am not convinced that the difference is that prohibitive.

I’m going to repeat myself:

DDT is NOT a cure-all solution for malaria. It has to be used–if it is used–carefully, with planning, evaluation, and forethought. It’s easy to understand why some folks want DDT to be a panacea–Malaria is a horrible disease, and children suffer the most. But jumping in and spraying DDT can have the potential to make things worse, not better, in the long run.

Each situation has to be evaluated individually before insecticide choices are made. And insecticides are not the only piece of the malaria puzzle. A 2005 review found that simple environmental interventions–under the control of local people–could reduce malarial transmission up to 80%. I’ve already mentioned Bed nets as another strategy.

An integrated strategy will work much better than ideology.


More updatiness: Phila of Bouphonia also addressed this. And here.

Update 8/27: Continuing the conversation from the comments below, I posted on the Neem tree and its oil.


Anonymous said...

Would someone please develop a terminator gene for Monsanto?

ellroon said...

Exactly. If they really want to start using DDT again, make them use it on their own chemists and CEO first.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out. And--I actually don't think it's Monsanto that's pushing this. It's a larger group of companies that are lobbying against acceptance of global warming.

By making "greenies" the bad guys on DDT ("You killed millions of children!") it's easier to paint them as wrong and foolish on global warming too.

I really was reluctant to accept this--it smacks too much of conspiracy theory--but the actual documents deltoid and others have uncovered do seem to be clearly supporting that.

And heck, if they can rehab DDT, what -can't- they spin?

ellroon said...

Thank you for your comment, Bug-girl. Appreciate all the research so evident in your post!

It's hard for me not to point fingers at a company who has thought up the 'Terminator Gene' to place themselves between people and food they can grow.

It will be good to find out exactly which companies are involved.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with neem oil? Perfectly safe, and effective, isn't it?

ellroon said...

Neem Oil? I don't think I've heard about it before now, whig.

It's sounds like a good chemical, any downside?

mapaghimagsik said...

I think people have gotten the "up is down" fever, and they think they can still roll back and demonize.

Somehow, there has to be a comic in that.

Anonymous said...

I'm unaware of downsides to neem oil.

There was a company that tried to patent it, but the Indian government protested. They've been using it for centuries.

Anonymous said...

Or millennia, perhaps.

ellroon said...

Well, India better protect it with their lives. If there's money in it some corporation will be after it in no time, patenting the DNA or something.

Anonymous said...

The story on Neem oil is more complex than that.

It's taken 22 years to even get this far.

Also, ANY chemical or pesticide has benefits and problems; even water can kill you if you drink too much of it. Unfortunately, "safe" is often relative.

Rotenone is billed as an "organic" pesticide, and it's one of the most dangerous compounds around.

(oh, and neem would be useless against malaria mosquitoes, and is currently too expensive to apply in large quantities for a low value crop like corn.)

mapaghimagsik said...

Argh. I remember Rotenone. Nasty stuff.

Anonymous said...

Why do we need synthetic neem? It's a plant. Grow neem.

Why would neem be useless against malaria mosquitoes?

Should our objective be to continue growing low value crops or perhaps we might consider a more sustainable agriculture altogether?

Anonymous said...

I'm asking questions, not saying we should convert overnight to a new economy given the disruption it would cause, but we rely too heavily on petrochemical synthesis when natural plants work fine.

Anonymous said...

Also contrary to what Bug Girl said, there are plants which cannot kill you no matter how much you consume. Cannabis, for instance. Neem isn't necessarily in this category, however.

ellroon said...

I continued my education and the discussion at this post.

Anonymous said...

A lot of what I am reading on this and other sites supporting the ban of DDT come from misinformation.

Look at this site

Maybe Read The Lies of Rachel Carson

The chemical alternatives mentioned in this blog are prohibitively expensive (relatively)

Wait till the ever-growing population of bedbugs hits the US and UK, i think some people will be singing a different tune then.

check this out

ellroon said...

Thanks for your comment. Just a bit of research on Google and I came up with this very concise overview:

Several important parts of the rational for the 1972 US ban on DDT have proven to be incorrect, such as egg thinning in raptors and relative cancer risk. Unfortunately, some, like Mr. Stossel, have seized upon this as a strawman to "prove" that DDT is without risk. That position ignores other parts of the 1972 decision and 34 years of subsequent research.

DDT is a persistant organic pollutant, and under the 2001 Stockholm Convention, is banned worldwide except for public health vector control. It can remain in the soil for many years and breaks down comparatively slowly. It can bioaccumulate in the food chain of contaminated habitats. The data behind this information is solid and well established.

It's acute toxicity is lower than that of two commonly used mosquito adulticides, less toxic than dibrom and more toxic than malathion.

DDT is a broad-spectrum insecticide, meaning that it is toxic to a wide range of non-target insects and other arthropods, including many beneficial insects. Because it is a long-duration material, it continues to kill nontargets long after application, just as it does kill target mosquitoes.

The current World Health Organization recommendations are to only use DDT as an Interior Repellent Spray (please see my links earlier in this thread for the actual publications).

There are conditions now when it can and should be used (which I've explained earlier in this thread, also, plus a couple other threads). But, we should be very aware of the actual risks and problems associated with its use and not just look at selected parts of the toxicity and environmental risk data, such as many DDT proponents tend to do.

When compared to many more recently developed materials, DDT is much riskier to use and has a lower safety margin. In time, many of us that work in mosquito control expect to see it eventually removed from use as it is supplanted by safer and more effective materials and techniques.

Anonymous said...

This thread was pretty strong about a year or so ago. Since then the bed bug population has exploded even more in major cities. And it will continue to do so until we fight back with some big chemical guns.

I hate to see toxic chemicals in use anywhere, but until you have had one of these parasites eat you alive you don't know how important controlling them is.

Bed bugs are on airplanes, in hotel rooms, in businesses... It's growning exponentially every day! And spreading like wildfire as people transverse the globe.

Just go to and read the trauma people are facing with bed bugs. And how impossibly hard it is to get rid of them. My exterminator says the are the worst pest on the planet to get rid of. Worse than roaches by far.

What I thought was bed bugs turned out to be fleas. But going through the scare really woke me up.

My exterminator said a less concentrated dose of DDT for bed bugs would be better than what they have now. What they have now is very labor intensive for the exterminator and their clients.

At least with bedbugs you don't spray large areas of land, so it is mostly a battle within actual structures. Like apartment houses, airplanes and office buildings. To get them out of everything kept within those structures. Furniture, carpat, clothing are all susceptible to the glued on egg sacks and nymphs which can live 180 days without food.

It's a crisis that must be addressed soon before they are too much to overcome.

ellroon said...

I have been watching the news about bedbugs and often get hits for this post by people desperately looking for solutions to their bedbug infestation.

DDT is not the only recourse to handling the bugs, just the easiest one. Perhaps the most efficient one. But still, the most toxic and dangerous one. Google the effects of DDT if you are not sure.

They are recommending several different ways of dealing with them, but diatomaceous earth is one way to kill them. Pet chinchillas have a commercial dust bath made for them using diatomaceous earth. One woman sprayed this dust around beds, in closets, into wall sockets etc. with good results.

Wouldn't you rather use dirt than a toxic poison that will linger on in your house for years?

With more study we can figure out simple biodegradable actions to kill pests and keep ourselves healthy. DDT is not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Bed bugs started developing resistance to DDT in the 1950s. Using DDT on today's strain of bed bugs doesn't kill them. Widespread overuse of DDT contributed to resistance, and cross-resistance to pyrethrin pesticides since they work via a similar mechanism.

ellroon said...

Thanks for the link, Anon. Sadly, many people have decided that being denied DDT is a evil hippie agenda and no facts will change their stance.

ellroon said...

Copying down the info at the link, in case it's removed. Excellent info.

DDT resistance: once more, with tables and sources
by RENEE COREA on MAY 15, 2008
So, I guess our earlier DDT post was too lighthearted. Please bear with us; we’re learning. This is actually a very serious subject. I hate to see people in our bed bug community wasting their precious resources of energy and time on the idea that DDT could once again be a solution for bed bugs.

I understand why people yearn for it, and media reports are partly to blame, but entertaining the idea of ‘bringing back DDT’ is so disheartening, such a powerful distraction from the good work that can be done and that we should all consider.

So, for those who doubt that bed bugs are really resistant to DDT, here are some sources for your review.

Links below are PDF articles retrieved from the Armed Forces Pest Management Board’s excellent Literature Retrieval System (an amazing resource).

“Almost Everywhere”

Bed Bugs [to download PDF enter accession:112924], World Health Organization, Vector Biology and Control Division, 1982:

Table: Insecticide Resistance in Bed Bugs in Countries or Areas (WHO, 1980)

C. lectularius is the particular bad guy we’re tracking in the table above, the common bed bug.

Insecticide Resistance of Medically Important Arthropods [to download PDF enter accession:23590], Report of the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency Medical Entomology Division, January 1962:

Table: Insecticide Resistance of Medically Important Arthropods

Note, in the earlier post I cited slightly different years for the first reports of observed resistance, 1947 for the Hawaii report and 1951 for Israel. The 1947 date is cited in various secondary sources and the 1951 date is from a WHO bulletin: A survey of bed-bug resistance to insecticides in Israel, Norman G. Gratz, 1959, 20, 835-840.

Contemporary Sources

In a March 2008 Bedbugger interview, Texas A & M research scientist James W. Austin noted the continued resistance to DDT (emphasis added):

While screening multiple populations of bed bugs against various insecticides we have found virtually all populations were 100% resistant to DDT. This is not a surprise given that the first observances of DDT resistance were noted almost 50 years ago. It is a little surprising that they continue to be so completely resistant to DDT.

In 2007, Alvaro Romero, Michael F. Potter, and Kenneth F. Haynes, published their findings of insecticide resistance: Insecticide Resistance in the Bed Bug: A Factor in the Pest’s Sudden Resurgence? (Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 44, Number 2, March 2007 , pp. 175-178). The July 2007 article in Pest Control Technology contains an additional table (on page 50) which outlines DDT susceptibility of 5 bed bug populations:

Three of the four pyrethroid-resistant populations we tested exhibited minimal mortality after five continuous days of exposure — suggesting that bed bug resistance to DDT may be common today, as was becoming the case a half-century ago when the pest was vanishing from this country.

It’s really not that difficult to find references to the history of DDT resistance in bed bugs. Here’s one, from a July 2001 New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell, The Mosquito Killer, where Dr. McWilson Warren (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) remembers the challenges of malaria eradication work in Malaysia in the 50s and 60s:

“Then the Malaysians started to complain about bedbugs, and it turns out what normally happens is that ants like to eat bedbug larvae,” McWilson Warren said. “But the ants were being killed by the DDT and the bedbugs weren’t—they were pretty resistant to it. So now you had a bedbug problem.”

A bed bug problem is exactly what we have right now.

But DDT is a complete waste of mental space.

Bed Bug Killer said...

Hi Ellroon. I agree with you. I love how Diatomaceous Earth has no synthetic chemicals, no odor or additives of any kind. It is also a completely natural product, that is inexpensive and non-toxic for humans. It doesn’t evaporate, or get old and stale. It is a natural mineral, and a very effective bed bugs killer. - Johann

ellroon said...

I'll leave your comment up because I get desperate people researching bed bugs and getting this post. So even though your name is an ad, I hope your company does some good work!