Health News Digest

November 7, 2005

The War Against DDT, And Its Innocent VictimsAnopheles mosquito

By  Michael D. Shaw

Of all the issues surrounding the debate between politics and science, between hysteria and logic, none is more dramatic and morally important than the controversy over the pesticide DDT. The results from the ban on this chemical are as clear as they are overwhelming: 300 to 500 million new cases of malaria each year, with over 200 million children needlessly suffering from this preventable disease. Now, in the 21st century, malaria kills one child every 30 seconds.

The arguments against DDT, which have their basis in extremist politics and shocking indifference to the deadly consequences, represent the ultimate form of junk science—an agenda with neither credibility nor objective fact. I do not write these words with any sense of vindication or pleasure, because the consequences of the ban against DDT—a history of lies, propaganda and ideological rigidity—are far from academic. Malaria now threatens nearly all of Africa, and 40 percent of the world’s population must confront this killer.

The cheapest, most effective, and reliable agent against malaria is, and remains, DDT. Amazingly, the challenge for scientists concerned with saving lives is not how to kill mosquitoes, but rather involves defeating the opponents of progress and safety. Malaria is, after all, a mosquito-borne disease that DDT typically eradicates. According to Science and Technology Magazine, it costs only $1.44 per year to spray one house with DDT. Compare that to far more toxic chemicals that cost 10 to 20 times as much, and require more frequent applications.

DDT’s success is nothing short of remarkable: In 1946, before the use of this common pesticide, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) had 2.8 million cases of malaria and approximately 13,000 deaths from this disease. In 1963, after widespread use of DDT, the number of cases fell to 17, and the number of deaths dropped to 1!

To many, Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, is still the best known, and sadly most ignorant, opponent of DDT. Every single one of her claims about DDT, including the thin eggshells in hatching birds, has been disproven. As to the one mostly true finding, that certain insects eventually develop a resistance to the pesticide, that too has been way overblown. While DDT might not kill these resistant bugs, it still repels them from treated areas. How sad that a stake has not been put through the heart of this hobbyhorse of the environmental movement.

Yet, it would be another infamous opponent of DDT, Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome, whose comments might give pause to even the most ardent Green. You see, King understood the efficacy and safety of this pesticide. His concerns, excerpted from Science and Technology go in an entirely different direction:

“My chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that is has greatly added to the population problem.”

I see junk science all the time, and I debate stupefyingly ignorant self-satisfied know-it-alls on a regular basis, but to encounter a pro-genocidal sentiment is a bit much even to this world-class cynic. For King’s statement is, in effect, a lament about the survival of black Africans. DDT saves too many innocent lives, and thus spares King and his associates of an iconic victim: the African everyman, distended belly and all.

Or, to put things even more bluntly, rates of malaria in Africa continue to climb by 1,000 percent in many countries. Here, King’s wishes have indeed been realized.

Need more statistics? In Zanzibar alone, where DDT reduced the number of people infected with malaria from 70 percent in 1958 to under 5 percent in 1964, the rate is now up to 60 percent, thanks to the proponents of this deadly brand of junk science. And, six years after the United States took the “lead” in banning DDT, there were 800 million cases of malaria worldwide and 8.2 million deaths per year.

DDT is our most consistent tool against the spread of a disease that disproportionately kills the poor, innocent, and non-white. To oppose its use is more than jumping on the environmental fashion du jour; it is an explicit form of political homicide.

To those, mostly on the Left, and allied with the Greens, who endlessly bleat about “the children,” it is surely past time to ask how much longer we must victimize the innocent, before common sense can again prevail. Far too many have already died.