DDT: The problems the WHO/Rachel Carson critics don’t want you to know

The merry bands of hoaxsters at “JunkScience.com” and the Competitive Enterprise Institute hope you think DDT is a well-targeted, perfect solution to get rid of malaria. They ignore the devastating effects DDT has on birds, bats and other mammals (including humans), beneficial insects and fish. They don’t care about the difficulties in treating malaria in hospitals, which would continue or grow worse were DDT to be sprayed willy-nilly across the malaria-endemic world.

Cover, War on Insects

Plus, CEI is well-funded and has been hammering away on spreading the hoaxes for several years. You may have to dig hard to find the facts, such as the fact that the inventors of DDT as insecticide warned against over-use exactly as did Rachel Carson, (see the Dove Docs archives), or that the death of beneficial insects and beneficial animals can cause disasters, too — or did CEI tell you that DDT can cause your roof to cave in, in Borneo, and that they had to parachute cats in to prevent an epidemic of typhus, caused by DDT?

The author at Dove Docs posts the caution, hoping we’ve learned a lesson:

Just as agricultural use was ramping up, the newly constituted WHO also adopted this miracle compound, putting it to use in an ambitious, military-style campaign to eradicate malaria. Not only was it used inside houses, it was also sprayed from aircraft, trucks, and by hand into every conceivable mosquito habitat. If a little was good, more had to be better, and human health trumped all environmental concerns; damn the subtleties, full speed ahead.

The massive doses of DDT soon bred environmental disaster and widespread insect resistance to the pesticide. The more DDT the WHO and the farmers sprayed, the less effect it had, until the leaders of the malaria eradication campaign were forced to surrender, and the farmers were forced onto a treadmill of chemical dependence.

Given this history, it’s easy to understand why malariologists have resisted using DDT again in malaria-endemic areas. But we’re smarter now, so what could go wrong?

Plus he points to this insightful tail of unintended consequences, a morality tale for managers of many things:

Parachuting cats into Borneo! A Cautionary Tale.

In the early 1950’s, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered a malarial outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had a solution: to spray large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined; so far so good. But there were unexpected side effects. Amongst the first was that the roofs of the people’s houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT had also killed a parasitic wasp which had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by outbreaks of typhus and plague. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the WHO was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo. Operation Cat Drop, now almost forgotten at the WHO, is a graphic illustration of the interconnectedness of life, and of the fact that the root of problems often stems from their purported solutions.

(Quoted in Rachel Wynberg and Christine Jardine, Biotechnology and Biodiversity: Key Policy Issues for South Africa, 2000)

Parachuting cats into Borneo? Is that a wilderness myth? (See this lesson plan at Edible Schoolyard.) Even if so, it’s a cautionary tale for DDT advocates.

[Here’s irony for you: Reason magazine’s on-line version slams the bans on DDT, but approvingly reviews Pomerantz’s book. If you’re tellin’ lies, Mark Twain said, you have to remember which lies you tell . . .]

9 Responses to DDT: The problems the WHO/Rachel Carson critics don’t want you to know

  1. […] uncovers some early documents indicating problems with DDT (and more […]


  2. […] is the guy who wrote what may be the definitive work on the famous — or infamous — Borneo Cat Drop. If you live in or near Iowa City, this lecture may be a wise investment of time.  High school […]


  3. bob bloggs says:

    reality please!!!


  4. […] Another great DDT/Rachel Carson Post from Ed […]


  5. […] That message became unfashionable after the war, when the USDA reverted to its traditional mission of boosting American agricultural yields. Walter E. Dove left the agency, and the USDA started promoting widespread spraying of DDT on crops. (Via Ed Darrell.) […]


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