Accuracy: A good bias (DDT again)

Jay Ambrose retired from editing newspapers, and now writes commentary for the Scripps News chain of papers. Because of his experience in editing, I was suprised to see his commentary from last week which takes broad, inaccurate swipes at environmental groups (here from the Evansville, Indiana, Courier & Press).

Ambrose is victim of the “DDT and Rachel Carson bad” hoax.

His column addresses bias in reporting, bias against Christians, which he claims he sees in reporting on issues of stem cell research, and bias “in favor” of environmentalists, which has resulted in a foolish reduction in the use of DDT. I don’t comment here on the stem cell controversy, though Ambrose’s cartoonish presentation of how federally-funded research works invites someone to correct its errors.

Relevant excerpts of Ambrose’s column appear below the fold, with my reply (which I have posted to the Scripps News editorial section, and in an earlier version, to the on-line version of the Evansville paper).

Ambrose opens his broadside against environmentalists talking about what he calls “assumptions” made by news media.  You do not have to be an avid fan of mystery fiction to see this is a setup to debunk the assumption he identifies:

Environmentalists are one of the best things that ever happened to this land of ours. That’s another assumption of the mainstream press, and it’s the reason you will see so few headlines about the consequences of green opposition to using DDT to combat malaria.

Most environmentalists would like to know where they might find a bias in their favor anywhere in America. The most famous recent environmental case is that of former Vice President Al Gore, whose participation in an Academy Award-winning documentary about climate change is ridiculed hundreds of times daily by news commentators, internet pundits, and Bush administration officials.  This is the situation that environmentalists have almost always faced, with the possible exception of when Theodore Roosevelt himself led the charge up environmental protection hill.

Rachel Carson’s book was met in 1962 with a well-funded campaign by pesticide manufacturers, claiming she was in error. At every step of the long process in DDT reduction, from the first restrictions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1958 to today’s court fights over Superfund cleanup sites such as those off the coast of California, in Houston, and in the Hudson River Valley, environmentalists are the underdogs, underfunded, underlawyered, fortified only with hard science and tenacity — nobody goes into environmentalism to get rich.

The other end of the Ambrose’s premise also deserves scrutiny.  Malaria is a hot topic in recent years, getting a lot of attention from the foundation established by Bill and Melinda Gates, getting a lot of attention from the World Health Organization’s campaigns to fight the disease, and never being out of the focus of local public health officials, pharmaceutical companies (though they may not have focused as much attention as the disease deserves from its ultimate human effects), and pesticide manufacturers and users.  Any year will see dozens, if not hundreds, of major stories in broadcast, print and internet, on malaria and its problems.  Is the involvement of the environmental movement really overlooked?  I doubt it.  It’s more likely that environmentalists simply are not the bogeymen Mr. Ambrose will try to paint them to be.

Malaria is a tough group of parasites, many of the worst of which have developed resistance to the drugs used to treat victims.  Climate change has expanded the range of the vectors of the disease, spreading the range of the mosquitoes that carry the parasite to humans.  Deforestation in places like Kenya, coupled with population concentrations in cities, has provided a fertile ground for malaria to spread to humans.  Poverty prevents many people from providing the basic means to fight malaria and mosquitoes — cheap malaria prophylactic drugs, screens on windows, and so forth.  Unstable governments in many nations contribute to the difficulty public health officials have in mounting serious campaigns against the disease.

If the public health officials exist at all.

None of these issues can be blamed on environmentalists or environmentalism, yet each of these has played a larger role in malaria’s recent rebound than environmentalists possibly could.

Plus there is this nagging fact:  Environmentalists have argued in favor of DDT use where appropriate to fight malaria — it would be difficult to find any case where environmentalists said “let malaria rage” for any reason.

Notice that the quick, simple problem identification is wrong in this case.  Environmentalists are not loved, and malaria is not a disease environmentalists have been lax against.  But it takes a lot of explanation to make the point.

Most of Ambrose’s column repeats the canards of the professional junk science purveyors and industry public relations people against DDT and Rachel Carson (though to his credit, Ambrose never maligns Carson by name).

Now look at how environmentalists long persuaded the United Nations and United States and European governments to dissuade poor nations in Africa to never use DDT in indoor spraying to combat the spread of malaria, and look at what happened: pure horror, ugliness of a kind that statistics can hint at but don’t finally express, the deaths of millions of children.

This is factually in error.  DDT use on crops has been the focus of the campaign against DDT.  Especially in Africa, after the middle 1960s (before the U.S. cancellation of the registration of DDT as a pesticide for broad use), DDT had declined in effectiveness against mosquitoes, and was discontinued because of its ineffectiveness.  All studious sources agree that a chief cause of resistance to DDT in mosquitoes was agricultural overuse of the pesticide.  Far more than 90% of DDT use was on agricultural crops, and most of that on cotton — such use speeded insect evolution of genes that effectively made them immune to the poison (mosquitoes now carry genes that produce enzymes to digest DDT without harm).

There is an interesting and perhaps regrettable issue of sociology:  In some nations, people resist allowing DDT to be sprayed into their homes.  First, they were told early sprayings would completely eradicate the mosquitoes and the disease — which didn’t happen.  So they are wary.  Second, they have heard the stories of DDT misuse, how over spraying in Borneo killed not only mosquitoes, but also the wasps that preyed on the caterpillars that eat the thatch on the roofs of the houses, and how the huts across the sprayed area suddenly were roofless; how the geckoes that ate the cockroaches got superdoses of DDT, and died; and how the cats of the islanders, who also ate cockroaches and geckoes, also died.  WHO famously arranged for an airlift of cats to Borneo to prevent outbreaks of rodent-borne diseases like typhus.  Add to this the knowledge that DDT was banned in the U.S. and Europe, and many people in the third world don’t want such poisons in their homes.  Education could fix this problem, but such education requires a working government, a working public health agency, and money.

Even when you grant qualifications, the fanaticism of some environmentalists on the issue of DDT is beyond defense. While it is true that DDT can kill raptors by thinning their eggshells, top experts say there are no “peer-reviewed, replicated” studies showing a threat to human beings, and there is zero evidence that any wildlife would be endangered by indoor spraying.

Hundreds of doctors and scientists have testified on this score, and people in African countries have begged for DDT.

It’s fascinating that the fanatic environmentalists referred to are not named.  I thought that such crazy fanatics would pop out from official documents, since their sins are so manifest, to Ambrose.  However, I have searched documents to find who these people are, and they are not identified.  I think the “fanatic environmentalist” is an invention, and a hoax at that.

Beyond that, Ambrose allows one scientific fact, that DDT kills birds of prey, but then caroms off into inaccuracy.  DDT thins eggshells of all birds who get it, including songbirds, many of which have declined 90% in the past 30 years.   DDT outright kills smaller birds — Wisconsin famously noted the bizarre deaths of robins after DDT spraying, early in the 1960s.  DDT concentrates in living things quickly, and it multiplies up to 10 million times up the food chain.  DDT concentrates in fatty tissues, where it is relatively benign.  However, when those fats are used, the DDT may prove toxic.  Consequently, migratory birds — the raptors, and especially the tiny songbirds — are put at highest risk of DDT poisoning when they migrate and burn the fats with the stored DDT.  Worldwide, migratory songbirds and raptors have suffered precipitous declines beyond their loss of habitat.

DDT was also known to be particularly effective in killing bats, which are mammals.  In the pre-Earth Day political correctness, people poisoned bats to get rid of them, and the bans on DDT specifically mention pleas to keep DDT available to kill bats. Since then we learned better.  Bats help control mosquitoes.  In fact, bats were discovered to get significant doses of DDT from eating so many insects (up to their body weight in mosquitoes, nightly).  When the bats migrate, they burn their DDT-laced body fats, and die of acute DDT poisoning.  This is significant because it demonstrates the dangers of DDT, particularly in the fact that it survives for decades in the wild, concentrating in places and ways we have not discovered.  DDT is toxic to most living things (including humans).

Ambrose also fails to note that the vast weight of scientists who testify about DDT anywhere, testify that we need to find a better substitute, chemicals that target specific species, and that break down quickly in the environment to eliminate so many of the problems of DDT.  Nor does he give credit where credit is due:  Among those scientists “begging” for DDT use in Africa are those from Environmental Defense (ED). ED, formerly known as the Environmental Defense Fund, is the organization that was created more than 40 years ago specifically to challenge spraying of DDT on Long Island.  ED’s history and expertise in DDT is unequalled.   (Isn’t it odd that the Bush administration would claim to be following environmentalist’s policy in refusing to fund DDT against malaria in Africa?  This story deserves more investigation — it smells wrong.)

Hundreds of scientists plea for DDT, but not because it’s safe.  They ask for DDT use to fight malaria while we search for safe alternatives.

Many environmental groups were unbending, just as some groups still are despite the fact that malaria is now afflicting half a billion people annually, and killing a million. The numbers are higher than those of two decades ago, and now the United Nations is encouraging instead of discouraging the indoor spraying of DDT, as is the United States. Many environmentalists are signing on, too, if grudgingly and sometimes with irrelevant, stupefying remarks that show they still don’t get it.

Malaria’s lethality is greater than Ambrose states — estimates are that about 2.7 million people have died annually from the disease in the last decade or so.  The half-billion affected annually are those exposed to the disease, and that number has not significantly risen in 40 years.

But who are these “unbending” environmental groups?  Not ED, not the Audubon Society, not National Wildlife Federation — who?  I think Ambrose has been told a ghost exists, and he thinks it is real.  And take a look again at the ED letter to USAID — that’s not “grudging” approval.  ED is pushing the Bush adminisitration to get off its duff and do something about malaria.

The “stupefying remarks” from people who “don’t get it” are those from the bashers of environmentalists.  In Ambrose’s entire column, there is scarcely a fact that is not misrepresented at least, if not downright wrong.

So let’s talk about the press and how it decided the opposition to federally sponsored stem-cell research from some religious conservatives and an American president was a very big deal, and how, on the other, the opposition from environmentalists to using DDT to save millions was not.

Biases in reporting the news show up in a great many ways, and in some quarters the bias is very much against conservatives.

There comes a time when facts break through even the most stubborn of ideological predispositions, and that’s been happening in the case of DDT opposition, but too late for millions of the dead, and too late to hide the truth about the liberal bias of so many reporters.

Here is my response, stressing the need for a bias to accuracy:

On DDT, the bias the press exhibits is a bias for accuracy — and that’s good.

“They” say no good deed goes unpunished, and your screed against environmental groups is proof of that. On one hand you blame environmentalists for things they didn’t do; on the other hand you oversell the benefits of DDT and undersell the dangers.

The irony is that it has been environmental groups, such as Environmental Defense (ED), who have been urging the Bush Administration and USAID to allow DDT spraying against malaria in Africa. Why did the Bush administration balk? They claimed to fear opposition from environmental groups.

But environmental groups have always urged that exceptions to DDT bans be made for public health reasons. The first federal actions against DDT from 1958 through William Ruckelshaus’s 1972 order canceling the registration of DDT for most uses, all specifically listed public health use as one that could be excepted. The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pesticides (POPs treaty) specifically allows DDT use against malaria. I’ll wager you can’t name an environmental group that opposes DDT use where necessary. Your shotgun indictment is in error.

But, “top scientists” (if we can call the National Academy of Scientists that) urge an end to DDT, because it is highly toxic to many things, including bats and birds that prey on mosquitoes and, thereby, help stop malaria and other diseases. The hundreds of doctors and scientists who testified all urged that DDT be replaced with better targeting chemicals. DDT kills indiscriminately. Only when DDT and its daughter components started to drop in the tissues of many birds, did the eggshell-thinning stop increasing. Where eagles, peregrine falcons and other raptors are endangered, disease-carrying rodents go amok. DDT is implicated in the near extinction of several bat populations in the Americas, bat declines which in some cases contributed to the spread of tropical diseases. Bats eat hundreds of mosquitoes, each, every night.

Finally, malaria came roaring back partly because of overuse of DDT, not underuse. Large scale broadcast spraying of cotton and other crops helped breed mosquitoes immune to DDT. That use is what environmental groups campaigned hard against, particularly since it made control of malaria so much more difficult.

Other problems also helped malaria: Ineffective governments in too many tropical nations made it impossible to conduct campaigns against malaria that worked (think of Uganda under Idi Amin). The malaria parasites the mosquitoes carry themselves developed immunity to the drugs used to treat people — DDT has no role in that. Health delivery systems in much of the malaria-prone part of the world simply do not exist. Finally, deforestation and rising local temperatures have dramatically expanded the ranges of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. None of those problems can be blamed on any environmental organization.

Malaria is a difficult problem. Environmental groups work on all aspects of the problem, and have done for at least the last 40 years. If news media seem biased when they report that, good: It’s a bias for accuracy. It’s a good bias which we should hope to be infectious.

There is a nasty campaign against environmental groups, against Rachel Carson personally, and against scientific research that questions industrial use of chemicals. For over a decade this well-funded campaign has spread half-truths about DDT, claiming it as “harmless.” That’s not true. The campaign also claims DDT is a panacea against malaria. Alas, that’s not true, either. News reporters, and editorial writers, have proven difficult to mislead on these issues, though not all have been so stoic. Good for the media.

55 Responses to Accuracy: A good bias (DDT again)

  1. Jay Ambrose says:

    I know it will do no good to fight back against irresponsible, half-informed, self-important bloggers, but to say that environmentalism has little support in America is to be unbelievably ignorant. How many agencies have more power than the EPA? How many federal and state laws have we had that addressed the environment? People always sqwawk about fundamentalist religions creating a theocracy, but the only one that has won a lot has been the fundamentalist religion of radical environmentalism. By the way, I do not say all environmental programs are bad. We’ve actually done an incredible job of cleaning up America. But then comes the overreaching.


  2. […] When I chided Ambrose for getting the facts wrong many months ago, he angrily promised to come back to this blog and provide evidence to make his case.  Of course, he never did.  There is no such evidence. Then why does he continue to falsely indict Rachel Carson, William Ruckelshaus and EPA, and “environmentalists,” and wrongly urge the poisoning of Africa with DDT? […]


  3. […] guy turns reality on its head.)The points above derive from Darrell's insane posts and commentary here and here. Warning: reading the guy's stuff will do nothing good for your IQ.Update: Darrell […]


  4. […] Jay Ambrose offered to come back to defend his odd, contrary-to-history-and-science views on DDT way back in 2007, but never did.  Now Ambrose is repeating his errors of history and science on DDT, and expanding the errors to include climate change.  Don’t these Scripps News outlets have fact checkers?  Did the Society of Professional Journalists drop its ethics code? […]


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Mr. Ambrose — any chance that list might come this year?


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    I see. Don’t bother you with the facts. Which EPA does the second sentence refer to — the environmental agency, or you?


  7. EPA - Ego Protection Agency says:

    Try reading ALL of my name.

    The EPA is moronic. Completely.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    All 300 of the studies showing eggshell thinning were flawed? Why has not one of them ever been retracted? I think you’re not looking at the full set of evidence. I’m not working off of media reports. Go do a search on PubMed, or check EPA’s site — you have EPA in your name, surely you’ve checked there, no?


  9. EPA - Ego Protection Agency says:



  10. EPA - Ego Protection Agency says:

    Excuse me but the studies that ‘proved’ that DDT thins eggshells were flawed.

    The first test done, the DDT was given at huge levels and the calcium was lowered.

    This of course would make thinner eggshells.

    There was a second test done, where the calcium was normal and the DDT was large, but

    the media refused to report it.


  11. JM says:

    DDT appears to be a risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease.



  12. Bug Girl says:

    If you actually read the post, you’ll see that I link to the data, and there isn’t much for cancer for permethrin. Why do people think that because I’m against using DDT indiscriminately, I’m automatically a hippie that hugs trees?

    I support wise use of pesticides as tools, not BEING a tool. Which you seem to know quite a bit about, Mr. Beck.


  13. J F Beck says:

    OH MY GOD! Mr Darrell, I have some shocking news: Bug Girl often wears pants treated with the known carcinogen permethrin. (Permethrin causes cancer in laboratory mice, so it must cause cancer in humans, or so you say.) The poor woman is doomed. DOOMED!


  14. P Soeberg says:

    There is an ongoing study in Thailand in order to prove correllation between DDT usage and vitamin B deficiency.
    DDT accumulates in fatty tissue and high concentrations of it can be detected in mother’s milk wherever large quantities of the chemical are used, for example in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Thousands of Burmese refugees today live in neighboring northwestern Thailand, where recent studies have detected high levels of DDT in the breast milk of refugee mothers.
    At the same time, vitamin B deficiency is among the main causes of infant mortality in this region.
    Vitamin deficiencies during pregnancy also result in abnormal prenatal eye development. Such a deficiency affects 90 percent of newborn babies in northwestern Thailand, with many of these children suffering from a lifelong of impaired vision. E.pdf

    The research jre mentions is from CDC and it is available here:


  15. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell writes: “Are you a creationist, too.”

    Nope, I’m an atheist. You’ll have to search your little bag of tricks for some other diversion.


  16. Barry says:

    I notice that Jay Ambrose’s list seems to be like McCarthy’s famous list – good for flaunting, but not to be actually shown to people.


  17. J F Beck says:

    Where in Bug Gir’s excerpt is the death attributed to DDT (dicophane)?


  18. Ed Darrell says:

    You’re making the note that Rachel Carson made, Mr. Beck. DDT cannot be spread except with dangerous solvents. Sometimes, it’s difficult to ascribe effectiveness to DDT instead of to the solvent (kerosene without DDT kills mosquitoes, too). There’s nearly a whole chapter in Silent Spring about the cancer dangers of the general class of chemicals. We know too little about most of the individual chemicals, specifically, but we know that many of them are carcinogenic, and toxic. Since they are so often used together, a rational person would assume some multiplier effect; but in any case, sometimes it’s impossible to separate out the effects.

    That’s one of the key difficulties of DDT — it cannot be spread absent the use of other toxic chemicals. A poison that only works when coupled with another poison creates difficulties in trying to target the effects to one species, and to one species in one situation.

    But then, all that means for the unethical critic is that there are lots of goalposts to move. You asked for one DDT death, you got it. Then you try to second-guess the doctor, which refusing to take the word of experts on anything contrary to the view you stated before you looked at the data.

    Are you a creationist, too?


  19. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell, you repeatedly claim that I say that DDT is not a carcinogen. This is despite my repeated assertions that DDT is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals but has not been proven to cause cancer in animals outside a laboratory. I will accept DDT’s real world carcinogenicity as soon as reasonably conclusive evidence is forthcoming. That said, I have not asserted that DDT is non-carcinogenic. I do feel that the cancer risk, if any, is very low at current levels of exposure. In this I share the same opinion as Ames et al.

    You are also wrong in claiming I do not accept that DDT is a suspected human carcinogen. I have repeatedly stated that DDT is classed as a probable human carcinogen. Probabie is not certain, however.

    Try to get it right.


  20. J F Beck says:

    Bug Girl, since you can’t even work out the points being made in the Corante links you provide, there’s no point in me trying to explain it to you; it would go right over your head.

    What exactly makes Roberts et al’s PLoS study goofy?

    Nice try with the unfortunate Mexican lad’s death. What’s to say repeated exposure to the carrier solvent, or some other ingedient, caused his death? Is it even possible to be allergic to DDT? (I ask because you’re the scientist.)


  21. Bug Girl says:

    Oh, and I did find at least 4 DDT fatalities, including this one:

    A 13-yr-old Mexican was admitted to hospital with anemia, bleeding, high fever, & unconsciousness. His home had been sprayed with dicophane every other day for 4 months preceding admission & repeatedly for the past 2 years. Laboratory investigation showed low hemoglobin, low reticulocytes, low white cell count, & diminished platelets. He started to recover after transfusions of packed red blood cells, & prednisone & tetracycline. But spraying of the hospital room with a 10% solution of dicophane provoked an allergic reaction; he slowly … /became more ill/ & died about 30 hours later. Post-mortem examination showed hypocellularity of the bone marrow & massive bleeding in the lung.
    [Reynolds, J.E.F., Prasad, A.B. (eds.) Martindale-The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 28th ed. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1982., p. 835]*PEER REVIEWED*


  22. Bug Girl says:

    Ah, I see the nature of the problem. Beck thinks that science should tell you, without any qualifying statements, what is and isn’t true:

    “Notice how Derek Lowe qualifies carcinogenicity by noting that various agents “seem to cause cancer in rodents”?”

    It doesn’t work that way.
    It is extremely rare that a scientist will publish something (or for that matter anyone who writes about science) that doesn’t have qualifying words in it.

    Scientists communicate in a language of doubt. It’s part of the language of science to say that this may be true, almost surely is true, but there is always doubt. All information is subject to revision given new evidence. You can’t see, individually, each chemical reaction. You have to assume that one thing is related–which is why he’s using that language.

    A lot of people also mistake one paper on a topic to have the same validity as one hundred papers. It’s consensus that leads. So, if I quote a review article with 100 citations, that counts more than one goofy PLOS article. (Just to use an example :)

    This is why the whole climate thing keeps going in the media–there is little or no disagreement on scientists. But there are always one or two who think differently, and that generates debate, which is good TV.


  23. J F Beck says:

    Ed Dareell, your comment immediately above is a classic Lamberting (as in the verb, to Lambert).

    I do not think Ames silly, that’s why I keep referring to his work. He is, according to notorious right-wing site wikipedia, “among the few hundred most-cited scientists in all fields”. His position on DDT, and synthetic chemicals in general, is well known.

    Despite Ames’s scientific stature you claim his stated position is silly. This makes him silly, does it not?

    It’s really kind of sad that you’re now so pressured that you’re resorting to argumentative manipulation that even a 10 year old wouldn’t attempt. Good luck with your teaching.

    By the way, there’s no taking back your claim water is a carcinogen:

    “Water is very low in carcinogenicity…”

    Yes, very low.


  24. Ed Darrell says:

    Check the record: I said Ames’ downplaying of the dangers of DDT was silly. You’re the one who made the claim Ames is silly, Mr. Beck. Silly as in “nonsensical.”

    Downplaying the dangers of dangerous substances is always silly, though it’s also generally dangerous. For example, suggestions that it’s safe to play on the freeway are silly, even when traffic is light. They’re dangerous if serious, or if someone takes them seriously.

    Maybe you’re right: Maybe Ames is dangerously deluded, and not silly. Do you think he really believes DDT isn’t a problem?


  25. Ed Darrell says:

    You’re reading too much into my statement. 16 pints of good, clean water, kills by the freshwater drowning effect, not cancer.

    There’s a difference between “toxic” and “carcinogenic.” Toxic means it kills you through some immediate disruption of a vital process. Carcinogenic means it causes cancer.

    Don’t confuse the two.


  26. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell, here is your quote on the carcinogenicity of water:

    “Water is very low in carcinogenicity, but if you drink 16 pints of good, clean water, you could go into a coma a die.”

    According to you carcinogenic is carcinogenic — no doubt all mammals are affected — so shouldn’t water be on the list of known carcinogens with its use strictly controlled?

    DDT is a proven carcinogen only in laboratory animals; not to animals in the environment. Laboratory based carcinogenicity tests on animals are seriously flawed, as amply demostrated by links provided both by me and Bug Girl.

    To argue otherwise is to deny the science. Then again, you think cancer expert Bruce Ames is “silly”, so this isn’t really surprising.


  27. Ed Darrell says:

    You confuse interesting and non-relevant information with real data. I pointed out the “water/cancer” study to illustrate there are any number of studies out there that you can twist to try to suggest DDT is no problem — exactly as you twist it here.

    Here’s the simple fact, Mr. Beck: DDT is listed as an animal carcinogen, so it is inaccurate to claim otherwise. It is listed as a suspected human carcinogen, which is a different category from “not a carcinogen,” and so it is also inaccurate to claim DDT is not a human carcinogen.

    DDT’s ability to cause cancer is not at issue in any of the bans. DDT is an inherently dangerous substance whose dangers are multiplied and absolutely uncontrollable in the wild — and these dangers deal with toxicity of DDT and its daughter products and the way DDT and its daughter products mimic hormones.

    But, since the critics of Rachel Carson will continue to lie about carcinogenicity, we must assume they will continue to lie about other harmful effects as well.

    I cannot understand how you confuse these studies. They are simple and straightforward. Every study you cite supports Rachel Carson’s conclusions in 1962.

    It’s difficult for anyone with any expertise to argue with “hobby bloggers” whose only tools are various means of deception. Of course, the deceivers also claim victory when they’ve been soundly trounced. The best way to deal with such people, and their wild claims, is to let them prattle on long enough that they contradict themselves and start making wild claims that everyone can see are false.

    Anyone can check out DDT’s listing with the cancer agencies, through the links you offer, and see that DDT is indeed listed as an animal carcinogen and suspected human carcinogen. Anyone who tries to check your implicit claims that every cancer-concerned agency in the world has this listing wrong will think your claim greasy at best, and probably intentionally false. At best, you’ve been misled by those paid to make misleading claims.

    If DDT were clean chemical, one that doesn’t kill America’s national bird, one that was really a panacea against malaria, shouldn’t you be able to find such a claim from someone who isn’t paid to simply insult environmentalists? Shouldn’t eagles, osprey and bats still be endangered if DDT hadn’t been the culprit?

    Real scientists, real policy makers have to let the facts weigh in — but of course, you don’t need to let facts get in the way of your rant. As you note, you don’t have to kowtow to standards of teachers bound by law to teach the facts, or scientists bound by law to get their work accurately reported, or by an oath of office and a commitment to do what’s right. Unfettered by standards or ethics, it must be easy to make wild claims.


  28. J F Beck says:

    Bug Girl, ED and Lambert have been corresponding. Please try to keep up.

    Thanks for the Corante links, by the way. The first supports my contention that carcinogenesis in lab animals does not necessarily reflect the real world situation:

    “The principle applies not only to people who are exposed to huge doses of chemicals, but to unlucky lab rats as well. Ames has forcefully made the point that testing compounds in animals at or near their maximum tolerated dose (MTD) is a poor measure of their cancer-causing potential. About half the compounds so tested show up as carcinogens, but the dose-response curves aren’t linear. It’s a complete mistake to assume that half of all chemicals cause cancer, unless you’re soaking your feet in solvent while doing ice-cold shots of fungicide.”

    The second Corante link is especially interesting: it not only casts doubt on the validity of rodent carcinogenesis studies, it also refutes ED’s contention that there is no known substance that causes cancer in rats but not in humans:

    “There are hundreds of compounds that seem to cause cancer in rodents that (as far as we can tell) do not pose a risk to humans. I say “seem to”, because these are almost always high-dose studies. But I can even think of some compounds (the PPAR-alpha ligands) that cause all sorts of trouble (including tumors) in rodent livers at reasonable doses, but don’t do so in humans. Rodent tox is necessary, but it sure isn’t perfect.”

    Notice how Derek Lowe qualifies carcinogenicity by noting that various agents “seem to cause cancer in rodents”? He obviously doesn’t accept an agent’s ability to cause cancer in lab animals as proof of its real-world carcinogenicity.

    Mr Darrell, as you can see, DDT’s ability to cause cancer in lab animals does not prove that it is carcinogenic at levels encountered in the environment. This is especially so for the very small quantities of DDT used for IRS, which does not employ a dangerous “fog of petroleum distillates and other hydrocarbons that are, themselves, carcinogenic” as was a common method of distribution in 1962, when Saint Rachel’s book came out.

    In a comment in another thread you say that water is carcinogenic.

    Well, since you consider water to be carcinogenic, I can certainly understand that you’re confused about DDT.

    You, scientists Bug Girl and behind-the-scenes helper Tim Lambert should be doing just a bit better running a tag team match against a mere layman hobby-blogger like me, don’t you think?


  29. Bug Girl says:

    before you go there–this paper reports -oral- poisoning. Usually it’s dermal, or long term exposure and liver enzymes.


  30. Ed Darrell says:

    So, you agree the carcinogenicity is low. Is there another point?

    The difficulties with rat and mouse tests are well known — you probably missed the extensive hearings the Senate Labor Committee held on the issues between 1981 and 1985, for the saccharine ban, specific to aspartame, and in general on cancer risks. Despite those problems, expert testimony is that there is concern for several substances, including DDT. One of the key problems of DDT, as Rachel Carson pointed out in 1962, is that it is usually administered in a fog of petroleum distillates and other hydrocarbons that are, themselves, carcinogenic.

    One of the key components of DDT, trichloroethane, is a known carcinogen, and connected to deadly cancers in humans (see the Senate Labor Committee hearings on the incidents in Building 100 at Hill Air Force Base, circa 1981, for greater details). Your constant questions about other carcinogens in food supplies have some relevance here — trichloroethane and trichloroethylene were both commonly used as solvents, including in the decaffeinating process for coffee. The risk from drinking coffee processed with those chemicals is small, because the solvent is highly volatile — which makes it pretty good for use in foods. However, we try to err on the safe side. The Delaney Clause, if enforced to the letter, would decimate our food supplies.

    So what’s a policy maker to do?

    In the case of DDT, concerns are reduced because the chemical is limited for other reasons dealing with its toxicity and mutagenic effects, and the way its daughter products mimic hormones when DDT is released in the wild. It is those hormone mimics, especially DDE, which thin the eggshells of birds (don’t come back with the lie that eggshell thinning is false or unproven; there are hundreds of studies on the effect). DDE mimics estrogen — do a search sometime for the effects of estrogen on cancer in humans. Were it not involved in cancer itself, DDE’s effects — shrinking the testes of males in birds, lizards and mammals, causing males to develop female-style mammaries, thinning eggshells, making embryoes nonviable — would be enough to cause alarm.

    Yes, DDT itself is not very carcinogenic in humans. It is listed as a suspected carcinogen by the American Cancer Society, by WHO’s organizations, and by every other carcinogen-tracking agency on Earth. Rodent-study issues considered, the experts in cancer say we should look out for DDT and its daughter products.

    That’s why DDT is listed as a dangerous substance, and why it is listed as a known carcinogen in rodents. That’s why it is listed as a suspected carcinogen in humans.

    So your point, even were it absolutely correct — and it’s not, you’ve missed some details — is moot. DDT is banned for other reasons, justifiably


  31. Bug Girl says:

    I am very puzzled about why he thinks we know Lambert. Do you actually know him, Ed? Cause he’s on the other side of the world from me.

    That Ames study is practically a fun house mirror. Everyone sees what they want.
    If I can find it, I’ll link to a great editorial he wrote about the many ways it’s been interpreted.

    If you are going to try to make the “rodent models are invalid” argument, you can at least acknowledge why:

    (I’m using Corante, because it’s a home of very good science writing for the lay public.)


  32. J F Beck says:

    Here’s why carcinogenicity in lab animals doesn’t necessarily reflect carcinogenicity in the real world:

    “Approximately half of all chemicals that have been tested in standard animal cancer tests, whether natural or synthetic, are rodent carcinogens (Table 4) (61-64). Why such a high positivity rate? In standard cancer tests, rodents are given chronic, near-toxic doses, the maximum tolerated dose (MTD). Evidence is accumulating that cell division caused by the high dose itself, rather than the chemical per se, is increasing the positivity rate. High doses can cause chronic wounding of tissues, cell death, and consequent chronic cell division of neighboring cells, which is a risk factor for cancer (65). Each time a cell divides the probability increases that a mutation will occur, thereby increasing the risk for cancer. At the low levels to which humans are usually exposed, such increased cell division does not occur. The process of mutagenesis and carcinogenesis is complicated because many factors are involved: e.g., DNA lesions, DNA repair, cell division, clonal instability, apoptosis, and p53 (a cell cycle control gene that is mutated in half of human tumors) (66, 67). The normal endogenous level of oxidative DNA lesions in somatic cells is appreciable (19). In addition, tissues injured by high doses of chemicals have an inflammatory immune response involving activation of white cells in response to cell death (68- 75). Activated white cells release mutagenic oxidants (including peroxynitrite, hypochlorite, and H2O2). Therefore, the very low levels of chemicals to which humans are exposed through water pollution or synthetic pesticide residues may pose no or only minimal cancer risks.”

    That’s why DDT is not on the list of known carcinogens.


  33. Ed Darrell says:

    Throughout our exachanges I have lied about nothing, misrepresented nothing and made no significant factual errors.

    Just after having said:

    Further, if you have incontrovertible evidence that DDT is carcinogenic you should demand that the International Agency for Research on Cancer immediately include it on the list of known carcinogens.

    It’s already there, as you know, listed as a suspected human carcinogen, and a known carcinogen in animals.

    Click to access volume53.pdf


  34. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell, being mentored by Tim Lambert, it’s no wonder your DDT posts are so misleading. That also explains the “troll” jibe — a favourite Lambert ploy he produces every time he’s caught out posting crap.

    The Human Exposure does/Rodent Potency dose % (possible hazard) for DDT is way lower than that for lettuce, celery, carrots and many other natural foods. Are you therefore claiming that salads are carcinogenic? If so, you’re a bigger fool than I thought. (You calling Ames “silly”, despite the fact he’s one of the most cited of American scientists, a fool proves you wouldn’t have a clue.

    Dr Ames and his colleagues certainly do not support the notion that DDT is an environmental carcinogen — the DDT carcinogenic potential is miniscule and well below that of numerous natural frequently injested foods not considered to be carcinogenic.

    Further, if you have incontrovertible evidence that DDT is carcinogenic you should demand that the International Agency for Research on Cancer immediately include it on the list of known carcinogens. I mean, your status as an American school teacher should make your scientific revelations hard to ignore.

    Throughout our exachanges I have lied about nothing, misrepresented nothing and made no significant factual errors. I do not advocate unrestricted DDT spraying, favouring instead judicious DDT IRS programs where appropriate.

    I claimed that DDT is banned in Europe — according to PAN it is a prohibited import throughout much of the continent. You claim the European ban was due to “immunity”. It is up to you to prove your point, not up to me to refute it.

    If there is a documented human death from DDT, as you claim, please prove it.

    Rachel Carson was a lightweight scientist who produced a nicely written book capturing the mood of the day. Silent Spring was outside the realm of her expertise (marine biology) and is chock full of misinformation — the ludicrous three month latency for DDT anecdote which you find appealing but cannot support with evidence, for example

    I am note a regular reader of and do not link to the site.

    That fact that you are now calling me names and are inclined to reosrt to long rambling responses indicates that you’re feeling the pressure of being proven a serial misleader a la Tim Lambert. Stop posting crap and your problm will be solved.


  35. Ed Darrell says:

    See, Beck, here are your dissemblings (that means “lies” — you can look it up):

    1. You claim DDT does not cause cancer. All of your own sources disagree, and note that it does cause cancer, and is suspected of causing cancer in humans. All of your sources. ALL of them. Ames talks about the potency of carcinogens in humans and — presto! — DDT is there. You cite Ames’ work, but you dissemble when you do so. He’s not saying DDT is not carcinogenic. He says the opposite — your own sources, again, betray you.

    The point is this: DDT DOES cause cancer. Anti-fact, anti-science, political hacks (and guns for hire) like Milloy, lie and say DDT is not carcinogenic. The reality is that the danger is not high — not so high as smoking tobacco, for example. Not so high as drinking vast quantities of alcohol. But still, DDT IS a cancer causer. It’s a small thing. But in their quest to fog the issue and fool people, Beck and Milloy will lie about even the smallest of things — no lie is too unimportant not to tell.

    If we cannot trust anti-environmentalist in the smallest of things, how and why should we trust them on anything of significance?

    It’s not the fact of carcinogenicity that is contended here. Every source, including the most skeptical of scientists about DDT’s harms, agrees that DDT causes cancer. What is at issue is the ethical underpinnings of the anti-Rachel Carson movement. It has no ethics, no lie being to small to tell. It’s not enough to note the truth, that cancer risk from DDT alone is small (although, as Rachel Carson noted, DDT is almost always bundled with other carcinogens in delivery; let’s leave that out for the moment). No, the anti-Carsonites aren’t content with a truth that is good — they have to create a new untruth.

    And even when we give Beck the benefit of the doubt with regard to his intentions, he comes back in the next post, full of vitriol and distortions of the facts, claiming that we’re wrong.

    I can see why a sane woman like Bug Girl would ban you from her blog, Beck.

    Everyone else can see it, too.

    Then you have the gall, the temerity, to accuse me of being dishonest. If you had a fact on your side, Beck, you’d use it. Instead you make false claims against me. Every such claim is just further evidence of the paucity of the evidence on your side. DDT bans were reasonable, and they still are. DDT ultimately causes more harm in the wild than the benefits it offers are worth. Those are the facts of life. Get used to them.

    I neither oppose DDT unconditionally, nor do I endorse bendiocarb unconditionally. You’re making stuff up, again, confronted with the fact that you have no support for your case.

    Saccharin, and aspartame, by the way, are tolerated because we have no substitutes for them, the cancer risk is small, and they are the subject of specific legislation to keep them on the market despite the small risks. It is not that these chemicals are harmless to humans as you claim, but that it is unlikely humans will get significant doses that could cause cancer in most people. I am not in error. You are distorting the science and the facts. Pay attention to the truth, and you’ll find it easier to understand what’s going on.

    We’re talking about balancing risks. You obviously have no regard for what a risk is, or what a rational risk might be, nor for the difficult processes that public policy makers go through to achieve an appropriate balance. Instead you try to paint things as black or white, ignoring that many things are gray, and other things are green, blue, red and yellow.

    That’s not what rational people do. That’s not a good way to make public policy about dangerous things.

    Yes, I know you are unaware of the EPA hearings and processes. You claimed at one point to have the goods, but you don’t. Arguments from ignorance are often bad ones, and in this case, you’re in the worst possible position — you don’t know what Sweeney said at all, you don’t understand the administrative law that suggests ultimate decision makers (like Ruckelshaus) should not interfere in administrative law hearings, nor that ultimate decisions need to be based on good data — you keep ignoring the fact that Ruckelshaus was under a court order to consider the data, and you never have responded to the fact that Ruckelshaus’s actions were reviewed by courts who weighed specifically whether he had gone contrary to any science or law, and his actions were found to be exactly correct on both science and law.

    Instead, you base your entire case on one line in a news report that said Ruckelshaus “overturned” Sweeney’s ruling. You don’t know what Sweeney ruled or why, you don’t know what parts of his decision were overturned or why, you don’t know the content of the hearings Sweeney conducted, you are unfamiliar with the science on either side of the issue, and you distort what science you can find in a futile attempt to make other people look “wrong” instead of working to good data and facts about the issues.

    Do you ever write about this issue with anything other than bad faith?

    If you have evidence to contradict any of five studies on leukemia that supported Rachel Carson’s description, present it. (I’m sure there were later studies, but you’ve not read them, and you didn’t know until this moment that she cited any studies in the retelling of that anecdote — I doubt you’ve ever seen Carson’s book.) The science is on her side, especially as she presented it. You clearly have no understanding of leukemia, its causes or treatments, and you demonstrate an appalling lack of compassion toward its victims.

    On selenium, I admitted error. You said I was wrong in doing so. Now you say I’m wrong again. Bad faith on your part: Res ipsa loquitur.

    Knowing Beck will somehow figure a way to twist this, I must note an error I made. I suggested that spraying was suspended in all of sub-Saharan Africa due to mosquito resistance. Actually, such resistance was noted in only a few places — Tim Lambert wrote to me that DDT had never been used in much of the area; this is because the governments were simply incapable of assembling a significant anti-malaria campaign that would have involved such use.

    With that correction in place, I invite readers to look at the paper Beck references. The paper notes that resistance, though previously found in some places, is at best spotty — it differs widely from village to village. Resistance is still an issue, the paper notes.

    So, the authors say, since all the compounds they tested are effective in killing mosquitoes, for limited, indoor spraying, all of the compounds can be used. The authors suggest that careful monitoring be used to check on resistance as it develops, so that the substance sprayed can be changed to keep resistance from killing the program. In short, the authors note the reasons Rachel Carson called for the same sort of restrictions.

    These findings suggest that the An. arabiensis populations
    from Mwea are susceptible to all the insecticides that were
    tested against and therefore that vector control effort utilizing
    any of these insecticides would not be compromised
    by resistance. Thus, the results obtained in this
    study will enable informed choice of insecticides for use
    in vector control programmes in the area. In addition, the
    data obtained will provide baseline information needed
    in the monitoring of the development of resistance to the
    insecticides arising either due to selective pressure from
    the use of insecticides and pesticides or through migration
    to the area of mosquitoes with insecticide resistance

    Beck, how many studies have you cited? Each and every one of them agrees with Rachel Carson’s stand. None of them say she was, in any way, incorrect in her urging of restrictions on DDT and other broad-spectrum killers. No study has ever contradicted her notes that spraying poisons did have, can have, and without restriction will have long-range harms that often overcome the benefits. Every authority you cite notes the carcinogenicity of DDT, though you keep trying to say it’s not so (why lie about little things?).

    Do you ever read the studies you cite?

    Why is it “dishonest” to note bans on DDT in Europe appeared after resistance had already been noted? Do you have contrary evidence? You cite nothing — I suspect you’re making this up as well.

    As I noted, human deaths can be assumed to have occurred by the simple matter that we have toxicity figures for humans. Do you know how such toxicity figures are made? We find a death, we figure what the exposure was.

    Do you know anything about how any of this science works?

    Beck, you’re a troll. You misuse and abuse information. You abuse the good offices of bloggers who allow you to post. You’ve almost exhausted all the falsehoods of Steven Milloy — are you creative enough to make new ones? Or, alternatively, are you ethical enough to change your ways?


  36. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell, wow, a response of over 2,100 words, I’m flattered. It is, however, your usual misleading waffle.

    DDT might well be carcinogenic but this has yet to be established, despite extensive research. DDT might well produce other adverse health effects but these adverse health effects, if any, must be considered in light of the very small amounts of DDT used for IRS, and in view of the very real threat posed by malaria.

    I note that you oppose DDT use but do not condemn IRS with bendiocarb, despite the insectide’s recent US blanket banning. Bendiocarb is acutely toxic to both humans and animals and is particularly dangerous to children when used as an indoor surface spray.

    “Silly” old Bruce Ames and colleagues put the carcinogenicity of various commonly encountered natural and synthetic insecticides in perspective, placing DDT way down the list. Surely you’re not going to dispute his knowledge of carcinogenesis.

    You again claim that “DDT is a confirmed — that is “proven” — carcinogen in rodents” adding “we do not know of anything that is a carcinogen for other mammals that is not also carcinogenic in humans, except for a few chemicals where it appears the larger size of human requires a higher dose, or a longer latency)”. I don’t know exactly what you mean but can tell you that saccharin is carcinogenic in rats but not in humans owing to differences in physiology. Thus the rat carcinogenicity of saccharin is of no relevance to humans. Oops, you’re wrong again.

    As for the EPA hearings, I am aware of only the hearings under Sweeney but believe there were several other independent studies published at about the same time. Perhaps you can enlighten me. I’d also be grateful if you could refer me to a reference indicating Sweeney was convinced DDT is a cancer threat – it goes without saying he thought it toxic (it is, after all, an insecticide). Oh by the way, the Sweeney hearings alone produced 9,312 pages of testimony according to a reference provided by you. So if Ruckelshaus based his decision to ban on only “more than 1,000 pages” he didn’t bother to make himself fully aware of the evidence – I suppose the other 8,000 plus pages were mere filler.

    It is silly of you to support Saint Rachel’s anecdote describing a woman developing leukemia over a period of only a few months after spraying DDT three times. The best I can work out, DDT is not linked to leukemia, which, in any event, has a latency of some years.

    Your most recent comment on selenium is a classic:

    “In your fifth post, after I concede my error on selenium, you chose to mischaracterize what I said about selenium, and then — who could make this up? — you said I was wrong for admitting you were right, inventing some new reason you ascribed to me, but which I never said. Is there any more hypocritical way to be dishonest?”

    Sorry, you’re wrong again. You admitted you were wrong about selenium being carcinogenic but disclaimed responsibility for the error claiming the science had changed: “Selenium — you’ve got me. New science since I last looked.”

    Nope, the science had not changed. You’re the one being dishonest.

    Speaking of dishonesty, here’s a quote from one of your earlier comments: ”Sub-Saharan Africa, however, has mosquitoes that do not rest on the walls after biting — and so indoor spraying won’t do them in.”

    Yes, some sub-Saharan mosquitoes might not be wall-resters or might be DDT resistant but DDT is still effective throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. The paper linked below found DDT very effective in Kenya, for example.

    It is also dishonest to claim DDT was banned in Europe only after it became “ineffective by causing immunity to mosquitoes spreading yellow fever and malaria, against cockroaches spreading a variety of diseases, against lice spreading typhus, and against bedbugs. You failed to mention the human deaths attributed to DDT cited in the European bans”.

    The first bit above doesn’t even make sense. Further, the Europeans can cite whatever they like; as far as I’m aware there is not one human death directly attributed to DDT. If you’ve got the evidence, please provide it.

    Mr Darrell, your DDT posts and comments are a mishmash of near-truths masquerading as factual educational aids. If your efforts are any indication, education in America is, well, screwed.

    If you’re a real masochist, please feel free to cite a few more of my “errors”.


  37. jre says:

    Excellent reply, Ed!
    It should be pointed out that DDT exposure has been linked to premature births and early weaning, problems of particular importance to mothers and children in impoverished countries:

    Although DDT is generally not toxic to human beings and was banned mainly for ecological reasons, subsequent research has shown that exposure to DDT at amounts that would be needed in malaria control might cause preterm birth and early weaning, abrogating the benefit of reducing infant mortality from malaria. Historically, DDT has had mixed success in Africa; only the countries that are able to find and devote substantial resources towards malaria control have made major advances. DDT might be useful in controlling malaria, but the evidence of its adverse effects on human health needs appropriate research on whether it achieves a favourable balance of risk versus benefit.

    It’s a point worth making next time Beck makes an asinine comment such as as “Do you perhaps have something against sub-Saharan Africans?”


  38. Bug Girl says:

    Ed beat me, with an excellent rebuttal, as usual. :)

    I’ll just quote from the paper I’m looking at on my desk:
    Annual Review of Public Health 1997 v.18: Organochlorines and public health.

    DDT and it’s metabolites are listed as endocrine distrupters and are known to cause cancer in animal models. They are described as having “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity,” in fact. One of these days, if I can get my life back in order, I’ll post a long list of papers documenting those endocrine disruptions in humans that live in areas that have been sprayed by DDT. And it is a long list.

    I have already linked to information about health risks of organochlorines in part here


  39. Ed Darrell says:

    So, you DO want a list, Mr. Beck?

    In your first comment, you said you couldn’t find evidence that DDT is carcinogenic. It’s easy to find. We’ll be charitable, and say you just overlooked it in your searches, so this was an error of having not looked hard enough, long enough.

    In your second comment, you said Dr. Ames disagrees with me about DDT, suggesting, I gather from your post, that there is no human harm, and that any other harms are insignificant. You also said the American Cancer Society doesn’t list DDT as a carcinogen.

    Other than Ames’ silly downplaying of the harms of DDT, I pointed out that ACS lists DDT as a suspected human carcinogen, and that they take note of DDT’s carcinogenic properties in rodents. Now you’re trying to suggest you didn’t mean to imply anything different — it would have been polite had you clarified that at the time — in that exchange, you certainly gave no indication that you intended to acknowledge DDT’s toxic properties or carcinogenicity in any way.

    In your third comment, you returned to the deceptive claim that DDT is not a carcinogen, after I had carefully explained why I say it is (DDT is a confirmed — that is “proven” — carcinogen in rodents; we do not know of anything that is a carcinogen for other mammals that is not also carcinogenic in humans, except for a few chemicals where it appears the larger size of human requires a higher dose, or a longer latency).

    Now, all I did with the original post, was point to a note that said DDT is not firmly connected to cancers in humans, but that it is in a class of chemicals that is so connected, and caution would be prudent. You never directly took issue with that claim, but instead said I was “wrong.” In addition to being obnoxious and rude, the best I could say is that your entire line of argument was off the mark. I do not believe it was simple error on your part, however.

    Then, in that comment, you turned to misinformation and insult:

    Is your DDT knowledge so limited that you don’t know that no one with any sense supports the use of DDT for anything other than Indoor Residual Spaying? IRS requires only very small of amounts of insecticide and does not require DDT to be sprayed “willy-nilly” into the environment. Such use presents far less threat to people than does the malaria it’s use is meant to prevent. Do you perhaps have something against sub-Saharan Africans?

    I hadn’t mentioned the methods of spraying at all to that point. My sole reason for posting originally was the level-headed, common-sense approach that DDT is in a class of chemicals known to cause cancer, and rational people — that is, in your language, any “one with any sense” — would avoid overuse. I think the opponents of Rachel Carson are not in the category of “anyone with any sense,” since they use calumny and falsehood to impugn the reputation of a great woman, and then make fantastic claims impugning anyone who ever worked to control the use of DDT, to the level that any “one with any sense” would support. And you adopt the canards of the knuckleheads in your next paragraph:

    And by the way, in banning DDT EPA administrator Ruckelshaus overruled Edmund Sweeney — you remember him, he conducted the EPA DDT hearings in the 1970s. Numerous newspapers report on this in 1972.

    Sweeney conducted one of at least three different EPA investigations/hearing sets up to that time, not the only one. Sweeney’s ruling, by the way, was that DDT is a probably human carcinogen, that it kills animals indiscriminately, and that it is a deadly toxin dangerous to humans. He ruled that he lacked the legal authority to suspend the registration of the chemical — that is the only thing Ruckelshaus over-ruled him on. Neither you nor I have the full transcript, but I have since secured Ruckelshaus’s order which makes Sweeney’s findings clear.

    Did you know Sweeney disagrees with you on the carcinogenicity, toxicity, and danger to humans and other wildlife?

    You should really try harder to get your facts right. But that isn’t going to happen because the facts destroy the case you’re trying to make.

    I fear you would sneer at any accurate report, as you sneer at accuracy here. It’ll be interesting to see what Mr. Ambrose does, if he returns to this blog with the information he promised was available.

    Are you really a school teacher?

    Yep. And used to better, or at least wittier insults from kids as young as 13.

    Later in that post you suggest I’m overly concerned with the human dangers of DDT. Let me remind you, again, that my sole point in the post was to note that DDT is linked to cancers, that it is a known carcinogen to mammals, and a suspected human carcinogen — in direct rebuttal to the false claim others make, that you appear in all your bluster to endorse, that DDT is NOT carcinogenic. Even Sweeney disagrees with you. So you’re wrong to claim that is my great concern — my great concern is the inaccurate stuff that passes as criticism of science, Rachel Carson, and people who have “any sense.” Your series of comments is a great example of rant over reason.

    You argue that our food is “chock full of carcinogens.” True — generally in trace amounts, often in amounts less than DDT, and a necessary fact of life. So what? I have a long record of campaigning against indulgences and behaviors that promote cancer, with great success (with great teams, as well). What’s your point? I asked you then, you didn’t respond, except to try to change the criticism again.

    In your fourth comment, you said:

    Where exactly is DDT screwing up the environment through overuse? Please cite a single documented DDT caused death – death caused by the carrier solvent doesn’t count.

    Across the world, DDT is screwing up the environment by making mosquitoes that carry malaria immune to poisons. If you want one death caused by DDT, look at the toxicity figures for DDT. Those figures, for humans, were obtained from events in which people died from DDT exposure. As you know, conducting such an experiment was out of ethical bounds even in the 1960s. What little we know is from accidental exposure. I cannot give you the names, but the fact that there is a toxicity figure for humans listed means we know there was at least one death, and since one is generally considered inadequate for making a toxicity ruling, we should suspect there were several such deaths.

    But I am curious, do you think that the only reason to stop poisoning people is death? Is it okay to poison people, to cripple them, to make them chronically ill, so long as death is not quick? That’s an immoral standard, and one that science and pesticide advocates do not hold to.

    Where else is DDT screwing up the environment? It’s on the downswing now, but DDT was the culprit that nearly wiped out bald and golden eagles, osprey, the Mexican free-tail bat, a host of songbirds, and still plagues fish and other aquatic creatures along the eastern seaboard.

    In your fifth post, after I concede my error on selenium, you chose to mischaracterize what I said about selenium, and then — who could make this up? — you said I was wrong for admitting you were right, inventing some new reason you ascribed to me, but which I never said. Is there any more hypocritical way to be dishonest?

    I understand Bug Girl’s impatience and ire at your claims. You constantly strive to mislead, and even when we admit error you strive to cast such admissions as error somehow. If you claimed black was red, and I deferred to your judgment, you’d call that error on my part. It seems the only error on my part is my constant hope that you might come around to reason.

    I hope Mr. Ambrose will not prove afflicted with the same disease.

    In your sixth post, you said:

    And one other thing, you claim above that I misled in an earlier comment: “Carson did recount the story of a woman who probably overused DDT, and shortly thereafter came down with leukemia, not breast cancer (you mislead again).”

    This is also wrong. I wrote: “In Silent Spring Carson claims a person was struck down with cancer almost immediately after using DDT three times to spray her basement. I suppose such a ludicrous claim is your idea of good science.”

    Try to get it at least close to right.

    Good heavens. Are we quibbling about the type of cancer? It was leukemia. And the evidence is quite overwhelming that this type of cancer has a very short latency period. So, while I was wrong in citing breast cancer, you were dead wrong and misleading in calling it a general cancer. And you’re wrong on the epidemiology of cancer. And Carson noted three specific overdoses of the DDT-distillate blend over three months. Yes, that’s good science — it’s offered as an anecdote on top of the judgment of leading leukemia researchers and opinions from researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

    While Rachel Carson’s science is really quite above reproach (she offers no fewer than six citations, five studies of acute toxicity of DDT and implications of such chemicals in acute leukemia), your accuracy leaves much to be desired. May I call that error? I will. You erred.

    When I pointed out that there is no ban on the use of DDT to fight malaria and never has been, in your seventh post, you cited the letter from Environmental Defense to USAID, urging USAID to get off the dime and authorize money for DDT to use against malaria in Africa. You erred again, of course: The letter says nothing about a legal ban; your claim that there was a defacto ban refers only to the Bush administration’s reluctance to spend money to help Africans — but that’s Bush administration policy, unrelated to DDT; plus, the letter makes clear that the lack of use of DDT in Africa has nothing at all to do with environmental organizations, nothing at all to do with any ban of any type, and can in absolutely no way be blamed on any action by any environmentalist, but is instead due to inaction by anti-environmentalists, who as usual, are incredibly poorly informed.

    Composing this list is wearying, and depressing, Mr. Beck. I’ll cut it short, leaving several inaccuracies of yours out. But there are a couple that deserve specific mention.

    In your seventh comment, you said:

    6. In banning DDT EPA administrator Ruckelshaus overrode the recommendation of Edmund Sweeney, who was tasked with weighing DDT’s use. Sweeney’s hearings were conducted in public. Ruckelshaus made his decision without broad consultation.

    7. Contrary to your claim, DDT use is prohibited in much of Europe (Norway and Sweden were the first to ban).

    You forgot to mention that there were two other hearings at EPA dating back to 1970, and you failed to mention that EPA inherited the 12-year-old studies and administrative procedures on DDT from the Department of Agriculture. You suggest Ruckelshaus made no broad consultation, despite his having more than 1,000 pages of testimony from three hearings, his having consulted with pesticide manufacturers, farmers, regulators, medical authorities, wildlife experts and dozens of others; you fail to note that Ruckelshaus’s ruling was based on Sweeney’s findings, in public, already published, that DDT is toxic, kills indiscriminately, posed a human hazard in broad agricultural use, and is probably carcinogenic (the same status the cancer experts give DDT today). By omission, you err repeatedly, continuously even after correction, and massively.

    On your point seven, you failed to note that DDT use was prohibited in Europe after it became ineffective by causing immunity to mosquitoes spreading yellow fever and malaria, against cockroaches spreading a variety of diseases, against lice spreading typhus, and against bedbugs. You failed to mention the human deaths attributed to DDT cited in the European bans.

    Misleading enough yet?

    Rachel Carson was close to a saint. She was right: DDT is dangerous, and should be used judiciously and cautiously. She was right: Overuse of DDT would help insects, spread disease, and eventually damage humans, by the rebound of human disease if nothing else.

    I invite you to stick around if you can moderate your rantings, and contribute to a rational discussion instead of trying to establish blame on innocents and saints.



  40. Bug Girl says:

    You want a simple solution for an extremely complex, multi-faceted problem, Beck. You can’t solve this disease with sound bites.

    DDT is a LAST RESORT. Not the first choice, and not the only choice. The data on insecticide resistance suggests it’s a very bad choice, especially given the cross resistance to other insecticides resistance to DDT confers.

    So yes, if you read my posts, you’ll see that I am not for banning DDT outright, that I’m for extremely limited, careful use. That’s not schizo, that’s making decisions based on evidence and individual situations.

    Apparently you’re opposed to that.


  41. J F Beck says:

    Bug Girl, I really resent your refusing to post my comment and then blaming your spam filter for its disappearance.

    Mr Darrell, anyone looking for accurate DDT info has come to the wrong place. Through several threads you keep telling me I’ve got it wrong but ultimately it’s you who is shown to be wrong.

    In an earlier comment above you say I’m wrong on many counts – a long list of errors — but subsequently say I’m “mostly right”. Regardless, you fail to note a single substantive error on my part, while I have noted many of yours.

    You absurdly claim – in a post on DDT accuracy – that osprey magically multiply the amount of DDT sprayed so that, for example, 100 pounds of DDT spayed on Long Island estuaries would result in exposed osprey ingesting 1 billion pounds of DDT. Or did you perhaps mean that that from bottom to top of the food chain DDT concentrates 10 million times – DDT at .000003ppm in water to 25 ppm in osprey?

    You keep raving on about the environmental dangers posed by DDT while ignoring that it is effectively dead as a broadcast insecticide: as far as I know, no one of any prominence advocates DDT’s use in agriculture. DDT is invaluable for IRS, however.

    Resistance is no more a problem with DDT than with any other chemical insecticide – experts realized the potential resistance problem as far back as the early 1950s. Thus, in areas where mosquitoes are DDT resistant an alternative must be substituted. And it’s always a good idea to rotate insecticides in order to preempt, as far as is possible, the development of resistance.

    In any event your schizo attitude to DDT use – you’re for its strictly controlled use, but can’t really see any situation for which it’s needed – is shared by Greenpeace:

    Click to access AFM_Greenpeace_Letter.pdf

    Please hit me with more of my DDT “errors” at your convenience


  42. Ed Darrell says:

    Mr. Beck, you’ve got it mostly right. DDT is linked to liver cancers in DDT workers — linked, not “proven.” I think it would be more accurate to note that DDT is listed as a “suspected human carcinogen,” which is different from the “not on the carcinogen list.”

    DDT is safe for non-sensitive humans in small quantities, in Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS).

    Bug Girl is right. Human safety is not the issue. The dangers of DDT — well established, with more than 65 years of research backing up each point — are that it is long-lived in the environment, and that it kills indiscriminately. These dangers are multiplied: Because DDT is long-lived (it does break down quickly, but to even more dangerous daughter products including DDE), it concentrates in the wild. All living things take it up. In estuaries (swamps, that is), DDT in the water is quickly taken up by primary producers at the lowest trophic levels — phytoplankton, zooplankton and plants. Primary consumers get a larger, concentrated dose. Secondary and tertiary consumers get multiplied doses — careful studies in Long Island estuaries showed that osprey got a dose 10 million times greater than what was sprayed.

    Consequently, even IRS needs to be done by professionals, and done sparingly.

    Because DDT and its daughters are so long-lived, other problems crop up. DDE doesn’t break down much. Worse, it mimics hormones in the wild — specifically, estrogen. DDE can royally screw up the ability of both males and females to reproduce at all, even to the point of deforming the sex organs. It appears to do this to almost all animals (humans included — is it a harm to shrink and deform testes and penises in humans to the point they don’t work? Maybe we should rethink the “not harmful to humans” line).

    Harms to wildlife are well known. DDT screws up bird reproduction so that females lay unviable eggs, in addition to thinning the eggshells to the point that the embryo, if not dead or deformed, cannot survive to term. Bats, predators of disease-carrying mosquitoes, are particularly susceptible to DDT, especially when they migrate, when the DDT concentrated in their stored fat is released in a toxic dose. So, in many places, DDT actually aids the mosquitoes.

    And I haven’t got to resistance and immunity yet.

    With those advisories, yeah, DDT is save in extremely limited use.


  43. Bug Girl says:

    Now, back to the topic at hand. Safety is NOT the primary issue with DDT.
    It’s mainly evolution of insecticide resistance, and the sustainability of a control program.

    You can quote mine all you want, but even the National Academies comes down on my side on this one.


  44. Bug Girl says:

    Beck, I’m not going to fight with you on Ed’s blog. if you want to be snarky, take it to my blog. Everyone on WordPress has the same problem with the Akamai spam filters. It eats a lot of posts, from friends and others alike.

    I really resent your calling me a liar.


  45. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell, I acknowledge that DDT has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals but maintain that it has not been proven to cause cancer outside the lab. DDT is not on the list of known human carcinogens.

    I contend that DDT is safe when used in small quantities for Indoor Residual Spraying. Am I wrong?


  46. Ed Darrell says:

    Mr. Beck, you’re wrong in your assertion that DDT is not carcinogenic and not a suspected human carcinogen. You’re wrong in your assumption that DDT is safe if it’s not a carcinogen: DDT is a deadly poison all by itself, though it’s difficult to poison a 150-pound human with the stuff to do more than permanent lung, liver and nerve damage.

    Do you really want a list of errors? That could get long, and we’ve already seen your stuff. Mr. Ambrose said he has a list of documented facts, which would be vastly superior to the internet hoax stuff on that the sources you originally offered rely upon. I’m hopeful Mr. Ambrose will provide his documentation, still.


  47. J F Beck says:

    Bug Girl, feel free to follow the link above and tell me where I’m wrong. Or you might care to search through my DDT posts and list my factual errors.

    Just a reminder, you blocked one of my comments at your blog and then tried to lie your way out of it — you never saw the comment because your spam filter ate it, or some such nonsense. That’s how you respond to getting it wrong. Another great moment in science.


  48. Bug Girl says:

    Funny, I could have said exactly the same thing about Beck!

    I have seen Ed make corrections. And I invite you to send me that list too.
    The only thing Beck has on his side is a lot of bluster.


  49. Ed Darrell says:

    If you can find such a list, Jay, and if there is not a better documented list in rebuttal, I’ll confess error. I won’t confess error where there is none.

    The more critical question, I think, is whether you will publicly confess error where you have made them. Will you? You’re the one with the newspaper column and wider readership. You’re the one with the platform where error is longer lasting, and more dangerous.

    Before you get too far in your research, you may want to read some of my other posts on DDT and Rachel Carson, especially the two debunkings of “’s” awful claims (and more of those to come).

    Pay attention to what Mr. Beck says: I will not back down from the universal scientific judgment that DDT is a known animal carcinogen, nor from the universal scientific judgment that DDT is a suspected human carcinogen. I stick to what the studies show.

    Bring on your sources.


  50. J F Beck says:

    Jay Ambrose writes: “If I send you a long list of documented facts proving much of what you said is flatly wrong, will you confess error?”

    Not likely: Mr Darrell admits neither his mistakes nor his misrepresentations.

    See comments here:


  51. Jay Ambrose says:

    If I send you a long list of documented facts proving much of what you said is flatly wrong, will you confess error?

    Jay Ambrose


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