DDT blast from the past: 1951

DDT denialists like Steven Milloy like to paint Rachel Carson as a lone, cranky and crackpot voice in the wilderness against DDT (never mind how that makes the DDT industry look, unable to use facts and the $500,000 public relations campaign to get their message out).

It’s not so. As Carson noted, concerns about DDT were raised early, and often.

The Dallas Public Library makes available much of the news from the Dallas Morning News of the last century. On my way to find something else, I plugged in “DDT” as a search term. Among other articles that popped up was a May 9, 1951 story of Texas scientists warning a Congressional committee of the harms of DDT.

“Hazard to health,” was the flying head, “Renner Scientist Cites DDT Harm.” The story, by the News’ Washington Bureau reporter Ruth Schumm, covered a hearing before an unnamed committee of the House, “investigating the use of chemicals in foods.”  (Where was the copy editor on that one?)

John M. Dendy of the Texas Research Foundation delivered the testimony.  Dendy worked out of the Foundation’s laboratory in Renner.  Renner was an independent community then, located south of Renner, west of Coit, and north of Campbell Roads (no, it’s not there today). 

Studies in the foundation’s laboratories at Renner, Dallas County, have proved that DDT and other chemicals are now causing mass contamination of milk, meat and other foods, Dendy said.

Dendy said that crops absorb the DDT sprayed on them — still true, and more problematic since it’s been discovered that DDT is also damaging to some plants — and animals that graze the crops get that dosage.  Dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep were the chief animals mentioned.

Even though the Texas State Health Department has ruled that no DDT should be present in milk comsumed by human beings, DDT is showing up in the Dallas milk supply even in December, long past the usual season for spraying with insecticides.  About half of the Dallas milk supply is imported from Oklahoma, Missouri and Wisconsin, he said.

*  *  *  *  *

In the Texas Research Foundation tests, the degree of contamination ranged from 3.10 parts per million in lean meat to 68.55 parts per million in fat meat, Dendy testified. 

In milk, the DDT conamination ranged from less than .5 parts per million to 13.83 parts per million.

Dendy testified that so far as he knew, the exact effects of such poisoning on human beings has not yet been established.

Dendy warned in his testimony that DDT builds up over time in “human and animal fat tissue,” so the dangers to human health become greater as the exposure grows over time.

The worried Congressmen wanted to know if there is a substitute for DDT.

Dendy said he was not working on that problem, but he knew others were.

Notably absent from the hearing was the committee chairman, Rep. James J. Delaney, D-NY, according to the list offered by the DMN.  That’s right:  Delaney was the one who, in 1957, got his amendment passed to the Safe Food and Drug Act, the organic act for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) making it illegal to use anything known to be carcinogenic as a food additive (DDT doesn’t count, because it’s not a food additive, but a food contaminant, which is regulated not by the FDA, but by the Department of Agriculture).

So, in 1951, before Rachel Carson had left the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 11 years prior to the publication of her book Silent Spring, 21 years before the EPA banned use of DDT on crops, conservative scientists from Texas were alerting Congress to the dangers of DDT.

It’s in the history books.  You can look it up.


May 9, 1951, Dallas Morning News - Scientists cite DDT harms


Click on thumbnail at left for full image; copyright 2004 by Dallas Morning News.

2 Responses to DDT blast from the past: 1951

  1. […] Blast from the Past: 1951,” Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, May 16, […]


  2. bernarda says:

    Critics of Carson seem to think she was living in a vacuum. Any sensible person would realize that she was referring to evidence available to her. She didn’t just write out of thin air.


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