Annals of DDT: 1946 warning of the dangers of DDT

January 6, 2011

Warnings from this article in Popular Science in February 1946 are almost eerie in their accuracy.

Cover of Popular Science, February 1946; Google Books and Ebay image

Experiments in Ontario by the Dept. of Lands and Forests show what happens when DDT is used out of doors.  Damage to trees was limited to burning of leaf edges.  Carnivorous water beetles and some other aquatic animals were not greatly affected but died because the insects on which they fed were destroyed.  Other aquatic insects were killed directly.  Crayfish, which feed on insects and themselves serve as fish food, were very susceptible.  Minnows were killed by contact and trout died from eating poisoned insects.  Six kinds of frogs and two kinds of snakes were killed, either by contact or by eating poisoned insects.  Any DDT field spray is likely to destroy more than half of these amphibians.  (page 72)

There is an interesting reference to a case of several human deaths due to DDT — these reports of human deaths disappeared from research reports rather quickly, and today critics of environmental protection policies often say that no human ever died from DDT.  What happened to those reports, and are there others?

A further objection to the wide use of DDT in larvae control is the dangers of contaminating the water supply.  Fear of this led us to abandon plans to use DDT extensively at Bear Mountain Park.  Heavy rains might wash the DDT into reservoirs.  We were not fully aware of the deadly effects of the chemical then, but we received word from Okinawa later than several natives had died from eating DDT, and post-mortem examination revealed nerve lesions similar to those produced by strychnine.  (p. 72)

Brownfielders working against Rachel Carson sometimes claim she manufactured controversy about DDT with the publication of her book in 1962.  Go see this article from 16 years earlier, and see the warnings offered by the author, Dr. C. H. Curran, who was Associate Curator, Department of Insects and Spiders, at the American Museum of Natural History.

Rachel Carson was right, and still is.

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