No, Congress did not “overreact” to DDT

Looking for something else, I restumbled on the Constitution Club, where they continue to club the Constitution, its better principles, and especially the great nation that the document creates.

And one of those grotesquely inaccurate posts blaming liberals for everything sprang up — bedbugs, this time.  If only those liberals had let the good DDT manufacturers poison the hell out of the entire planet, the blog falsely claims, there would be no concern for bedbugs surging in hotels worldwide today, and especially not in Charlotte, North Carolina, back during the Democratic National Convention.

A meeting of a chapter of Constitution clubs? Wikipedia image

A meeting of a chapter of Constitution clubs? Wikipedia image

Looking through the archives, I now recall I dealt with most of this issue on this blog before.

The post’s author made a response I hadn’t seen.  God help me these idiots do need a trip to the intellectual woodshed.  He said “Congress overreacted on DDT, I think. It likes to do that.”

In reality, Congress did nothing at all, other than pass the law regulating pesticides, if we stick to the real history. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the rule on DDT, which still stands today.  Over react?  Two federal courts had to twist EPA’s arm to get any action at all, and after delaying for nearly two years, EPA’s rule didn’t ban DDT except for outdoor use on crops, which by that time meant cotton in a handful of states in the U.S. — DDT has never been banned in Africa nor Asia, Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty notwithstanding.

Oh, hell. Put it on the record.

I wrote:

Did Congress ever “react” to DDT?

EPA was tasked by the 1950s’s FIFRA to check out safety of pesticides, and did.  FIFRA had recently been amended to give EPA (USDA, before) power to ban a pesticide outright. Two federal courts found DDT eminently worthy of such an outright ban, but refrained from ordering it themselves as they saw the law to require, on the promise of EPA to conduct a thorough scientific review.  At some length, and irritation to the Eisenhower appointees to the courts, EPA got around to an administrative law hearing — several months and 9,000 pages.  In a panic, the DDT manufacturers proposed a new label for DDT before the hearings got started, calling DDT dangerous to wildlife, and saying it should be used only indoors to control health-threats.  Alas, under the law, if DDT were allowed to stay for sale over the counter, anyone could buy it and abuse it.  The hearing record clearly provided proof that DDT killed wildlife, and entire ecosystems.  But, it was useful to fight diseases, used as the proposed label suggested . . .

Administrator William Ruckelshaus took the cue the DDT manufacturers offered.  He issued a rule banning DDT from outdoor use on agricultural crops except in emergencies with a permit from EPA.  But he specifically allowed U.S. manufacturers to keep making the stuff for export to fight malaria in distant nations, and to allow DDT makers to keep making money.

“Over-reacted” on DDT?  Not Congress, and not EPA.  The rule was challenged in court, twice.  The appellate courts ruled that the scientific evidence, the mountains of it, fully justified the rule, and let it stand.  (Under U.S. law, agencies may not act on whim; if they over-react, they’ve violated the law.)

How bedbugs react to DDT today.

How bedbugs react to DDT today.

No study conducted carefully and judiciously, and passed through the gauntlet of peer review, since that time, has questioned the science conclusions of that rule in any significant way — if any study questioned the science at all (there are famous urban legends, but most of them lead back to people who didn’t even bother to do research, let alone do it well and publish it).

But so-called conservatives have faith that if Congress will just repeal the law of gravity, pigs can fly.  In the real world, things don’t work that way.

How bedbugs view DDT in the 21st century.

How bedbugs view DDT in the 21st century.

I’ve captured most of the earlier exchanges below the fold; one can never trust so-called conservatives to conserve a record of their gross errors.  They’re there for the record, and for your use and edification.

My comment at Constitution Club, Jack’s response, etc., to the point of my response above.

  • Ed Darrell
    September 5, 2012 • 11:12 pm1. Bedbugs have been immune to DDT since the 1950s.
    2. EPA’s “ban” on DDT included ONLY agricultural use; pest exterminators had moved on from DDT long before.
    3. Without DDT the infection total on malaria has been cut from 500 million to 250 million annually, 50%; death toll from malaria has been cut from 4 million to under 800,000 annually, more than 75%.
    4. Bedbugs seemed to disappear from most U.S. venues in the mid-1960s, after DDT was stopped for their extermination, but before DDT use on cotton crops was banned; after the 1972 ban on DDT on cotton, it was nearly 50 years before bedbugs again became a problem in the U.S. Probably DDT had nothing to do with it.But when have facts ever got in the way of a ConClub rant?

  • jackcurtis
    September 8, 2012 • 7:52 pm Since Ed Darrel didn’t provide support for the assertions above:
    1. A fairly exhaustive update on bedbugs from the entomologists at the Univ. of Kentucky: An article attributed to the New York Times on bedbugs and DDT: A Money Magazine article on killing bedbugs: up; DDT had a great deal to do with eliminating bedbugs, their acquired resistance to DDT seems accepted but not conclusive and if the gov’t ban on DDT didn’t apply to household use (not checked), the fact remains: you can’t obtain it in the U.;S.
    The critters are re-established as a serious pest on a larger scale than before and it’s now believed that they may carry diseases, a new risk in their case.

  • Ed Darrell
    September 9, 2012 • 12:46 amGee, Jack, didn’t know you cared.
  • 1. Conservative ideologues (no one here, right?) trot out DDT as a solution only second to tax cuts. Since tax cuts brought back the bedbugs, of course ideologues unconcerned with the science have proposed DDT to fight ‘em. But, the evidence (including Jack’s source at UK) all note DDT worked in the ’40s and ’50s, no more; see commentary in Daily Beast/Newsweek, “Politics of Bedbugs.”
  • 2. If Newsbusters says NYTimes confessed, you can be sure it’s because Newsbusters tortured it out of them. There’s a reason we consider that a violation of the 5th Amendment, and that’s reason enough to know it’s probably bad information. The best the NY Times has? “Bedbugs, once nearly eradicated, have spread across New York City, in part because of the decline in the use of DDT.” Sorry, Jack, that doesn’t support the claim that a lack of DDT caused the resurgence, nor that DDT can stop it.
  • 3. The article in Money magazine? Well, read it: “It’s not that DDT should come back. First off, most bedbugs are immune to that now, too. And second, the chemical and those that followed it are largely responsible for the near-extinction of birds like the bald eagle, and who knows how many terminal illnesses in humans.” Pro-DDT claim = Hoist on own petard.Also, notice that article points out why capitalism is unlikely to create a solution to bedbugs: It’s not profitable to the insecticide companies. “We built this problem, and capitalism won’t solve it.”Summary: Evidence not presented to show that DDT played the major role in eliminating bedbugs way back when; no evidence to cover the question, “If DDT was the cause of the decline, why didn’t bedbugs come back when indoor DDT use was stopped in the 1950s and 1960s, instead of 50 years later?” Intended indictment of government as the cause of the trouble not made.Let’s push on.
  • A. There’s a blog dedicated to beating bedbugs (of course); that blog notes that bedbugs are either immune or incredibly immune to DDT.
  • B. If you follow the history of the DDT issue, you become aware that DDT causes problems with resistance in all sorts of areas — and bedbugs were just among the first critters to develop widespread, powerful immunity, as Macolm Gladwell noted in his wonderful profile of super-mosquito fighter Fred Soper. Bedbugs’ DDT resistance was noted in the former 3rd world early on.
  • C. We’re broad minded, so we’ll even read a site we regard as being a bit to the left, such as the Pesticides Action Network, just to check out what they say; they say bedbugs are immune to DDT.
  • D. We might turn to the internet’s best authority on insects and DDT and other pesticide resistance, authentic entomologist Bug Girl; she says bedbugs are immune, have been for quite a while, and she’s got a video you might find of interest.
  • E. If we check with the disease fighters, the original pro-DDT bunch at the Centers for Disease Control, we’ll find their joining up with EPA to issue a statement on what is known: “The current national problem with bed bugs is likely due to the convergence of three human behaviors: lack of awareness of the historical and biological link humans have with bed bugs, increased international travel, and past over-reliance on pesticides. Bed bugs are a “nest parasite” that resides in the human nest – the bedroom. Over time, bed bugs have evolved to develop resistance to many of the chemical pesticides currently used. In fact, bed bugs were widely resistant to DDT by the mid-1950s.” CDC cites a guy well-known among professional exterminators: Pinto LJ, Cooper RA, Kraft SK. Bed bug handbook: the complete guide to bed bugs and their control. Mechanicsville, MD: Pinto and Associates, Inc.; 2007.How to fight bedbugs? Prevention is the key, and knowledge is the key to prevention. Inspect for them, and keep them from getting into your house. Several of the articles we’ve discussed have advice on this prevention. If you’ve got a problem you think is bedbugs, get a professional to make sure you’ve got the right diagnoses. Some exterminators are using CO2 (bag the mattress or other furniture, fill the bag with CO2); sunlight and extreme heat, greater than 113 degrees F will work. If you can apply boric acid safely, that’s one of the old stand-bys that may work (also takes out cockroaches).But DDT? Sorry. Overuse of the stuff on bedbugs pushed evolution of the pests, and they eat it like it’s candy.

  • jackcurtis
    September 9, 2012 • 1:59 pm We aren’t in disagreement on anything significant, seems to me. Bedbugs are a recent symptom of our physically ‘One World’ existence, which appears to be shifting from a hazy ideal to uncomfortably real.Congress overreacted on DDT, I think. It likes to do that…same with Alar and other stuff, like incandescent light bulbs. Elephants are unlikely ballerinas…
    Most, not quite all, have given up on DDT with bedbugs; some say it isn’t as cut-and-dried a situation as is reported. Dunno. No way for me to test it since I can’t get the stuff. And I haven’t seen the little suckers at home so far.Re capitalism and dealing with bedbugs, I remember the 1oo-miles-per-gallon carburator supposedly buried by big oil. I believe the market now developing will suck any possible solution into being, no matter such as Monsanto. 330 million Americans plus billions more will be itching for it…I process comments as promptly as I can, but lacking today’s portable devices slows things a bit…As to being a (currently defined) conservative, I’m not sure that’s true. More a classical liberal, perhaps. If anything…People bet on the date the ice will breaks up; we’ve a big-time biological revolution under way; want to pick the date somebody will market an answer to bedbugs?

It’s irritating to me even that the guy uses a noble owl as his avatar. If he had his way, he’d let DDT do in all the owls.


Neocide DDT

Neocide DDT advertisement, oddly reflecting the views of GOP today (though insulting the intelligence of elephants). Photo credit: Jeremy Brooks

11 Responses to No, Congress did not “overreact” to DDT

  1. Black Flag® says:

    No, look at the graphics, the cases, though decreasing, accelerated downwards after 1940.

    Deaths reduction absolutely decreased prior to 1939.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    May want to see these graphics:

    Reduction of malaria in U.S.

    Chart Black Flag linked to; notice cases and deaths both fall off the table after 1939:
    Malaria Cases and Deaths, 1920-1946

    See that actual text; by 1940, malaria had been limited to essentially the South, and after TVA’s efforts (starting in 1933), it was well on the run:


  3. Black Flag® says:

    “No. Malaria was essentially eliminated by 1939, through a combination of improved health care (especially beefed up public health agencies in each affected county) and better housing, especially including screened windows. ”

    Your claim is not wholly true.

    Malaria CASES was effectively reduced from 1940 and onwards, due to DDT

    However, undoubtedly true, was the reduction in DEATHS from malaria did, indeed, correlate with the improvement of hygiene, health care and housing changes, well before 1940.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    As you point out, DDT eradicated malaria in the US.

    No. Malaria was essentially eliminated by 1939, through a combination of improved health care (especially beefed up public health agencies in each affected county) and better housing, especially including screened windows. DDT was not available for use in the U.S. against malaria for another seven years, not until 1946. DDT was used to keep mosquito populations down, but malaria had been completely eliminated from most of the U.S., and very few endemic cases occurred after 1939.

    Good health care was the chief tool of malaria eradication, and it remains the chief tool even where pesticides play a major role.

    The ban affected Africa – and the consequence was millions of deaths.

    How did the “ban” affect Africa?
    1. The ban applied ONLY to agricultural use — use for public health reasons was not banned, and was not much restricted inside the U.S.
    2. The ban applied ONLY in the U.S.; DDT has never been banned in Africa nor Asia. EPA’s authority ends at U.S. borders.
    3. The ban specifically allowed all U.S. manufacturing to continue, for export. So the ban in the U.S. effectively multiplied the amount of DDT available for use against malaria, by as much as 8 times. With more DDT available, shouldn’t that have completely eradicated malaria in those nations, if DDT were the eradicating tool?


    4. WHO had to end its eradication campaign against malaria in 1965 — seven years before the U.S. “ban” — because abuse of DDT in Africa had bred mosquitoes resistant and immune to DDT. The campaign to temporarily knock down mosquito populations while beefed up medical care cured all the human cases, simply could not work where mosquitoes had resistance to the stuff.

    How, do you claim, the ban in the U.S. affected malaria in Africa, seven years after the DDT-based campaign had ended, and 10,000 miles away? Did mosquitoes from the U.S. migrate? Did EPA somehow go back in time, and thousands of miles out of its jurisdiction, to change things?

    You’re blaming EPA’s ban on spraying cotton in Texas with DDT, for the change in malaria cases in Africa and Asia?

    Okay. Fair. Cause and effect.

    At peak DDT use, in 1959-60, 500 million people got malaria, and 4 million died, every year, according to WHO.

    At the “ban” on DDT in the U.S., 400 million people got malaria, and 2 million died annually (1972). By 1980, with not-great work by affected nations, the death toll had been reduced to under 2 million.

    Today, fewer than 660,000 people die from malaria, and only 250 million people get infected — despite a doubling of the world population and much more than doubling of human populations in malaria-endemic areas.

    Three million fewer people dying of malaria each year since 1999 than with extensive DDT use, that’s 52 million fewer deaths in just 14 years.

    Two million fewer each year between 1972 and 1999 (a bit of a swag, I admit, but you didn’t even have the direction of the delta correct), and that’s another 34 million people. 86 million lives saved due to the ban right there.

    But DDT use for WHO’s eradication campaign was slowed in 1965. Between 1965 and 1972, let’s say 10 million fewer lives were lost due to the anti-malaria campaigns, from peak DDT use totals (it was more lives saved, but I’ve buried the reports).

    96 million fewer lives lost to malaria after DDT use was slowed or stopped.

    Was that your point, that changing the use of DDT saved nearly a hundred million lives?

    But the latter never counts in your analysis.

    Quite the contrary. Deaths count; you fail to count lives saved, and the lives figure is the one that really makes a difference. You assume, erroneously, that MORE people died. Fewer people died each year from malaria. You got the direction of the change, the direction of the delta, completely wrong.

    You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. I recommend you spend some time studying the issue — here are a quick 200 articles for you to read. Follow the links. You can learn a lot.


  5. Black Flag® says:

    As you point out, DDT eradicated malaria in the US.

    The ban affected Africa – and the consequence was millions of deaths.

    But the latter never counts in your analysis.


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    First, malaria’s elimination in the U.S. was mostly accomplished by 1939; DDT was used after 1946, but only in mop up operations.

    Second, I’m trying to get you to say what YOUR claim is. Are you arguing that the “ban” on DDT in the U.S. increased deaths from malaria anywhere, or negatively affected the fight against malaria anywhere?

    What’s your point?


  7. Black Flag® says:

    So you saying that after DDT essentially eliminated malaria in the US, the continuation of the lack of people dying from malaria in the US is therefore due to the lack of DDT?


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Simple math: Delta of changed malaria deaths after U.S. “ban” on DDT can all be attributed to the DDT ban (prompted by Rachel Carson’s book, ergo, blamed on Carson) — yes?


  9. Black Flag® says:

    Made up number out of your ass.
    No one “saved” by not using DDT, typical backwards statistical nonsense.

    The fact:
    Africans died by the millions. Those deaths are real, Ed, unlike yours.


  10. Ed Darrell says:

    96 million people saved by Rachel Carson. That’s “negative millions of deaths.”

    Do we need to explain negative numbers to you?


  11. Black Flag® says:

    Yeah, millions of deaths because of such nonsense around DDT, and you say “ain’t no over-reaction”.

    Typical racist – dead Africans just don’t matter to ya, huh?


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