Cover of 1946 USFWS publication, Circular 11, “DDT: Its Effect on Fish and Wildlife”
Rachel Carson knew Clarence Cottam, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and an active researcher. Cottam and Elmer Higgins, Chief of the Division of Fishery Biology at USFWS published a monograph in 1946 on the harms of the then-new insecticide DDT, with suggestions on how to use it more safely. It was an early publication from USFWS, indicated by the title, Circular 11.
Dr. Clarence Cottam, USFWS Assistant Director
This was one of the earliest publications to document harms from DDT across the spectrum of DDT use and the spectrum of wildlife.
Finding the publication in libraries now is difficult. Funding cuts at many libraries encouraged them to throw away materials not heavily used, and this one was not the most popular in most libraries who may have had it.
So when I ran into a .pdf of the circular on a NOAA site, I downloaded it, and I make it available to you here.
In the introduction Cottam and Higgins explain why the monograph was published:
Most organic and mineral poisons are specific to a degree; they do not strike the innumerable animal and plant species with equal effectiveness; if these poisons did, the advantage of control of undesirable species would be more than offset by the detriment to desirable and beneficial forms. DDT is no exception to this rule. Certainly such an effective poison will destroy some beneficial insects, fishes, and wildlife.
The circular said when DDT was used, deaths resulted in mammals, amphibians, birds and fish.
DDT history revisionists are fond now of saying DDT is “harmless” and “safe.” This 1946 publication makes clear that neither is true. While it may take a large dose to cause acute harm to large mammals, like cattle and humans, it is quite deadly to smaller wildlife in all branches.
Cottam and Higgins recommended caution, reducing does of DDT in use, and careful monitoring after use.
Use DDT only where it is needed. Wherever it is applied by airplane, provide careful plane-to-ground control to insure even cover–age and to prevent local overdosage.
In forest-pest control, wherever feasible, leave strips untreated at the first application to serve as undisturbed sanctuaries for wildlife, treating these strips at a later time or in succeeding seasons if necessary.
In the control of early appearing insect pests, apply DDT, if possible, just before the emergence of leaves and the main spring migration of birds; for late appearing pests, delay applications, whenever practicable, past the nesting period of birds. Adjust crop applications and mosquito-control applications so far as possible to avoid the nesting period.
Because of the sensitivity of fishes and crabs to DDT, avoid as far as possible direct application to streams, lakes, and coastal bays.
Wherever DDT is used, make careful before and after observations of mammals, birds, fishes, and other wildlife.
Wildlife scientists were not working blind with DDT after 1946.
Years ago Jim Easter tracked down the actual decision document from EPA’s Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney, in which detailed his findings from the months of hearings at EPA on whether to pull registration as a pesticide from DDT.
It was great sleuthing, taking him through several EPA regional libraries, for a document that just falls into the cracks of most history of environmental law, DDT and regulation.
Jim posted the document at his blog, Some Are Boojums, and linked to his .pdf of the document. A great historical record.
Then his blog went out of commission, then it came back. And now, it’s gone again.
Meanwhile, I’d linked to the post, and have over the years sent a few hundred people to the old blog to find the .pdf and read Jim’s write-up of EPA’s hearings, findings and effects.
Some time in the late-Bush/early-Obama years EPA posted a copy of Judge Sweeney’s decision. That disappeared with the Trump administration, and I’ve not found it anywhere.
So to defend myself, make linking easier, and to aid any stray researchers who are having difficulty finding Judge Sweeney’s real decision, perhaps to debunk the pro-DDT lobbyists’ shouting that Sweeney said DDT is perfectly safe and should be used to bath every newborn, I’ve recaptured Jim Easter’s post from Some Are Boojums, and put it all here.
Warning: I’ve not rejiggered any links. I suspect many of them have gone sour. I may come back to fix a few, but you should know that at one time they all worked well.
Comments were quite lively, but I haven’t quite figured out how to post them; that may come later, or it may not.
On June 2nd, 1972, William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, issued an order effectively ending the agricultural use of DDT in the US.
Thirty-five years later, that order is still the subject of fierce controversy.
One claim often made by proponents of renewed DDT use is that Ruckelshaus’ decision was capricious and unsupported by the evidence — specifically, that he acted in willful disregard of his own hearing examiner’s findings. For example, in a post co-authored with the late J. Gordon Edwards, Steven Milloy states that Ruckelshaus “ignored the decision of his own administrative law judge.”
Milloy’s distortion of the history and science surrounding DDT is shameless, and deserves to be the subject of a separate post. But let’s stick with the Ruckelshaus order for now.
Did Ruckelshaus ignore the conclusions of his hearing examiner? You’d think, since this claim is made so relentlessly by DDT advocates, that we could find the relevant document somewhere on the Web. But it’s not that easy. Ruckelshaus’ order itself is readily available (see below for a more readable copy), but the hearing examiner’s findings … not so much. The document is sometimes cited as “Sweeney, E.M., 1972. ‘EPA Hearing Examiner’s Recommendations and Findings Concerning DDT Hearings,’ April 25, 1972. 40 CFR 164.32.” — which helps a bit, but only a bit, since “40 CFR 164.32″ is just the Federal Regulation governing administrative hearings at EPA. Anyone who offers that to you as an actual cite for the opinion is blowing smoke. A better cite is the one given in the order, viz.: “Stevens Industries, Inc. et al., I.F&R. Docket Nos. 63 et al. (Consolidated DDT Hearings)”. But even that will not get you anything online. EPA does give its Decisions and Orders online, but only back to 1989. A good deal of fruitless searching convinced me that the Sweeney opinion would not be mine with the click of a mouse; it was old-school or nothing. After several weeks, a dozen or so phone calls and the help of some very nice university librarians, I was able to get my hooks on all 173 glorious manually typewritten pages of Edmund M. Sweeney’s “Recommended Findings, Conclusions and Orders.”
Here it is.(56 Mb pdf!) EPA’s librarians indicated that they would not post it online, because of the wretched quality. I’m not so picky. While we’re at it, here is a (slightly) more readable copy of Ruckelshaus’ order. (UPDATE: See  below.)
The following are some of the more notable things we can observe if we look at both documents:
Did Sweeney’s findings generally support the Petitioners (DDT registrants)?
Yes. Sweeney found no evidence to indicate that DDT causes mutations or birth defects in humans, considered the evidence for DDT’s carcinogenicity in humans to be inconclusive, and, though he found that DDT is harmful to wildlife, he deemed that harm to be outweighed by DDT’s value as a pesticide. Sweeney’s findings of fact are summarized in pages 91-92, and his conclusions of law in pages 93-94. Milloy quotes (#17) part of those conclusions:
The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”
That partial quote is misleading. Sweeney also found (p. 92) that
20. DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.
21. DDT is used as a rodenticide.
22. DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.
23. DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.
It is not true that Sweeney found no harm caused by DDT. Rather, he found that, using a “preponderance of the evidence” test, DDT users and USDA had shown that DDT’s usefulness to agriculture outweighed the demonstrated harm.
Did Ruckelshaus ignore Sweeney’s opinion?
No, but he disagreed with substantial portions of it. Ruckelshaus quotes extensively from Sweeney’s opinion, including the findings of fact and conclusions of law noted above. He repeats arguments made by the petitioners, and describes how he differs. Choosing one example:
Group Petitioners and USDA argue that the laboratory feeding studies, conducted with exaggerated doses of DDE and under stress conditions, provide no basis for extrapolating to nature. They suggest that the study results are contradictory and place particular emphasis on documents which were not part of the original record and the inconsistencies in Dr. Heath’s testimony as brought out during cross-examination. Group Petitioners also contend that the observed phenomenon of eggshell thinning and DDE residue data are tied by a statistical thread too slender to connect the two in any meaningful way.
Viewing the evidence as a total picture, a preponderance supports the conclusion that DDE does cause eggshell thinning. Whether or not the laboratory data above would sustain this conclusion is beside the point. For here there is laboratory data and observational data, and in addition, a scientific hypothesis, which might explain the phenomenon.
This is exactly the kind of language that sent J. Gordon Edwards ballistic (detailed discussion reserved for another post). Then as now, DDT advocates felt that the existence of studies with negative results created enough doubt that a ban could not be justified. Ruckelshaus felt just the opposite — that the bulk of the evidence supported a ban — and explained why. For eggshell thinning, 35 years of research have shown that Ruckelshaus was right. A follow-up report issued in 1975 cited 179 studies related to eggshell thinning alone (pp. 69-81). Today, a quick check of PubMed for “ddt eggshell” turns up 50 papers since 1969, and it is clear from the abstracts that the association of thinning and DDT is well established. Bald eagle populations have rebounded since the DDT ban, so successfully that they are now delisted as threatened, a result accepted matter-of-factly by wildlife biologists as a benefit of the DDT ban.
How did Ruckelshaus’ order differ from Sweeney’s recommendation?
One word: cotton. Sweeney ruled on six separate applications for DDT registration, affirming the cancellations for two, vacating the cancellations for three, and allowing a sixth to start the application process. Two of the cases where Sweeney restored the DDT registration were for public health uses: Wyco’s for treatment of mosquito larvae and Eli Lilly’s for use against body lice. Ruckelshaus permitted both applications, as well as public health use of DDT generally, but required a label restricting it to that use. As to DDT’s application worldwide against malaria (the topic of so much dispute nowadays), Ruckelshaus took pains to say that he was not restricting it:
It should be emphasized that these hearings have never involved the use of DDT by other nations in their health control programs. As we said in our DDT Statement of March, 1971, “this Agency will not presume to regulate the felt necessities of other countries.” (p. 26)
The remaining case in which Sweeney vacated the cancellation of DDT registration, permitting its use, was a biggie: USDA and Group Petitioners (31 users of DDT). These had argued collectively that DDT was “essential” for economical production of various crops and control of pests such as the spruce budworm. Of these applications, by far the most important was cotton production, accounting for at least half of all DDT consumption in the US. Other crops were discussed, with sweet peppers in the Delmarva peninsula used as an example. In his order, Ruckelshaus carved out specific exceptions for several crops where DDT was considered the only acceptable alternative, and said that
… if these users or registrants can demonstrate that a produce shortage will result and their particular use of DDT, taken with other uses, does not create undue stress on the general or local environment, particularly the aquasphere, cancellation should be lifted.
The fact that a few loopholes were left open for a while does not change the fact that Ruckelshaus intended to eliminate use of DDT on crops in the US, and his order did have that effect. Even for the “essential” uses, alternatives were found and DDT was dropped. The largest impact of the order was on cotton production. And this is where it gets even more interesting. One of Sweeney’s conclusions of law (p. 94) was that
13. The use of DDT in the United States has declined rapidly since 1959.
The EPA’s 1975 report gives a table (p. 149) that I’ve represented graphically below.
Although exports, and overall production, continued to rise until 1963, US consumption of DDT peaked in 1959, before any significant restrictions were placed on its use, and declined steadily thereafter. A reasonable person might wonder why that would be. Guess what? The boll weevil and the bollworm were becoming resistant to DDT. Sweeney refers to this fact (p. 86) and observes that
While the evidence convinces me that the use of DDT on cotton is declining and should be reduced as soon as effective replacement means of controlling pests are developed, I do not feel that the evidence to date permits any conclusion to the effect that DDT should be banned for use on cotton at this time.
Ruckelshaus disagreed. With his order, use of DDT on cotton pests became history. The economic impact on cotton growers was significant but far from catastrophic: costs to cotton producers were estimated at $7.75 million nationally, and for consumers at 2.2 cents per capita per year (p. 193).
Even in the one arena where the DDT ban was argued to be unbearably burdensome, its use was already declining, the hearing examiner recommended that it be reduced further in favor of alternative methods, and in the event, the ban’s effects were easily absorbed. Well, then — did it have any impact that we should care about?
“There is persuasive evidence that antimalarial operations did not produce mosquito resistance to DDT. That crime, and in a very real sense it was a crime, can be laid to the intemperate and inappropriate use of DDT by farmers, especially cotton growers. They used the insecticide at levels that would accelerate, if not actually induce, the selection of a resistant population of mosquitoes.”
That’s right. The 1972 DDT ban did nothing to restrict the chemical’s use against malaria, but had the effect of eliminating the single most intense source of selection pressure for insecticide resistance in mosquitos. As the rest of the world followed suit in restricting agricultural use of DDT, the spread of resistance was slowed dramatically or stopped. By this single action, William Ruckelshaus — and, credit where it’s due, Rachel Carson — may well have saved millions of lives.
Steven Milloy is invited to add that to the DDT FAQ any time it’s convenient.
 A footnote explains that the post is “largely drawn from materials compiled by J. Gordon Edwards, professor of entomology at San Jose State University.” How much actual collaboration took place, if any, is not stated.
 Technically, it’s not a “decision”, but an opinion stating “recommended findings, conclusions and orders.” A fine point, to be sure, but it makes a difference.
 “It has been estimated that two-thirds of the DDT that is used in the United States is used in agriculture, and that 75% of the DDT that is used on agricultural crops is used on cotton.” (Sweeney, p. 83). According to the 1975 report, cotton’s share had increased to 80% by 1971-1972.
UPDATE: EPA has now posted its DDT archives, complete with the Sweeney opinion, here. You can now download a better-quality copy of the opinion at a fraction of the size, so do that. If my copy is adding no value, I’ll probably take it down eventually. I see that the EPA page was last updated September 25th, roughly a month after this post. I’d like to think that my prodding was a factor, but there’s no way to know.
(Hat tips are due Ed Darrell, for the best historical coverage, Bug Girl, for the best scientific coverage, and Tim Lambert, for the best overall coverage of this issue.)
This entry was posted on Sunday, August 26th, 2007 at 6:25 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Malaria distribution was greatly reduced in the 20th century, reversing centuries of spreading. But malaria persisted into the 21st century. DDT helped reduce malaria, but the U.S. ban on DDT did not cause a rise in malaria infections or deaths. From a paper by Michael Palmer, M.D,. at Waterloo University.
The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 did not cause millions of unnecessary deaths to malaria. In fact, the worldwide death toll to malaria dropped for at least 18 years after the ban, plateaued for most of a decade, and dropped from 1999 to 2017. Malaria deaths fell dramatically, after the U.S. banned DDT from U.S. farms.
Not sure why Dr. Palmer wrote his essay in 2013, but he got most of the major sources and got most of the history accurately, His title, “The ban of DDT did not cause millions to die from malaria.”
It’s a good paper to bookmark, because it doesn’t always show up in Google searches in the U.S. — Waterloo being a university in Canada, in Waterloo, Ontario
March of Dimes Foundation photo: “Nurses tended to polio patients in iron lung respirators at the Robert B. Green Memorial Hospital polio ward in San Antonio in 1950. It was a common scene throughout the polio crisis that swept Texas.” From the San Antonio Express-News article on the history of polio in the city.
It didn’t work.
In a desperate move to stop polio epidemics, after World War II but before the Salk polio vaccine was available, some American towns authorized aerial spraying of DDT over their cities.
Of course, DDT doesn’t stop viruses, and polio is a virus. Polio virus is not spread by a vector, an insect or other creature which might have been stopped by DDT, as mosquitoes spread malaria parasites and West Nile virus.
Aerial spraying of DDT against polio did not one thing.
A podcast from the Science History Institute discussed these misdirected events recently, and someone there did a sharp, short video to explain the issue.
An animation drawn from episode 207 of Distillations podcast, DDT: The Britney Spears of Chemicals.
Americans have had a long, complicated relationship with the pesticide DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, if you want to get fancy. First we loved it, then we hated it, then we realized it might not be as bad as we thought. But we’ll never restore it to its former glory. And couldn’t you say the same about America’s once-favorite pop star?
We had a hunch that the usual narrative about DDT’s rise and fall left a few things out, so we talked to historian and CHF fellow Elena Conis. She has been discovering little-known pieces of this story one dusty letter at a time.
But first our associate producer Rigoberto Hernandez checks out some of CHF’s own DDT cans—that’s right, we have a DDT collection—and talks to the retired exterminator who donated them.
I bring it up here because in recent weeks there’s been a little surge on Twitter, and probably on Facebook and other places, in people claiming DDT causes polio, or causes symptoms so close to polio that physicians could never tell the difference. A lot of anti-vaccine advocates pile on, claiming that this would prove that the polio vaccine doesn’t work.
That’s all quite hooey-licious, off course. Polio’s paralysis of muscles in almost no way resembles acute DDT poisoning, which causes muscle misfiring instead of paralysis. As with almost every other disease, acute DDT poisoning can cause nausea; but DDT poisoning either kills its victim rather quickly, or goes away after a couple of weeks.
Polio doesn’t do that.
In the podcast, you’ll hear the common story of kids running behind DDT fogging trucks, because people thought DDT was harmless. In the concentrations in the DDT fogs, it would be almost impossible to ingest the 4 ounces or so of DDT required to get acute poisoning.
In any case, it’s one more odd facet of a long story of human relations to DDT and diseases. It’s worth a listen for history’s sake. But in this case, it’s entertaining, too. You’ll hear stories of people who opposed government actions to spray DDT, and who thought the government was too lax in its regulation and use of DDT.
I’ll have to beg forgiveness from Tim Lambert, but in the interest of accuracy and good history, I have captured below the post Tim Lambert had on the old Deltoid blog (at the Seed Science Blogs site), dealing with Indur Goklany’s errors on DDT.
A bit of other history: Anthony Watts despises my posts (me, too, probably) and I am banned from his site for various sins including calling him out for suggesting Rachel Carson and President John F. Kennedy had more than an occasional handshake personal relationship (a bizarre charge Christopher Monckton repeats and exaggerates on in slightly different ways). Watts and I disagree on what we should regard as facts; I take the old collegiate debate and Scout Law positions, he sides with the Heartland Institute parody/comedy/hoax troupe.
Watts was having none of my corrections. Tim Lambert, who has researched this particular area of pro-DDT hoaxing more than anyone else, was kind enough to respond.
This is borrowed from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, until, and then maybe a supplement to, the reappearance of Deltoid’s archives at the new site. As of April 10, 2018, I have not checked the links. If links don’t work, please tell me in comments, and I’ll work to get a new link to the old information where possible.
For instance, malaria incidences in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) dropped from 2.8 million in the 1940s to less than 20 in 1963 (WHO 1999a, Whelan 1992). DDT spraying was stopped in 1964, and by 1969 the number of cases had grown to 2.5 million.
With widespread resistance of A. culicifacies to DDT, malathion spraying was introduced in 1975 in areas of P.falciparum transmission affording protection to nearly one million people. Towards the end of 1976 DDT spraying was completely discontinued and during 1977 exclusively malathion was used as an adulticide.
Note that the scale for malaria cases is logarithmic, so there was a factor of ten reduction in the number of cases in a few years after DDT spraying was discontinued.
The misinformation about DDT and malaria that Goklany spreads is harmful and could kill people. DDT still has a place in the fight against malaria (because of insecticide resistance we need as many different insecticides as possible), but there are more effective means available, and by trying to undercut the use of the best methods for fighting malaria, Goklany will be responsible for people dying from malaria.
[End, quote from Tim Lambert’s old Deltoid blog]
Now, is it possible that the comments will copy as well as the blog post? There are some good ones in there.
Here’s a try at copying the comments, below the fold.
From India today, not news to anyone who follows the fight against malaria, and the fight to save a part of the planet to preserve human life.
DDT resistance prompted India to agree to stop production of DDT by 2020 — the last DDT factory remaining. India’s disease fighters tell of frustration trying to control malaria, because abuse of DDT has bred DDT resistant and immune mosquitoes. This is not news.
But India Today has a news hole to fill, and the continuing crises of vector-borne diseases force public health agencies to turn to “fourth generation” pesticides, as insects are now resistant to DDT and malathion.
Delhi’s civic agencies asked to use fourth generation pesticides to kill chemical-resistant insects
A small vehicle fogging streets of Delhi, India, with DDT, to fight mosquitoes. File photo from India Today, used to illustrate the story only.
Pesticides such as DDT and malathion, which were once super weapons in the fight against mosquitoes, now seem to have become harmless perfume-like sprays for the blood-sucking parasites.
Scientists at the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), Delhi which is the central nodal agency for prevention of diseases like malaria, dengue, filariasis, kala-azar, Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya, etc, in India has now recommended municipalities in the Capital and other parts of the country to shift to the 4th generation of pesticides that is also the last in the row.
These constitute certain bio-larvicides and insect growth regulators that stop the synthesis of critical hormones in mosquito larvae to prevent them from becoming adult. Only after attaining maturity, do the female Anopheles and Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes suck blood to get protein nutrition to lay eggs.
Scientists explain that the first generation of pesticides was DDT, used since World War II on soldiers in 1940s up till now, as its a powerful poison against mosquitoes. Later, its environmental effects, specifically on birds like vultures, reduced its usage globally.
Then came malathion, which had to be applied in huge quantities, paving the way for 3rdgeneration pesticides like synthetic pyrethroids and temephos. But with reports of mosquitoes developing tolerance towards all of these gradually, scientists are now recommending mixed and increased usage of the fourth generation of pesticides that is also the last line of defence in this class.
Experiments are still going on with genetically modified mosquitoes and introducing batches of mosquitoes injected with wolbachia bacteria in the wild to produce sterile eggs. A senior scientist with the NVBDCP, Civil Lines, said, Just like humans develop resistance towards antibiotics, mosquitoes have also evolved over the past 20-30 years to grow natural defence against DDT, malathion, etc. We are still using these two in virgin areas like forests of northeast India, Odisha, etc. successfully. But we have begun getting reports that even temephos and synthetic pyrethroids have stopped receiving the desired results against mosquitoes.
A pesticide is said to be successful when it kills over 90 per cent of the targeted insect or pest population. Over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, which play host to a number of disease-causing vectors such as zika, yellow fever, west Nile virus, etc. are said to be the deadliest animal family in the world. They kill 700 million people annually world over.
In Delhi itself, at least 10 people died of dengue last year and 9,271 people were affected.
The numbers of malaria and chikungunya cases recorded in 2017 stood at 1,142 and 940. In 2016, at least 21 dengue deaths were reported from various city hospitals. And this year, an early onset of the deadly trio dengue, malaria and chikungunya is expected with summer-like weather conditions already.
High temperature and presence of clear water in desert coolers, flower pots, coconut shells, etc, act as excellent breeding sites for the menacing insects.
We have asked municipalities to even use the fourth generation of pesticides pirimiphos-methyl and diflubenzuron in a mix with the previous generation pesticides to delay mosquitoes developing tolerance towards this in the future, the scientist explained. He said, over the years, the pesticides must be rotated in use so that their effectiveness on hardy mosquitoes does not go down.
Dr Himmat Singh, senior scientist at the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR), Dwarka, said, The benefit with these two latest pesticides is that they are only hormone-inhibitors, not poisons, and specific to mosquitoes. So they wouldnt have any effect on other insects, birds, mammals, fishes, etc. They are categorised as non-hazardous by WHO. However, their cost has been prohibitive so far, he said.
Delhi municipalities have begun their use after a meeting of scientists and bureaucrats of NVBDCP, NIMR, ministry of health and family welfare and the Central Insecticide Board (CIB) authorised their application in January, sources said.
Dr NR Das, head of the department of Public Health in east MCD said, We have already procured diflubenzuron on NVBDCP directions and been using it for one month satisfactorily. However, we will be able to ascertain its degree of effectiveness only after two to three months.
For at least a decade, India has been the world’s largest producer of DDT, and the largest user, spraying more DDT than the rest of the world together. China and North Korea were the only two other nations making DDT at the end of the 20th century, but both cut off production. Counter to popular conceptions, India has struggled to control malaria, often being the only nation in the world to account increases in the disease from year to year, since 2001. Malaria increased despite increasing DDT application.
To fight malaria effectively DDT spraying should be limited to Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), which leaves a fine coat of DDT on the walls of sleeping rooms, where malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite humans, then pause on the walls to squeeze water out of the blood they’ve fed on, to reduce weight to fly. Broadscale spraying of DDT only speeds development of resistance in all mosquito species, and many other pests.
India is catching up with the rest of the world on DDT.
Tip of the old scrub brush to India Today’s Twitter feed.
Two hummingbirds in Europe in 2017; will these birds go extinct, soon, due to agricultural use of potent pesticides that kill the insects birds need to live? AFP image via The Nation.
Bird populations appear to be collapsing across France, after insect populations crashed last year.
Neonicotinoid Pesticides generally get the blame.
France? You mean where “deja vu” is the native language?
It’s a serious problem.
Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said.
Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.
Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers. Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s.
Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.
Insect declines were written about in Yale e360,and in news reports from Science. In 2017 scientists and others pondered causes for the decline, with research tending to point at new pesticides used in farming. Severity of the decline was alarming, but few sounded the alarms about birds last year.
Chart showing the decline of insects worldwide, from Yale e360: “According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45 percent decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. DIRZO, SCIENCE (2014)”
These events are tragedies predicted by ecologists for years; it’s a replay of the “silent spring” Rachel Carson warned us of in her 1962 book — but the effects are much deeper, and moving much more quickly than almost anyone feared.
Can anyone devise a plan to stop the insect and bird decline, and get it up and operating in time to save Europe’s birds?
Sri Lanka pushed malaria out of the country, and is certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as malaria-free, as of September 2016.
If you follow the fight against malaria, this may not be news to you. If you’re a victim of the pro-DDT, anti-WHO and anti-Rachel Carson hoaxes, you may be surprised.
Sri Lanka once got malaria to almost nothing, with heavy use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spraying. Then the budget hawks stopped the anti-malaria program (“Success!”) to save money. Malaria came roaring back as it will when vigilance relaxes — but by then the mosquitoes were mostly resistant to DDT, and a civil war kept the nation from mounting any public health campaigns in much of the country.
WHO regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said in a statement that Sri Lanka had been among the most malaria-affected countries in the mid-20th century.
But, the WHO said, the country had begun an anti-malaria campaign that successfully targeted the mosquito-borne parasite that causes the disease, not just mosquitoes. Health education and effective surveillance also helped the campaign.
DDT use declining toward oblivion: UNEP caption – Source: DDT Expert Group. Report of the Effectiveness Evaluation on DDT Pursuant to the Article 16 of the Stockholm Convention Animation prepared by: UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch 2016, with the latest information available and may not reflect the current status.
More than 180 nations signed the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs), often called the Stockholm Convention. The treaty pledges nations to voluntarily work to rid the planet of dangerous and toxic organic chemicals.
In 2001, 43 nations said they thought DDT would be useful. But by 2015, 33 of those nations gave up DDT, due to insects developing resistance and immunity.
India, the sole remaining nation where manufacture of DDT occurs, plans to stop all DDT production by 2020. India discovered that more DDT makes the insect pests more resistant faster, instead of beating disease carriers.
Caption from the Buffalo News: A bald eagle, one of a pair of eagles raising chicks in a nest on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River, fishes in the river, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)
Among the greater chunks of powerful evidence for the damage the pesticide DDT did to birds is the dramatic recovery of some species as residual DDT levels drop, after DDT use ended in the U.S.
If you haven’t spotted the stark white head of a bald eagle somewhere in the Buffalo Niagara sky, it might be time to get out of the house more often.
Eagles are back in historically high numbers, according to a recent report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC reported a record-high 442 bald eagle breeding territories statewide in 2016, including 58 spots in six Western New York counties, including Erie, Niagara, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. That’s up from 38 spots in the region in 2012.
“It’s an astonishing number,” said Jim Landau, a count coordinator from the Hamburg Hawk Watch.
Recovery of bald eagles, and other endangered raptors including osprey, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons, is a great chapter in the book of successes of the Endangered Species Act and the rising conservation consciousness of the 1970s.
Recovery of all four species waited after EPA’s ban on crop use of DDT, until residual DDT levels in adult birds declined to a point the female birds could once again produce competent shells for the eggs they laid. DDT levels in fish and prey also had to drop to levels that would not poison chicks just hatched.
EPA banned DDT from U.S. farms in 1972, designating all DDT made in the country for export, to fight disease. Though DDT use declined world wide as resistance to the pesticide spread rapidly among mosquitoes and flies that were its target, most diseases DDT fought against declined. I estimate about 100 million fewer people died of malaria alone after the DDT ban. Birds were saved, and so were humans.
Interested, and interesting, to discover Botswana has a Facebook page where it appears is posted almost every press release or news item from the government.
I found it because some wag claimed on Twitter that Botswana faces a malaria crisis, and therefore DDT should be ‘brought back from the dead.’
Botswana did post about a malaria outbreak, but the nation appears to have good sense about how to fight malaria. The Tweeter missed that Botswana is already doing what a nation would use DDT for, Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), and that phrase alone means Botswana’s malaria fighters are alert to any need for DDT should it arise, but also to the severe limitations on DDT use. DDT doesn’t work in about 95% of the nations on Earth.
Botswana is among the ten nations remaining on Earth who use DDT when and where they find a population of mosquitoes still susceptible to DDT. Almost all nations on Earth signed the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs, or Stockholm Agreement), which requires annual reporting of DDT use. But there are 11 other pesticides the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for IRS. Botswana is unlikely to use DDT where it won’t work, which is most places.
Botswana is one of the DDT Ten in 2016, too. But this is down from 43 nations in 2001. DDT’s effectiveness and time as a tool to fight malaria is mostly gone, vanishing quickly.
Botswana has DDT if it can find a use for it; no more DDT is needed. A malaria outbreak in Botswana is no reason to remove the ban on DDT use on U.S. farms.
Here is the story/press release from Botswana’s government:
MALARIA CASES RISE IN OKAVANGO
North West District has been hard hit by a malaria epidemic with 670 recorded cases and five deaths since the beginning of the rainy season.
Head of the District Health Management Team, Dr Malebogo Pusoentsi revealed this at a press conference aimed at evaluating efforts made in the district to control the disease, recently.
A task force was in the district to assess and appreciate the situation as well as discuss what more could be done going forward.
Dr Pusoentsi said the highly affected region was Okavango which recorded over 90 per cent of the cases.
Highly affected areas include Shakawe, Xakao and Seronga in the Okavango District while in Ngami, Tsau and Mababe were the most affected.
Out of the affected people, it was reported that males were mostly affected as compared to females, and that more than 30 per cent of the affected were children. The most affected areas were said to be schools.
Dr Pusoentsi explained that malaria infection in humans was mainly transmitted through the sting of the female anopheles mosquito, adding that the disease in people could present clinically as either uncomplicated, complicated or asymptomatic, especially for people living in malaria endemic areas.
She stated that prevention of malaria remained a priority with strategies aimed at vector control. She said two strategies have been used to control mosquitoes in the area such as indoor residual spraying and the distribution of the long lasting insecticide treated nets. She added that 57 000 nets having been distributed across the country.
Regarding indoor spraying, Dr Pusoentsi revealed that for the transmission period of 2016/17, the district achieved an average of 69 per cent coverage as compared to the 85 per cent target.
Asked if the district was winning the battle, she said they were on the right track as health officials have doubled up efforts to tackle the epidemic.
She said social mobilisation was effective as the community and leadership were taught to make malaria a priority in their agenda, adding that if one member of a family was affected, chances were high that the rest of the family were also at risk.
Furthermore, Dr Pusoentsi explained that many opportunities still existed at community level to effectively control the spread of malaria, citing the cleaning of surroundings to minimise the breeding spaces for the mosquitoes.
Another strategy was to work collaboratively to ensure community knowledge and participation during the epidemic period. She urged the community to visit health facilities if they experience any symptoms of malaria so that they could be assisted on time.
She noted that common signs and symptoms include high temperature, headache and rigors, pallor and vomiting.
Dr Pusoentsi also noted that Botswana was among the countries which were aiming to eliminate malaria by 2018, adding that as part of the strategy, all efforts and investments had been put in place to control the spread.
Effective surveillance mechanism, she said had been put in place to monitor the disease burden and response efficiency at all times.
In addition, she pointed out that case management and drug supply had been strengthened to ensure quality management of cases of malaria to avoid deaths. (BOPA)
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Still photo from Walt Disney’s “Winged Scourge,” a wanted poster for “Anopheles, alias Malaria Mosquito.” The 1943 film short suggested ways to cut populations of the malaria-spreading mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. Disease prevention would aid the war effort in 1943, it was hoped.
Malaria’s scourge hobbled economic progress across the Americas, and critically in World War II, that hobbled the war effort to defeat the Axis powers, Germany and Japan.
U.S. government recruiting of Hollywood film makers to produce propaganda films hit a zenith in the war. Even animated characters joined in. Cartoonists produced short subject cartoons on seeveral topics.
In 1943 the Disney studios distributed this film starring the Seven Dwarfs, among the biggest Disney stars of the time. The film was aimed at Mexico, Central America and South America, suggesting ways people could actually fight malaria. Versions were made in Spanish and English (I have found no Portuguese version for Brazil, but I’m still looking.)
the lost Disney described the film:
The first of a series of health-related educational shorts produced by the Disney studios and the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs for showing in Latin America. It was also the only one to use established Disney characters (the Seven Dwarfs).
In this propaganda short, the viewers are taught about how the mosquito can spread malaria. A young mosquito flies into a house and consumes the blood of an infected human. She then consumes the blood of a healthy human, transmitting the disease into him. It turns out that this is actually a film within a film and the Seven Dwarves are watching it. They volunteer to get rid of the mosquito by destroying her breeding grounds.
A Spanish-language version of the film:
Fighting malaria in the U.S. became a grand campaign in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Roosevelt administration officials saw malaria as a sapper of wealth, especially in the rural south. Part of the charge of the Tennessee Valley Authority was to wipe out malaria. By 1932, public health agencies in malaria-affected counties were beefed up to be able to promptly diagnose and treat human victims of malaria. TVA taught methods of drying up mosquito breeding places around homes and outdoor work areas. Sustained campaigns urged people to make their homes tighter, against weather, and to install screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquito entry especially at peak biting periods, dusk to after midnight.
U.S. malaria deaths and infections plunged by 90% between 1933 and 1942 — just in time to allow southern military bases to be used for training activities for World War II. After the war, the malaria-fighting forces of the government became the foundation for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). With the introduction of DDT after 1945, CDC had another weapon to completely wipe out the remaining 10% of malaria cases and deaths.
It’s worth noting that in the end, it is the disease malaria that is eradicated, not the mosquitoes. In most places in the world, eradication of a local population of disease carriers is a temporary thing. A few remaining, resistant-to-pesticide-or-method mosquitoes can and do quickly breed a new population of hardier insects, and often surrounding populations will contribute new genetic material. Eradication of a vector-borne disease requires curing the disease in humans, so that when the mosquitoes come roaring back, they have no well of disease from which to draw new infection.
It’s a footnote, but an important one right now, when the anti-science, anti-environmental protection, anti-learning wing of American culture again gears up to attack the memory of Rachel Carson, the science findings that led to the ban on crop use of DDT in America, and upon health care and medicine and science in general.
DDT kills. DDT can kill humans.
Daily Beast, usually a sober-enough, accurate enough online news organ that has absorbed the old print magazine Newsweek, recently carried a column by Paul Offitt, repeating the hoax claims that DDT was banned contrary to science, by a conspiracy of power-made environmentalists, that DDT is harmless to humans, and that had DDT not been banned, millions of humans would have survived malaria.
Long-time readers of this organ know each of those points is false, hoaxes ginned up to impugn science, leftists, environmental protection, or just for the hell of it. Offitt’s is just the first of several of these hoax-based articles which will cause us all grief this spring, I predict.
Probably the most difficult-to-explain hoax claim is the one that says DDT is “harmless” to humans.
DDT usually doesn’t come in a dose great enough to kill humans outright. That should not be mistaken for safety. DDT was known to kill early on, and as it turns out, it has become a method of human suicide across Asia. Unfortunately for policy study, those cases rarely get reported in science journals.
Some medical researcher should study the issue, to determine how widespread DDT suicide might be, what physicians do to save a person so poisoned, if they ever can. And I often wonder, is any suicide by insecticide reported as “DDT,” though it may be some other toxin?
Some time ago I was surprised to hear an author talking about DDT suicide, which she had mentioned in one of her stories. The story was published in The New Yorker, “A Sheltered Woman.” The magazine interviewed the author, Yiyun Li; Li explained why she mentioned DDT suicide in the story.
This week’s story, “A Sheltered Woman,” is about a baby nurse named Auntie Mei, a Chinese immigrant who has established a solid career for herself looking after infants and their breast-feeding mothers in the Bay Area. When did the character of Auntie Mei first come to you?
A year ago, while rummaging through old things, I found a notebook that I had bought at a garage sale in Iowa City when I first came to America—I had paid five cents for it. The notebook was in a good shape; though it remained unused. A character occurred to me: she paid a dime and asked if there was a second notebook so she did not have to have the change back. Such greed, the character said, laughing at herself. From that moment on I knew I had a story.
Auntie Mei keeps a distance between herself and her charges, rarely staying longer than the first month of a baby’s life and establishing an orderly regime in the households she enters. Yet her disciplined approach starts to falter when she’s faced with Chanel, a disgruntled young mother, and her son. Why is Chanel able to unsettle Auntie Mei? Did you know this would happen when you starting thinking of the way the two characters would interact?
Auntie Mei’s life has a reliable pattern: the moment she enters a house to take care of a new set of mother and infant she can already see the exit point. But any pattern is breakable. When I started the story, I knew that the situation would change for Auntie Mei. Chanel, by not being ready to be a mother, forces Auntie Mei into a dilemma: When the baby in her charge is not loved by his parents, should she step in and offer her love? And what danger would she find herself in if she does not suppress that love?
You said in a recent interview that your characters don’t struggle as immigrants but are concerned rather with internal struggles and with the problems they’ve brought with them from China. That’s certainly the case here, where Auntie Mei is haunted by the legacy of the two women who raised her, her mother and her grandmother, who rejected the men in their lives. Does Auntie Mei’s childhood reflect anything in particular about Chinese-village life? Could you imagine a similar situation had she grown up in America?
Part of Auntie Mei’s childhood reflects Chinese-village life. For instance, her mother threatened to kill herself with DDT. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, but, when I grew up, it was widely used in China, and, in the countryside, suicides by DDT were common. The peculiarities of Auntie Mei’s grandmother and mother would have been less readily accepted had she grown up in America, or even in a big city in China. However, Auntie Mei’s struggle is not specific to China. I imagine it’s a situation that can happen in any country. Our knowledge of history in general is limited, but at least there are historians who strive to enlighten the public. The murkiest history is within one’s own family, and oftentimes things remain unexplored and unsaid, and what is said may be misrepresentation or even distortion. Auntie Mei is not alone in her struggle with a shadowy past. In fact, I wonder how many people are truly exempted from the past.
One more anecdote, but one we may put stock into. DDT suicide is a thing. DDT can kill humans acutely, when the dose is great enough. Statements that DDT is harmless are inaccurate.
India News Today photo shows insecticide fogging in crowded Delhi neighborhoods to combat Chikungunya virus by striking down mosquitoes that transmit the disease from one human to another.
In the western world, libertarians, so-called conservatives and anti-science people call for a “return” of DDT to fight Zika virus spread.
But in the world’s DDT capital, India, where DDT is still made and more DDT is applied than in the rest of the world combined, DDT’s failures stand out. News reports say health care in key Indian cities is hamstrung by doctors and nurses getting mosquito-borne diseases.
Why don’t they just use “the magic powder,” DDT, to wipe out mosquitoes? Oh, Dear Reader, India has used DDT extensively, for everything, for 60 years. Mosquitoes that carry disease, and all other mosquitoes, and many other insect pests, developed resistance and immunity to DDT from that use.
Apart from the fact that DDT would be the WRONG pesticide to use for anything other than malaria-carrying mosquitoes from the genus Anopheles, it simply does not work.
If DDT advocates paid attention to news and history, they’d not call for more DDT anywhere for any reason.
Apart from doctors, even nurses, other members of the medical staff and sanitation workers are going on leave at a time when the number of people afflicted by dengue and chikungunya this year in the city and its suburbs has crossed two thousand.
As outcry over an onslaught of viral diseases in the Capital reaches fever pitch and hospitals struggle in the face of an unrelenting tide of patients, the men in white too have started calling in sick.
Apart from doctors, even nurses, other members of the medical staff and sanitation workers are going on leave at a time when the number of people afflicted by dengue and chikungunya this year in the city and its suburbs has crossed two thousand.
Careful watchers, therefore, will understand that DDT has worn out its usefulness against a wide variety of mosquito-borne diseases including Zika.
“In our hospital, 10 per cent of the staff is currently down with fever,” said Dr Ramesh Chugh, medical superintendent of Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya Hospital in south Delhi. “We have over 100 doctors, and currently 7-8 doctors are down with fever.”
Experts say heavier than usual rainfall, a large number of construction projects and scores of open drains in Delhi are allowing mosquitoes to breed in stagnant water.
Far too many commenters fail to understand that DDT was never the chief tool in fighting malaria, or any other disease. Instead, DDT was used to knock down local populations of mosquitoes, temporarily, so health care and better housing and other measures could cure humans of the diseases and remove mosquito breeding areas from areas around human homes and human activities. India’s failure to provide good sewage drainage, good storm sewage drainage, and otherwise plug up potholes and even tiny water catching places allows mosquitoes almost free rein. India relied too long on poisoning everything with DDT, instead of building a mosquito-resistant urban area.
At Lok Nayak Hospital in central Delhi, 18 doctors are on leave. “Either the doctors are down with fever or somebody in their family is ill. The doctors are taking leave for at least 4-5 days. We have had cases where physicians were ill but returned to work early seeing the number of patients,” said a senior doctor.
NURSES AND SANITATION WORKERS ALSO ON LEAVE
In east Delhi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital, 18 members of the medical staff, including doctors, nurses and sanitation workers, are absent. “In a staff of nearly 1200, 10-15 doctors are on leave due to viral illnesses,” said Dr Punita Mahajan, medical superintendent of Baba Ambedkar Hospital in northwest Delhi. “We are not exerting pressure on the doctors to continue if they feel slightly unwell as it is very important for the hospital to ensure that they remain healthy.”
The Delhi government has asked hospitals to ensure that dengue and chikungunya patients are treated without distress.
Officials say the health department has already dedicated an additional 1,000 beds for those suffering from fever at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, Janakpuri Super Speciality Hospital and Deep Chand Bandhu Hospital.
These institutes have been designated nodal hospitals for fever in the city. All hospitals- government and private – in the National Capital Territory have been directed to increase their surge capacity.
“While doctors are trying their best to remain on duty till the effect of vector-borne diseases recedes the city, the shortage in staff and the new directions from the government would add to the existing burden,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity.
The Delhi government says it is fully prepared to battle with the onslaught of diseases and has denied in the city high court claims that the Capital is facing its worst dengue crisis.
In an affidavit filed in the court, it said strict surveillance of preparedness and impact of these diseases has been carried out for taking further preventive measures as, due to environmental conditions, the number of diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria shows an upswing during July to October.
India continues to learn that DDT is not magic, not often useful, and sometimes detrimental to disease control efforts.
Will the rest of the world watch and learn? No, DDT will not and cannot help in the fight against Zika virus’s spread to humans. Waste no more time wondering, but get on with the hard work of draining mosquito breeding places, improving houses with window screens and other improvements, and developing vaccines and other medicines. Now.
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Retired teacher of law, economics, history, AP government, psychology and science. Former speechwriter, press guy and legislative aide in U.S. Senate. Former Department of Education. Former airline real estate, telecom towers, Big 6 (that old!) consultant. Lab and field research in air pollution control.
My blog, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, is a continuing experiment to test how to use blogs to improve and speed up learning processes for students, perhaps by making some of the courses actually interesting. It is a blog for teachers, to see if we can use blogs. It is for people interested in social studies and social studies education, to see if we can learn to get it right. It's a blog for science fans, to promote good science and good science policy. It's a blog for people interested in good government and how to achieve it.
BS in Mass Communication, University of Utah
Graduate study in Rhetoric and Speech Communication, University of Arizona
JD from the National Law Center, George Washington University