DDT chronicles: 300+ reasons to ban DDT

February 16, 2011

“100 things you should know about DDT?”  Oh, hell. That’s nothing.

Here’s a list of 300+ things you should know about DDT that Steven Milloy and the “Competitive Enterprise” Institute want to hide from you. Rather than bullet points, these are the actual articles from this blog and from original sources, featuring links to even more information.

These are the facts, the history, science and law that demonstrate Rachel Carson was correct in Silent Spring; that DDT was never banned from fighting malaria (though it was banned from crop use in the U.S.). These are the facts, that despite difficulties caused by DDT’s failure as a miracle pesticide against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, malaria infections and deaths dropped and plunged continuously, from 1972 and the U.S. ban on DDT on crops, to today.

At peak DDT use, roughly from 1958 to 1963, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated malaria deaths world wide at 5 million per year, declining to about 4 million per year by 1963. 500 million people were infected with malaria every year — a half billion, or 17% of the entire world population at that time.  WHO conducted an ambitious malaria-eradication campaign starting in 1955.  It was based on the ability to temporarily knock down mosquito populations, with DDT sprayed on the walls of homes of people in malaria-endemic areas.  But in 1963, when the campaign moved to central Africa, WHO workers discovered mosquitoes there had developed resistance and immunity to DDT due to use in agriculture and pest control.  Without a pesticide to give a recess from infection spread, WHO had to end the program.  Workers had stopped nation-wide campaigns by 1965, and WHO’s World Health Assembly officially abandoned the campaign in 1969.

Despite that campaign’s end, malaria continued to decline.  By 1972, when the U.S. banned DDT on crops and sent all DDT produced to fight vector-borne diseases, the death toll dropped to just over 3 million per year. By 1985, just over 1.5 million deaths were counted annually.  But then malaria parasites themselves — tiny animals — developed resistance to the pharmaceuticals used to cure the disease in humans. For the next decade, malaria infections rose modestly in some places.

New pharmaceutical regimens, and renewed vigor in prevention campaigns, kicked in about 1999. Since then malaria deaths have fallen, from over a million per year to fewer than 500,000 per year.  Total infections dropped to 212 million per year — a 60% reduction since WHO ended the eradication campaign.

Promising and encouraging progress against malaria spurs talk once again of eradication of the disease.  But there is still much work to do, and very thorny problems to solve — like drug-resistant malaria, and pesticide resistant mosquitoes.

*     *     *     *     *

Please,  Dear Reader, Dear Researcher, Dear Policy Maker, check out the several outstanding resources from other publications that I have listed at the bottom of this list, below the “Gordo” cartoon.  Those sources boil down much of the best information here, and they write it better than I do.

300+ essays and articles at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub relating to DDT, in reverse chronological order (note this list may not be complete; for more articles, use the “search” feature and look for DDT and/or malaria in posts on this blog):

A Gordo Sunday cartoon marking the passing of ...

A “Gordo” Sunday cartoon marking the passing of Rachel Carson in 1964; by cartoonist Gus Arriola, copyright by Arriola (Fair Use) (Image via Wikipedia)

Very important articles at other sites and other sources:

Official, original documents:

Indexing:  Rachel Was Right, #DDT, #Malaria, #RachelCarson, Junk Science, World Health Organization, WHO, Environmentalism

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Washington Times felled by DDT poisoning

June 9, 2010

Washington Times‘ owner, the Unification Church, put the paper up for sale earlier this year — tired of losing north of $30 million a year on the thing.  It appears that, in a cost-cutting move, the paper has laid off all its fact checkers and most of its editors.

And anyone with a brain.

DDT use in the U.S. peaked in 1959, with 70 million pounds of the stuff used in that year.  This ad comes from about that time.

DDT use in the U.S. peaked in 1959, with 70 million pounds of the stuff used in that year. This ad for a French product containing DDT comes from about that time.

How do we know?

Our old friend Stephen Milloy complains about Time Magazine’s “50 Worst Inventions” list, including, especially the listing of DDT, as discussed earlier.  It’s wrong, and silly.  Good fact checkers, and good editors, wouldn’t let such claptrap make it into print.

Milloy packed an astounding number of whoppers in a short paragraph about DDT:

From 1943 through its banning by the EPA in 1972, DDT saved hundreds of millions of lives all over the world from a variety of vector-borne diseases. Even when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (and closeted environmental activist) William D. Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972, he did so despite a finding from an EPA administrative law judge who, after seven months and 9,000 pages of testimony, ruled that DDT presented no threat of harm to humans or wildlife. Today, a million children die every year from malaria. DDT could safely make a tremendous dent in that toll.

Let us count the errors and falsehoods:

1.  DDT was used against typhus from 1943 through about 1946, and against bedbugs; it saved millions, but not hundreds of millions. Death tolls from typhus rarely rose over a million a year, if it ever did.  Bedbugs don’t kill, they just itch.  If we add in malaria after 1946, in a few years we push to four million deaths total from insect-borne diseases — but of course, that’s with DDT being used.  If we charitably claim DDT saved four million lives a year between 1943 and 1972, we get a total of 117 million lives saved.  But we know that figure is inflated a lot.

Sure, DDT helped stop some disease epidemics.  But it didn’t save “hundreds of millions of lives” in 29 years of use.  The National Academy of Sciences, in a book noting that DDT should be banned because its dangers far outweigh its long-term benefits, goofed and said DDT had saved 500 million lives from malaria, and said DDT is one of the most beneficial chemicals ever devised by humans.  500 million is the annual infection rate from malaria, with a high of nearly four million deaths, but in most years under a million deaths.  Malaria kills about one of every 500 people infected in a year.  That’s far too many deaths, but it’s not as many lives saved as Milloy claims.

NAS grossly overstated the benefits of DDT, and still called for it to be banned.

The question is, why is Milloy grossly inflating his figures?  Isn’t it good enough for DDT to be recognized as one of the most beneficial substances ever devised?

My father always warned that when advertisers start inflating their claims, they are trying to hide something nasty.

2.  Ruckelshaus didn’t ban DDT on his own — nor was he a “closeted” environmentalist. He got the job at EPA because he was an outstanding lawyer and administrator, with deep understanding of environmental issues — his environmentalism was one of his chief qualifications for the job.  (Maybe Milloy spent the ’70s in a closet, and assumes everyone else did, too?)  But EPA acted only when ordered to act by two different federal courts (Judge David Bazelon ordered an end to all use of DDT at one of the trials).  At trial, DDT had been found to be inherently dangerous and uncontrollable.  Both courts were ready to order DDT banned completely, but stayed those orders pending EPA’s regulatory hearings and action.

In fact, regulatory actions against DDT began in the 1950s; by 1970, scientific evidence was overwhelming (and it has not be contradicted:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency with responsibility of regulating pesticides before the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, began regulatory actions in the late 1950s and 1960s to prohibit many of DDT’s uses because of mounting evidence of the pesticide’s declining benefits and environmental and toxicological effects. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 stimulated widespread public concern over the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls.

In 1972, EPA issued a cancellation order for DDT based on adverse environmental effects of its use, such as those to wildlife, as well as DDT’s potential human health risks. Since then, studies have continued, and a causal relationship between DDT exposure and reproductive effects is suspected. Today, DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities. This classification is based on animal studies in which some animals developed liver tumors.

DDT is known to be very persistent in the environment, will accumulate in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere. Since the use of DDT was discontinued in the United States, its concentration in the environment and animals has decreased, but because of its persistence, residues of concern from historical use still remain.

3.  Judge Sweeney ruled that DDT is dangerous to humans and especially wildlife, but that DDT’s new, Rachel-Carson-friendly label would probably protect human health and the environment. EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney presided at the hearings in 1971.  As in the two previous federal court trials, DDT advocates had ample opportunity to make their case.  32 companies and agencies defended the use of DDT in the proceeding.  Just prior to the hearings, DDT manufacturers announced plans to relabel DDT for use only in small amounts, against disease, or in emergencies, and not in broadcast spraying ever.  This proved significant later.

Judge Sweeney did not find that DDT is harmless.  Quite to the contrary, Sweeney wrote in the findings of the hearing:

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. [DDT was used to kill bats in homes and office buildings; this was so effective that, coupled with accidental dosing of bats from their eating insects carrying DDT,  it actually threatened to wipe out some species of bat in the southwest U.S.]

22.  DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.

23.  DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.

DDT use in the U.S. had dropped from a 1959 high of 79 million pounds, to just 12 million pounds by 1972.  Hazards from DDT use prompted federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to severely restrict or stop use of the stuff prior to 1963.  Seeing the writing on the wall, manufacturers tried to keep DDT on the market by labeling it very restrictively.  That would allow people to buy it legally,  and then use it illegally, but such misuse can almost never be prosecuted.

Sweeney wrote that, under the new, very restrictive label, DDT could be kept on the market.  Ruckelshaus ruled that EPA had a duty to protect the environment even from abusive, off-label use, and issued a ban on all agricultural use.

4.  More DDT today won’t significantly reduce malaria’s death toll. Milloy fails to mention that DDT use against malaria was slowed dramatically in the mid-1960s — seven years before the U.S. banned spraying cotton with it — because mosquitoes had become resistant and immune to DDT.  DDT use was not stopped because of the U.S. ban on spraying crops; DDT use was reduced because it didn’t work.

Milloy also ignores the fact that DDT is being used today.  Not all populations of mosquitoes developed immunity, yet.  DDT has a place in a carefully-managed program of “integrated vector management,” involving rotating several pesticides to ensure mosquitoes don’t evolve immunity, and spraying small amounts of the pesticide on the walls of houses where it is most effective, and ensuring that DDT especially does not get outdoors.

To the extent DDT can be used effectively, it is being used.  More DDT can only cause environmental harm, and perhaps harm to human health.

Most significantly, Milloy grossly overstates the effectiveness of DDT.  Deaths from malaria numbered nearly 3 million a year in the late 1950s; by the middle 1960s, the death rate hovered near 2 million per year.  Today, annual death rates are under a million — less than half the death rate when DDT use was at its peak.  Were DDT the panacea Milloy claims, shouldn’t the death numbers go the other way?

Milloy gets away making wild, misleading and inaccurate claims when editors don’t bother to read his stuff, and they don’t bother to ask “does this make sense?”  Nothing Milloy claims could be confirmed with a search of PubMed, the most easily accessible, authoritative data base of serious science journals dealing with health.

Obviously, Washington Times didn’t bother to check.  Were all the fact checkers let go?

Even more lunatic

Milloy also attacked the decision to get lead out of gasoline.  Ignoring all the facts and the astoundingly long history of severe health effects from lead pollution, Milloy dropped this stinking mental turd:

As to leaded gasoline, we can safely say that leaded gasoline helped provide America and the world with unprecedented freedom and fueled tremendous prosperity. We don’t use leaded gasoline in the United States anymore, but more because people simply don’t like the idea of leaded gasoline as opposed to any body of science showing that it caused anybody any harm. It’s the dose that makes the poison, and there never was enough lead in the ambient environment to threaten health.

The U.S. found that getting lead out of gasoline actually improved our national IQ.  Lead’s health effects were so pervasive, there was an almost-immediate improvement in health for the entire nation, especially children, when lead was removed.  Denying the harms of tetraethyl lead in gasoline goes past junk science, to outright falsehood.

What is Milloy’s fascination with presenting deadly poisons as “harmless?”  Why does he hate children so?

Why do publications not catch these hallucination-like errors and junk science promotions when he writes them?

Antidote to DDT poisoning in humans:  Spread the facts:

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Monckton lies again (and again, and again, and again, and again . . .)! The continuing saga of a practicer of fictional science

October 18, 2009

When Monckton claimed that Jackie Kennedy was responsible for malaria in Africa, I thought it a great stretch.

Holy cow!  Monckton gave a speech in Minnesota, and if this quote is representative, it was a one man re-enactment of the Burlington Liar’s Club quarterfinals for 2002 through 2008 (he was disqualified for lack of humor).  Monckton spoke at Bethel University in St. Paul on October 15, 2009:

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

Here is why the truth matters. It was all very well for jesting Pilate to ask that question and then not to tarry for an answer. But that question that he asked, “what is the truth?” is the question which underlies every question and in the end it is the only question that really matters. When you ask that question what you are really asking is “what is the truth about the matter?” And we are now going to see why it matters morally, socially, and politically, as well as economically and scientifically. That the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should inform public policy on this question. Now, 40 years ago, DDT, the only effective agent against the malaria mosquito was banned. And you saw in that film [Cascade Policy Institute film “Climate Chains” was shown prior –ed] what the effect of that ban was. Before the ban, the inventor of DDT got the Nobel Peace Prize because he had saved more lives than anyone else in the history of the planet. Malaria, one of the greatest killers of children in the Third World had all but been eradicated. There were still 50,000 deaths per year. But when DDT was banned by exactly the same faction, that is now trying to tell us we must close down five sixths of the United States economy that figure is actually in the Waxman- Markey bill. That same faction banned DDT worldwide. The consequences are on the slide there. The number of deaths went up from 50,000 to a million a year and stayed there. For 40 years. 40 million people, nearly all of them children, died of malaria solely and simply because DDT had been banned for no good scientific reason or environmental reason whatsoever. And it was only after every single one of the people responsible for that dismal, murderous decision had retired or died that on September the 15th 2006, Dr. Arata Kochi of the World Health Organization said “Normally in this field, science comes second and politics comes first. But we will now take a stand on the science and the data, and he ended that ban on DDT and made it once again the front line of defense against the malaria mosquito. After pressure from me, among others.

Right there Monckton disqualified himself from ever being a Boy Scout with egregious disregard for the first point of the Scout Law. Oh, Monckton is dependable, but dependable only to tell falsehoods and stink up the place.  That excerpt provides the Recommended Annual Dose of both voodoo science and voodoo history.  Count the problems with me:

1.  DDT has never been the only effective means to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT was  a very effective pesticide, though dangerous — but never the “only effective agent against the malaria mosquito.”  The U.S., for one example beat malaria (and yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne diseases) well enough to finish the Panama Canal in 1915 without DDT, by controlling mosquito breeding areas and using screens to protect sleeping workers from mosquitoes.  Malaria, once endemic in much of the U.S., was practically eliminated by 1939.  DDT was used in limited fashion to complete the eradication in the U.S., after World War II — but most of the work had already been done.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (founded to control malaria) relates at its website:

Control efforts conducted by the state and local health departments, supported by the federal government, resulted in the disease being eradicated by 1949. Such measures included drainage, removal of mosquito breeding sites, and spraying (occasionally from aircrafts) of insecticides.

Aircraft spraying insecticide,  1920's
Aircraft spraying insecticide, 1920s
Drainage activities, Virginia, 1920's
Drainage activities, Virginia, 1920s

We still have the non-pesticide solutions, and they still work.  But 40 years ago, there were other pesticides that worked against the malaria vector mosquitoes.

The national library of the ancient Kingdom of Ghana had volumes on how to eradicate malaria, more than 500 years ago.  Monckton can’t even be bothered to Google the topic, let alone visit one of America’s more than 15,000 free county libraries, to get the facts?

2.  No Nobel Peace Prize was ever given for DDT, and the prize given wasn’t for saving malaria victims. Paul Müller won the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine in 1948, for his discovery that DDT killed insects.  There was no Peace Prize awarded in 1948.  A chemist working in biological chemicals won the Peace Nobel later — but it was Linus Pauling, who won in 1962 for his work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  [UPDATE:  Listening to Monckton’s speech, I note that the transcriber made a serious error.  Monckton did not specify the Nobel Peace Prize; it is still true that the Medicine Prize that Müller won was not on the basis of DDT’s saving an uncountable number of lives.  The chief medical advantage cited was the use of DDT fighting typhus; malaria gets a mention.  Monckton can’t be bothered with accuracy on such things, however, as is clearly shown.]

The bizarre claim about saving “more lives than anyone else in the history of the planet” comes from a wacko claim of the Lyndon Larouche cult, apparently based on a typographical error in a 1980 book from the National Academy of Sciences.

3.  Malaria rates have been greatly reduced in the 20th century, but malaria has never been “all but eradicated.” In the past 120 years, malaria has always killed more than 900,000 people a year; for most of the past 60 years, the death toll has been more than a million people a year, sometimes as high as 4 million people killed.  Annual malaria deaths have never been under a half million, let alone as low as 50,000.

4.  DDT has never been banned for use to control malaria. 40 years ago, in 1969, DDT was freely available world wide.  Sweden banned the stuff from agricultural use in 1970; the U.S. followed with a ban on agricultural use of DDT, especially sprayed from airplanes.  DDT for fighting malaria has always been a feature of the U.S. ban.  As a pragmatic matter, DDT manufacture on U.S. shores continued for more than a dozen years after the restrictions on agricultural use of the stuff.  In an ominous twist, manufacture in the U.S. continued through most of 1984, right up to the day the Superfund Act made it illegal to dump hazardous substances without having a plan to clean it up or money to pay for clean up — on that day the remaining manufacturing interests declared bankruptcy to avoid paying for the environmental damage they had done.  See the Pine River, Michigan Superfund site, or the Palos Verdes and Montrose Chemical Superfund sites in California,  the CIBA-Geigy plant in McIntosh, Alabama, and sites in Sand Creek, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, and Aberdeen, North Carolina, for examples.

5.  Nothing in Waxman-Markey anticipates closing down any part of the U.S. economy. This is a claim Monckton appears to have plucked from between his gluteals.  Here’s one summary of the bill (notice the money allocated to boost industry), here’s another, and here’s the summary from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

6.  There’s no way to blame malaria deaths on a lack of DDT. As noted, DDT has been available for use in Africa and Asia since its patent.  More importantly, malaria death rates have been influenced by the failure of effectiveness of pharmaceuticals against the malaria parasite itself in humans.  DDT fights only the mosquitoes that carry the parasite.  But the difficulty wasn’t in beating the mosquitoes; the difficulty was in curing humans (from whom the mosquitoes get the parasite to pass along).

7.  DDT was restricted on the basis of overwhelming evidence of harms. This is one of those charges that is self-refuting in the hands of DDT advocates and anti-science people.  You don’t have to go far to find claims that EPA acted contrary to an extensive hearing record that took months to compose.  But then they turn around and claim, as Monckton does here, that there is no such record?  The facts are that the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) hearings were conducted under the gun.  Two different federal courts had ordered the review, which had been started with the Department of Agriculture before the creation of EPA.  The hearing record itself fell out of favor with some officials, and even EPA’s library had difficulty finding a copy of the decision by Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney — but intrepid fact seekers like Jim Easter tracked down the documents and posted them for all to see.  Easter notes that the record is clear on harms to wildlife, bio-magnification, and other dangers of DDT.  In fact, the only place Ruckelshaus differed from Sweeney was on the issue of cotton.  Sweeney thought he couldn’t prohibit use on cotton, Ruckelshaus found authority in the law and did so.

Be clear:  EPA banned DDT use on agricultural products, especially cotton, and broadcast spraying.  EPA’s “ban” allowed continued manufacture of DDT, and it allowed use for health emergencies and other emergencies.

8.  There never was a ban on DDT by the World Health Organization (WHO). So Monckton’s bizarre fiction that “. . . it was only after every single one of the people responsible for that dismal, murderous decision had retired or died that on September the 15th 2006, Dr. Arata Kochi of the World Health Organization said normally in this field, science comes second and politics comes first,” and then Kochi ended the ban, is whole cloth.

9.  There is no evidence anybody ever paid any attention to Monckton on DDT, but Monckton took credit for the imaginary end of the imaginary ban: ” After pressure from me, among others.”  There’s a distant possibility that Monckton might have written a letter to WHO — but let Monckton produce the thing from the archives of WHO.  Until that time, we should classify Monckton as an emboldened prevaricator, perhaps a victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome (not by proxy in this case).   I’m calling Monckton’s bluff.   Let’s see his cards on this issue:  When did he say anything to WHO about DDT, to whom, and what did he say?  He’ll not be able to produce any documentation, I’ll wager — and I’ll bet he can’t even produce hearsay testimony.

Nine falsehoods in a paragraph — a rate of falsehood not equalled even by Jon Lovitz’s pathological liar character. What is wrong with the excrement detectors of the people who sit in those audiences with this guy?

How far out of bounds is Monckton?  Even the shrill discussion at Little Green Footballs puts Monckton in the not-to-be-taken-seriously category.

Monckton, the Burlington Liars Club called:  They want their good reputation back.  Check your answering machine, too — the Bethel College group should be calling any minuted, to ask you to pay for the exorcism of their building after you spoke there.

By the way, how do we know Monckton is a coward?*  He has refused to debate me.  As he notes, anyone who refuses a debate is a coward.  And yet, he refuses each of my challenges.  Now he’s refusing to debate a Tenderfoot Boy Scout using Boy Scout Law rules.  How much of a coward does that make him?

_______________

* Of course that logic is flawed.  But he uses it against Al Gore.  Monckton can’t get Gore to suffer him, and so, Monckton, a moral pipsqueak, calls Gore a coward.  The “Freemarket Institute” people ate it up.  It’s more likely that Gore simply refuses to get into a urination contest with a known skunk.  Still, Monckton refuses to debate — what is he afraid of?

No lie!

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Encore post: Rebutting junk science, “100 things to know about DDT” point #6 (the “500 million saved” or “500 million died” errors)

June 22, 2009

Encore post — originally posted in August 2007.  Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.)  In the summer of 2009, the denialists have trotted this error out again.

Steven Milloy and the ghost of entomologist J. Gordon Edwards listed this as point six in their list of “100 things you should know about DDT “[did Edwards really have anything to do with the list before he died?]:

6. “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT… In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable.”

[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. The Life Sciences; Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs; The World of Biological Research; Requirements for the Future.]

In contrast to their citation for the Sweeney hearing record, which leads one away from the actual hearing record, for this citation, the publication actually exists, though it is no longer available in print. It’s available on-line, in an easily searchable format. [I urge you to check these sources out for yourself; I won’t jive you, but you should see for yourself how the critics of Rachel Carson and WHO distort the data — I think you’ll be concerned, if not outraged.] The quote, though troubled by the tell-tale ellipses of the science liar, is accurately stated so far as it goes.

The problems? It’s only part of the story as told in that publication.  The National Academy of Science calls for DDT to be replaced in that book; NAS is NOT calling for a rollback of any ban, nor is NAS defending DDT against the claims of harm. The book documents and agrees with the harms Rachel Carson wrote about eight years earlier.

Sign at the National Academy of Sciences building, Washington, D.C.

Sign at the National Academy of Sciences building, Washington, D.C.

Milloy (and Edwards, he claims), are trying to make a case that the National Academy of Sciences, one of the more reputable and authoritative groups of distinguished scientists in the world, thinks that DDT is just dandy, in contrast to the views of Rachel Carson and environmentalists (who are always cast as stupid and venal in Milloy’s accounts) who asked that DDT use be reduced to save eagles, robins and other songbirds, fish, and other wildlife, and to keep DDT useful against malaria.

First, there is no way that a ban on DDT could have been responsible for 500 million deaths due to malaria.  Calculate it yourself, the mathematics are simply impossible: At about 1 million deaths per year, if we assume DDT could have prevented all of the deaths (which is not so), and had we assumed usage started in 1939 instead of 1946 (a spot of 7 years and 7 million deaths), we would have 69 million deaths prevented by 2008. As best I can determine, the 500 million death figure is a misreading from an early WHO report that noted about 500 million people are annually exposed to malaria, I’m guessing a bit at that conclusion — that’s the nicest way to attribute it to simple error and not malicious lie. It was 500 million exposures to malaria, not 500 million deaths. It’s unfortunate that this erroneous figure found its way into a publication of the NAS — I suppose it’s the proof that anyone can err.

This error, “500 million deaths,” crops up in several publications after it was originally made near the end of the 1960s; honest researchers would get a good copy editor who would do the math and realize that 500 million people would not have died from malaria had there been no control at all, since 1939, when DDT was discovered to have insecticidal properties. Were Milloy and Edwards making a good faith case, I’d excuse it; but Edwards was a scientist and should have known better, Milloy has been spreading this falsehood long enough he could not fail to know better.

But the actual publication from the National Academy of Sciences suggests other issues that JunkScience.com would rather you not know about.

Importantly and specifically, the National Academy of Sciences is calling for broad research 1.) to avoid the problems that DDT presented (problems which Junk Science denies exist), and 2.) to combat the continuing evolution of the insect pests (evolution which Junk Science also denies), and 3.) to provide insecticides that hit specific targets to avoid the collateral damage of harming helpful insects, other animals and especially predators of the harmful insects (more problems that Junk Science pretends do not exist).

Three pages carry references to DDT in the book, The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs — The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future (National Academy of Sciences, 1970). This was a study of the state of science in several areas, with a survey of places particularly ripe for research considering human needs in the world. It was a sort of road map of where governments and other funders of research should spend their research monies in order to have the greatest beneficial effects.

The book suggests the need for extensive funding for research in biology over the following decade or two, or four. Were Milloy and Edwards correct that DDT was the panacea lifesaver, one might wonder why DDT was included in the book at all except to note a great success that precludes need for further research. That’s not what the book says at all.

Among the chief recommendations, NAS said research had to focus on rapidly biodegradable, closely targeted chemical pesticides to replace the DDT-style, long-lived, broad spectrum pesticides. NAS recognized the environmental dangers of DDT first and foremost in the introduction and statement of key recommendations:

It is imperative that new, degradable insecticides and pesticides with highly specific actions be devised and that their ecological consequences be understood, as it is imperative that the full ecological impact of the existing armamentarium of such agents be evaluated. Classical dose responses, evaluated only in terms of mortality or morbidity statistics, will not suffice; such data also must include an assessment in terms of modern knowledge of cell physiology, metabolism, and cytogenetics. [see page 11 of the book.]

These are exactly the things Milloy and Edwards ignore. This is a warning that simple toxicity tests on humans are not enough — pesticides need to be tested for downstream effects. That is what Rachel Carson called for in Silent Spring, research to understand the full effects of chemicals we use in the wild. This recommendation from NAS fully recognizes that chemicals like DDT, while they may offer significant benefits, can at the same time be significantly dangerous and damaging.

From the general introduction, the NAS authors point to three specific DDT-related issues. In general, the NAS view of DDT can be summarized like this: ‘DDT produced some great benefits fighting harmful insects, but its benefits need to be balanced against its great dangers and great potential for long-term damage. DDT is the poster child for beneficial chemicals that are also hazardous. We need to understand all the dangers as well as some of the benefits, in order to make wise decisions on chemical use. In the interim, where we have gaps in our knowledge, we should be careful.’

By carefully selecting only part of a statement by the NAS in one of the three areas of research, and leaving out all the qualifying statements, Milloy and the late Edwards misrepresent what NAS said. NAS was not calling for greater use of DDT. NAS was not calling for continued use of DDT. NAS was not criticizing any of the bans on DDT usage. NAS was saying we don’t know how great is the danger from DDT, and more study is needed; and use of DDT must be restricted in the interim.

Excerpt 1: Crop research

Increase research in rotating crops, herbicides and pesticides: In a section mentioning the need for alternative treatments, and commending organic methods of farming, on page 182 NAS notes the efficacy of crop rotation, and then talks about the need to have several different tools available to get rid of weeds and insect pests.

Similarly, recognition of the insecticidal properties of DDT in 1939, initially used against insects directly injurious to man, indicated the intelligent application of understanding of insect physiology, entomology, pharmacology, and the arts of the organic chemist could prevent crop destruction by insects. To date, the use of 2,4-D has increased yearly even though it has been replaced in part, and DDT is being withdrawn because of concern for its potentially adverse effects on man, transfer to the general environment, prolonged persistence, destruction of beneficial insects and possibly other wildlife, and stimulation of resistance in the target insects. These are now matters of broad general concern, and it is regrettable that public decisions must be made on the basis of our limited knowledge. But these compounds paved the way for modern agriculture. Without their equivalent, modern intensive agriculture is not possible, and, just as the continual breeding of new crop strains is imperative, so too is a continuing search for effective herbicides and pesticides, optimally with specific effects on offending organisms, degradable in the soil and nontoxic to man and animals. Attainment of these goals will require continuously increasing understanding of plant and insect physiology and life cycles.

Control of undesirable species by biological means is, in many ways, the most attractive possibility for future exploration. The notion is by no means new; attempts at such control began late in the nineteenth century. Indeed, some 650 species of beneficial insects have been deliberately introduced into the United States from overseas, of which perhaps 100 are established. These are now major factors in the control of aphids and a variety of scale insects and mealybugs. More recently, microbes and viruses have been considered for these purposes, a few of which are being used; for example, spores of the bacterium B. thuringiensis are used to control the cabbage looper and the alfalfa caterpillar. Some insects have been utilized for control of weeds — e.g., prickly pear in Australia and the Klamath weed in the western United States — while a combination of the cinnabar moth and the ragwort seed fly is required to keep down the population of the toxic range weed, the tansy ragwort.

There is no ringing endorsement for bringing back DDT, but rather a much more sophisticated understanding demonstrated that a variety of tools, some chemical and some living, need to brought to bear in agriculture and health — coupled with a clear understanding that non-beneficial effects need to be studied and understood, for all attempts to control pests for crops, and threats to humans. This is quite contrary to the general tone of Milloy’s and Edwards’s list, and far beyond the misleading snippet they offer.

Near the end of that first paragraph, the NAS call for pesticides that are pest specific, rapidly degradable once released, and nontoxic to humans and other beneficial creatures, targets and shoots directly at DDT, which is non-specific, long-lived in the soil, and toxic to almost everything.

That’s just the first of the three mentions of DDT.

Excerpt 2: Industrial technologies – Pesticide research

The second mention is in a discussion specific to pesticides. The NAS panel recommends research to find safe, short-lived alternatives that target specific pests. DDT is a long-lived toxin that has broad targets. This is a very long entry, but unlike the JunkScience.com guys, I think accuracy is more than one quote ripped out of context; in context, you see that NAS is not defending DDT as a safe, panacea against malaria.

I quote from the NAS publication at length, below; I want you to see that NAS is not contradicting Rachel Carson in any way; in fact, NAS is paying homage to Carson, adopting her calls to action in research and development, while updating the science which showed, in 1969, that Carson was right more than anyone could have known. Because it’s a long quote, I’ll put it in a different color, not boxing it where the formatting gets out of hand:

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From: The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs — The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future (National Academy of Sciences, 1970)

[Beginning on page 213]

Pesticides

As noted earlier, the properties of DDT and 2,4-D inaugurated a new era in management of our living resources and gave rise to a new industry. Each touched off a wave of research that continues to the present, seeking newer compounds that are species-specific, safe, and degradable. For the moment, the use of such compounds is indispensable; until superior means and materials are found, these compounds are essential to the success of our agriculture, while assisting in maintenance of our woodlands and protection of our health. It is the scale of this use, rather than their intrinsic toxicity, that has properly generated public concern over the effects of these chemicals on the public health. In 1966, total production of all pesticides in the U.S. was 1,012,598,000 pounds.

The rapid increase in use occurred because new pesticides have been developed that control hitherto uncontrolled pests, and broader use of pesticides in large-scale agriculture has increased crop yields significantly. Current trends in crop production involving large acreages, greater use of fertilizers, and intensive mechanized cultivation and harvesting offer particularly favorable opportunities for insect pests and would result in large crop losses to these pests unless control measures were applied.

The increased number of new pesticides in part reflects a second generation of pesticides with more appropriate persistence for economic control of specific pests, more complete control of the pest, less hazard for the applicator, or less hazardous residues on the crop. An additional impetus to the development of the pesticides comes from the fact that many insect pests have developed resistance to the older pesticides. The development of pest resistance does not necessarily entail the development of more dangerous pesticides; the new agent need only be chemically different to overcome resistance. The continuing search for new, more nearly ideal pesticides requires the joint effort of research teams composed of organic chemists, biochemists, pharmacologists, physiologists, entomologists, and botanists. The effort is managed much like the development of new drugs, each chemical entity being tested in a “screen” of a variety of insects.

About 73 percent of the total insecticide usage is in agriculture, and about 25 percent is used in urban areas by homeowners, industry, the military, and municipal authorities. The remaining 2 percent is applied to forest lands, grassland pasture, and on salt and fresh water for mosquito control. Over 50 percent of the insecticide used in agriculture is applied to cotton acreage alone.

When insect-control measures are not used in agriculture, insect pests take 10 to 50 percent of the crop, depending on local conditions. Losses of this magnitude are not readily tolerated in the United States in the face of a rapidly increasing population and a concomitant decrease in agricultural acreage. In this sense, the use of pesticides might be deemed essential at this time for the production and protection of an adequate food supply and an adequate supply of staple fiber. While alternative methods of pest control are under investigation and development, they are not yet ready to displace completely the chemical pesticides, and it appears that a pesticide industry will be required for some years to come.

Pesticides have been tremendously effective, but individual pesticides, like sulfa drugs and antibiotics, tend to lose their effectiveness as species resistance to them develops. Hence, there will be a continuing search for new pesticides as long as pesticides are considered to be required for the economy or the public health. This search will require the continuing participation of able biologists. As with drugs, new pesticides, optimally, should be selectively toxic for specific pests, rather than broadly toxic against a wide variety of pests with serious side-effects on nonpest species. Broad-spectrum pesticides affect an essential enzyme or system common to a wide variety of pests. A selective pesticide, on the other hand, either should affect an essential enzyme or system peculiar to a particular pest or should be applied in such a way that only the particular pest gains access to it.

An interesting example of a selective pesticide is the rodenticide norbormide, which is highly toxic for rats, particularly for the Norway rat. By contrast, the acute oral toxicity of norbormide for other species is much lower, the lethal dose for a great variety of birds and mammals, per kilogram of body weight, being more than 100 times greater. The mechanism of the selective toxic action of the norbormide for rats is not yet elucidated.

Achievement of target specificity requires a sophisticated knowledge of the anatomical, physiological, or biochemical peculiarities of the target pest as compared with other pests or vulnerable nonpests; a pesticide may then be developed that takes advantage of these peculiarities. This is obviously not easy to accomplish, and norbormide may prove to be unique for many years. An alternative is the introduction of a systemic pesticide into the host or preferred food of the target pest. Other pests or nonpests would not contact the pesticide unless they shared the same host or food supply. As an example, a suitable pesticide may be applied to the soil and imbibed by the root system of a plant on which the pest feeds. The pest feeding on the plant then receives a toxic dose. The application of attractants or repellents (for nontarget species) would increase the selectivity of the systemic pesticide. The use of systemic pesticides on plants used for food by humans or domestic animals poses an obvious residue problem.

There has been a strong public reaction against the continued use of pesticides on the grounds that such use poses a potential threat to the public health as well as being a hazard to wildlife. Careful investigations have so far failed to establish the magnitude of the threat to the public health; i.e., there are as yet few if any clear-cut instances of humans who have suffered injury clearly related to exposure to pesticides that have been used in the prescribed manner. Report No. 1379 of the 89th Congress (July 21, 1966)* concluded:

The testimony balanced the great benefits of disease control and food production against the risks of acute poisoning to applicators, occasional accidental food contamination and disruption of fish and wildlife. . . . The fact that no significant hazard has been detected to date does not constitute adequate proof that hazards will not be encountered in the future. No final answer is possible now, but we must proceed to get the answer. (Italics ours [NAS]).

Failure to establish such hazard does not mean that it does not exist. There are no living animals, including those in the Antarctic, that do not bear a body burden of DDT. Large fish kills and severe effects on bird populations have been demonstrated. The large-scale use of these agents has been practiced for less than two decades, and use has increased annually until this year (1969). Whereas the anticholinesterase compounds, which have high acute toxicity (and hence are highly hazardous to the applicator), are readily and rapidly degraded in nature, the halogenated hydrocarbons are not. With time, their concentration in the soil and in drainage basins, lakes, ponds and even the oceans must continue to increase, thereby assuring their buildup in plant and animal tissues. Over a sufficient time period, this is potentially disastrous. And should such a period pass without relief, the situation could not be reversed in less than a century. Because of the large economic benefit to the farmer, it is pointless to adjure him to be sparing; unless restrained by law, he will make his judgment in purely personal economics terms. But mankind badly needs the incremental food made possible by use of effective pesticides, and the enormous benefit to public health of greatly reducing the population of insects that are disease vectors is a self-evident boon to humanity. Thus it is imperative that alternative approaches to pest control be developed with all possible dispatch, while we learn to use available pesticides only where they are clearly necessary and desirable and to apply them in the minimal amounts adequate to the purpose.

A recent development in insect-pest control has been the possible use of juvenile hormone. This hormone, normally produced by insects and essential for their progress through the larval stages, must be absent from the insect eggs if the eggs are to undergo normal maturation. If juvenile hormone is applied to the eggs, it can either prevent hatching or result in the birth of immature and sterile offspring. There is evidence to suggest that juvenile hormone is much the same in different species of insects, and analogs have been prepared that are effective in killing many species of insects, both beneficial and destructive. There would, therefore, be great danger of upsetting the ecological balance if juvenile hormone were applied on a large scale.

What is needed, then, is development of chemical modifications of juvenile hormone that would act like juvenile hormone for specific pests but not for other insects. For example, a preparation from balsam fir, which appears to be such an analog, has been identified and is effective against a family of bugs that attack the cotton plant, but not against other species. If it proves possible to synthesize similar analogs specific for other pests, a new type of pesticide may emerge. If this happens, it will be extremely important to explore possible side-effects on other insect species and on warm-blooded animals before introduction of yet a new hazard into the biosphere.

We cannot rest with existing pesticides, both because of evolving resistance to specific compounds and because of the serious long-term threat posed by the halogenated hydrocarbons. While the search for new, reasonably safe pesticides continues, it is imperative that other avenues be explored. It is apparent that this exploration will be effective only if there is, simultaneously, ever-increasing understanding of the metabolism, physiology, and behavior of the unwanted organisms and of their roles in the precious ecosystems in which they and we dwell.

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* U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Government Operations. Interagency Environmental Hazards Coordination, Pesticides and Public Policy (Senate Report 1379). Report of the Subcommittee on Reorganization and International Organizations (pursuant to S. R. 27, 88th Cong., as amended and extended by S. R. 288), 89th Cong., 2d sess., Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966.

________________________________

Anyone should be able to see from various parts of that excerpt that NAS was not defending DDT as harmless; that instead, NAS was saying that despite its great utility, DDT use needed to be extremely limited, and that substitutes for it needed to be found as quickly as possible — and then, the substitutes need to be researched to make sure they don’t have unintended bad effects, on other species, at other places, at other times.

Excerpt 3: The Great Hazards – Man and his environment

The third excerpt has the money quote — it contains an obvious error of fact, but an error that has been seized upon and trumpeted from one end of the world to the other: The 500 million dead miscalculation. Critics of environmental stewards like to trot this out, sometimes going so far as to accuse Carson and environmentalists of genocide, for the deaths of 500 million people that would have been prevented but for our concerns ‘for a few silly birds.’

I reiterate, the mathematics do not work. If we assumed 5 million deaths to malaria every year for the 20th century, we’d get 500 million deaths. Records indicate total deaths as high as 3 million in some years; since World War II, deaths have averaged about 1 million per year. So, even were it true that DDT bans unnecessarily caused all those deaths (and it’s not true), the total, between 1946 and 2006 would be about 50 million deaths. The “500 million deaths” figure is incorrect by a multiple of 10, at least, in addition to being absolutely in error historically. DDT never offered the realistic hope of eradicating malaria; by 1965, it was already failing where it was applied, and human institutional failures (not environmentalists) prevented its application in places where it might have helped.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) discusses hazards from chemistry and biochemistry, in one of its final chapters studying life sciences and their applications to human affairs. NAS authors write about the need to study causes of deaths and how to prevent them (including lung cancer and smoking), and there is discussion on the difficulty of getting clear answers to every question. In a section titled “Man and his environment,” NAS discusses environmental damage: Deforestation, pollution, and animal and plant extinctions. On page 430, there is an example given of supposedly beneficial chemicals turning toxic once released; DDT is the example:

Then NAS discusses DDT:

Large-scale use of pesticides can start a chain in which these substances concentrate in plant an animal tissues and, when ingested, accumulate in the adipose [fat] tissue of the human body. As an illustration of this process, consider the record of Clear Lake, California, where DDD (a breakdown product of DDT) entered the lake at 0.02 part per million (ppm). A year later, its concentration was 10 ppm in the plankton, 900 ppm in fish that eat the plankton, and 2,700 ppm in fish that eat fish that eat plankton. No data are available concerning people who ate such fish.

* * * * *

The effects of these changes in the environment on man himself are not known.

NAS notes that absence of proof of damage should not imply safety, and the article notes that small doses of pollutants, repeated over time, can cause serious health problems.

And then, on page 432, NAS discusses the harmful, latent effects of substances considered to be beneficial — using DDT as the example:

Until reliable evidence thus obtained becomes available, public health measures designed to minimize exposure to such pollutants are patently advisable. But surely a rule of reason should prevail. To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. It has contributed to the great increase in agricultural productivity, while sparing countless humanity from a host of diseases, most notably, perhaps, scrub typhus and malaria. Indeed, it is estimated that, in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable. Abandonment of this valuable insecticide should be undertaken only at such time and in such places as it is evident that the prospective gain to humanity exceeds the consequent losses. At this writing, all available substitutes for DDT are both more expensive per crop-year and decidedly more hazardous to those who manufacture and utilize them in crop treatment or for other, more general purposes.

The health problems engendered by undesirable contaminants of the environment may also be raised by substances that are intentionally ingested. Only large-scale, long-term epidemiological research will reveal whether the contraceptive pills, pain killers, sleeping pills, sweetener, and tranquilizers, now consumed on so great a scale, have any untoward long-range effects on their consumers.* Man has always been exposed to the hazards of his environment and it may well be that he has never been more safe than he is today in the developed nations. Food contamination is probably minimal as compared with that in any previous era, communal water supplies are cleaner, and, despite the smog problem, air is probably less polluted than in the era of soft coal or before central heating systems were the norm. Witness the fact that jungle dwelling natives of South America exhibit a considerably higher incidence of chromosomal aberrations in their somatic cells than does the American population. But modern man also increasingly exposes himself to the chemical products of his own technologies and has both the biological understanding to ascertain the extent of such hazards and the prospect of technological innovation to minimize them where they are demonstrated. To do less would be improvident and derelict.

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* This sentence was written in June 1969. Revelations of the untoward effects of both steroid contraceptives and cyclamates were made public months later.

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As presented by the “100 facts about DDT” list, all the qualifiers, warnings, and listed harms of DDT are left off. The numbers cited in the quoted section are in error, and considering that the NAS was calling for research into the harms of DDT, research to replace DDT with chemicals that were short-lived, more carefully targeted by species, and fully researched to avoid the collateral harms DDT caused, it seems dishonest to present that edited quote as an endorsement of DDT. It is no endorsement at all.

And so, it is dishonest to present the quote at all so grossly out of context.

Steven Milloy should strike #6 from his list of “100 things you should know about DDT.”

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DDT falsehoods, taken as an article of faith

December 31, 2008

Brown pelican egg rendered uncapable of protecting the (now dead) chick when DDT prevented the mother pelican from forming an adequate shell for the egg.

Brown pelican egg rendered uncapable of protecting the (now dead) chick when DDT prevented the mother pelican from forming an adequate shell for the egg. Pelican Media image.

Just when you start thinking the world is safe for the facts — safe for the truth — some well-meaning-but-poorly-informed person comes along to remind you that it’s a constant struggle to keep the flame of truth from being snuffed out for no good reason.

Henry I. Miller didn’t publish a screed demanding DDT be misused against West Nile virus this year, which I count as a major victory.  As you know, DDT is the wrong stuff to use to fight West Nile, so calling for DDT in that case merely means you’re an ideologue who wants to slam science, and it probably means you wish disease victims would hurry up and die.  (“More statistics to use against libruls!”)

Henry I. Miller. How many years at the Hoover Institute before he finds the library at Stanford to check his claims on DDT?

Henry I. Miller. How many years at the Hoover Institute before he finds the library at Stanford to check his claims on DDT?

And even Oklahoma’s reigning Senate fool Tom Coburn lifted his hold on the bill naming for Rachel Carson the post office in her hometown.

But, on the second to last day of the year, comes Bob Mattes at Reformed Musings, to claim that climate change is a hoax, and say he knows it’s so because DDT is safe and Rachel Carson was wrong. Mattes is a deacon in a Presbyterian church in Virginia; the name of his site is a reference to reformed theology, I gather.

When someone claims as a matter of faith, things that are well known to be wrong and easily debunked, that someone is unlikely to be swayed by the facts. In fact, Mattes allows no criticism of his post at his blog — he’s turned off comments on that post.

Will he drop by here to read his errors?  Not likely.  Would he correct the errors if he knew?  It’s not good to gamble when the odds are long against you.

Reformed Musings said:

Want a concrete example of the impact of eco-socialism? Three letters – DDT.

Well, no, I don’t want an alleged example of eco-socialism from an eco-fascist, one whose mind is made up, incorrectly, and who will not let the facts sway him.  Notice that the authority he cites is that well-known purveyor of junk science, Junk Science, the ethically-challenged website run by the industry campaign in favor of DDT.  If one dances to the devil’s tune, one should not claim not to be doing the devil’s work.

If this be eco-socialism, it’s God-blessed, and we should revel in it and make the most of it.

In the 60’s, there was the big DDT scare, with activists claiming that the pesticide was killing off our birds and bees.

Right.  And it was true, DDT was killing our birds and bees.  It took more than 30 years of not using DDT to rescue our national symbol, the bald eagle, from DDT’s killer effects.  Is it fair to call it a “scare” if it’s true?

Rachel Carson sold the big lie in her famous book Silent Spring, which was full of misrepresentations.

See, here’s how we know Mattes doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and probably hasn’t read the book.  Carson was very careful in her book.  She offered more than 50 pages of citations to science papers and hard research to support what she wrote — a “don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself” kind of honesty.

Discover magazine carried an article about DDT and Carson’s book in November 2007Discover said that, since 1962, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications support Carson’s conclusions, a record remarkable in any branch of science.

In fact, Carson may have underestimated the impact of DDT on birds, says Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and director of the American Bird Conservancy’s pesticides and birds program. She was not aware that DDT—or rather its metabolite, DDE—causes eggshell thinning because the data were not published until the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was eggshell thinning that devastated fish-eating birds and birds of prey, says Fry, and this effect is well documented in a report (pdf) on DDT published in 2002 by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The report, which cites over 1,000 references, also describes how DDT and its breakdown products accumulate in the tissues of animals high up on terrestrial and aquatic food chains—a process that induced reproductive and neurological defects in birds and fish.

Had Mattes been paying attention (was he even alive then?), he’d have noted that President John F. Kennedy tasked the President’s Science Advisory Council to check out Carson’s book, to see whether it was accurate, and whether the government should start down the path of careful study and careful regulation of pesticides as she suggested.  In May 1963 the PSAC reported back that Carson was dead right on every issue, except, maybe for one.  PSAC said Carson wasn’t alarmist enough, that immediate action against pesticides was justified, rather than waiting for later studies or delaying for any other reason.

So, here I issue a challenge to Bob Mattes:  Tell us where Rachel Carson was wrong.  Cite for us a page in Silent Spring where she made a significant error in science, a point that has not been borne out as correct in later studies.

I’ve been making this challenge for a year and half now, and not even Stephen Milloy has been able to offer a single error Carson made.  A few have said they “heard” Carson erred in one thing or another, but upon checking, we’ve always found that the claimed errors were nowhere to be found, or the errors alleged were misstated, or, more often, what was claimed as error simply was not.

It’s a very odd situation:  We have a deacon of the Presbyterians assaulting the honor of a distinguished scientist, using false claims as his ammunition.

As usual, the ignorant entertainment industry frothed at the mouth for the new fad cause. Joni Mitchell sang: “Hey, farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now. Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees.” Cute, huh?

As a result, DDT was banned world-wide. Problem was, not only were the zealots wrong, but nothing killed deadly malaria-carrying mosquitoes better than DDT.

DDT has never been banned worldwide.  It’s still manufactured in several places — it’s still a deadly hazard in India.  It’s been in constant use in many nations, such as Mexico and South Africa.  Limitations on DDT use have always included a loophole allowing DDT to be used to protect against malaria — even the 2001 Persistant Organic Pesticides Treaty has a special clause allowing DDT to be used against malaria.

So it’s false to claim that DDT was banned worldwide, ever.  We might be much better to get to that position because it would keep nuts from claiming that all we have to do is poison Africa to make Aricans healthy — but in any case, there is no ban on DDT to fight malaria.

Use of DDT began to decline in the mid 1960s when mosquitoes began to exhibit resistance and even immunity to the stuff.  Genetic studies now find that almost all mosquitoes in the world have multiple copies of a gene that allows the bug to digest DDT more as a nutrient, rendering it ineffective as a pesticide.  The World Health Organization had begun an ambitious campaign to knock down mosquito populations long enough that malaria would die out; but by the mid 1960s, the burgeoning resistance to DDT rendered that campaign untenable.  DDT use against mosquitoes, which was never undertaken in much of Africa because some local governments were not stable enough to manage an anti-mosquito campaign, declined, and stopped in places where DDT simply did not work.

In fact it was gross overuse of DDT by agricultural interests that drove the resistance among insects.  Had that overuse been controlled earlier, we might have been able to kill of malaria.  It was not a ban on DDT that caused its use to decline.  It was that DDT stopped working.  No one in their right mind will spend money on a pesticide that doesn’t work, no matter how cheap the stuff is.

But it wasn’t popular culture that got DDT banned.  In the late 1960s litigation on DDT spraying worked through the courts.  By 1972, two federal courts ruled in separate cases that the federal government had failed to carry out its obligations to control the use of DDT as required by law, based on evidence presented in court that demonstrated clear harm.  Both courts ordered the government to promptly hold the administrative hearings necessary to alter the registration for DDT.  The hearings started in the Department of Agriculture, which moved slowly.  When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, it got the authority to regulate pesticides from Ag.  The courts ordered EPA to get off its duff and speed the process.

In the midst of a nine-month-long hearing process that accumulated thousands of pages of scientific documentation of the harms of DDT, manufacturers of the pesticide voluntarily changed their labels to limit use of DDT essentially to emergency situations, not general broadcast applications. Judge Edmund Sweeney, the EPA administrative law judge, thought that change, which was what was pending, meant that EPA did not need to act, and he so ruled at the end of the process.  EPA Administrator William Ruckleshaus, a veteran of more recent environmental litigation, understood the courts had ordered a more ironclad change, and he imposed tighter registration standards on DDT that prohibited its use on agricultural crops, except in emergencies.  There was also a loophole built in to protect public health.

DDT manufacturers sued EPA to overturn the rule.  The courts ruled that the scientific evidence was overwhelming, and that EPA’s rule was firmly grounded.  The manufacturers did not appeal further.  So, DDT use in the U.S. was severely restricted by the end of 1972, following earlier restrictiosn in Sweden.

Can Mattes read a calendar?  How does a ban on DDT in Sweden in 1970, in the U.S. in 1972, make Africa stop using DDT in 1965?

Literally millions of poor have needlessly died from malaria in Third World countries as a result of the ban. Malaria is the 4th leading cause of death in the world. Drug-resistant strains are starting to dominate. Eradication is the real answer. Only recently have countries like South Africa defied the ban and started spraying DDT again to fight malaria. Ideas have consequences – eco-socialism routinely kills, just not in the comfy apartments of the self-serving eco-socialists.

What ban is he talking about? South Africa suspended DDT use only briefly at the end of the 20th century — but South Africa’s problems are not caused because South African mosquitoes roared back when they were not sprayed wholesale with DDT.  Malaria in South Africa rose when the disease came over the border from other nations where the disease was less controlled.  South Africa brought back DDT use, though in a more limited fashion.  There was no ban to defy.  Mattes is telling a whopper here.

Mattes cites the Centers for Disease Control when he says malaria is the fourth leading killer in the world.  He either fails to notice or fails to say that CDC does not ask for DDT to be brought back to fight malaria.  CDC calls for bednets, for draining of breeding areas, for better medical care and better diagnosis, but not for more DDT.  Why?  When the leading disease fighting organization in the world does not ask for DDT, we might assume it puts DDT way down on its list of priorities (as it does).  Remember, CDC’s origins were in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases.  CDC speaks with authority on mosquito eradication.  CDC does not ask for more DDT, anywhere.  His own authority — he should listen to them.

Health care professionals note that malaria made a serious resurgence when the malaria parasites themselves became resistant to the pharmaceuticals used to treat them.  This has nothing to do with DDT, because DDT is not given as a drug to humans (it’s a poison, mildly carcinogenic, and there is no demonstrated effectiveness against the parasite).

Can Bob Mattes read a map?  How do restrictions on spraying DDT on cotton fields in Texas, cause malaria to increase in Africa?

Mattes closes his post:

History shows that the eco-socialists have NEVER been right. EVERY scare prediction they’ve ever tried fails to materialize. Unfortunately, history starts today for most folks. We don’t teach logic or real science in public schools anymore, just the religion of political correctness. Ignorance breeds disaster, especially for those in developing countries who can’t speak for themselves and don’t have a George Soros funding their latest fad cause. Remember DDT. Remember global cooling. Remember the limitations of computer modeling. Don’t be duped.

Except, the “eco-socialists” as Mattes mislabels them were right about DDT, they were right about malaria, they were right on the science about wildlife damage from DDT, and they were right on the history.

Ignorance does indeed breed disaster, which is where Mattes’s views will take us.  He should carefully consider his closing trio of words, and follow them religiously.

If Mattes is so wrong on every claim about DDT, do you think we should trust anything he says about climate change?

Updates:


Gresham’s Law: DDT disinformation crowds out facts

February 18, 2008

I love irony.

Henry VIII devised a novel way to save money. He ordered coins be minted containing silver, as during the reign of Henry VII, but he ordered that the purity of the silver be reduced. Edward VI continued the policy so that, by the time of the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, royal advisor and financier Sir Thomas Gresham observed that most of the old, high-silver content coins were out of circulation, hoarded by people against future inflation, allowing the lesser-valued money to circulate. Gresham told Elizabeth the bad money drove out the good money.

Sir Thomas Gresham (c. 1519 – 21 November 1579), British financier and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and earlier regents. Portrait c. 1554 by Anthonis Mor

Sir Thomas Gresham (c. 1519 – 21 November 1579), British financier and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and earlier regents. Portrait c. 1554 by Anthonis Mor.

The principle had been observed earlier by Aristophanes and others. It is known in modern economics as Gresham’s Law, since 1858 when British economist Henry Dunning McLeod decided to honor Gresham by naming the rule after him.

The bad drives out the good, the cheap drives out the more expensive, gossip drives out good information — the principle is widely observed in areas beyond economics.

And so it is that with regard to DDT, the good information about the dangers of DDT and the benefits of restricting use of the chemical has been driven out of the marketplace by bad information claiming DDT is safe, and ignoring the significant benefits reaped when massive use of DDT was stopped.

And here’s the irony: DDT-happy critics of good environmental policy now claim to be the good information driven out by the “bad” information of DDT’s harms. No kidding. A columnist named Natalie Sirkin, in a column delivering almost nothing but bad, vile information, says bad information drives out the good, never once noting the irony.

The defense of DDT was, from the beginning, a lost cause. A few of us vainly hoped that science would prevail. We soon found that Gresham ’s Law, which states that bad currency drives out good currency, applies to science as well as to economics.

No kidding it applies. Do a Google search for “DDT” today and you’ll find all over the internet the disinformation of Gordon Edwards’ ghost and junk science purveyor Steven Milloy. You will have a difficult time finding any solid study showing how DDT nearly killed off the American bald eagle, however, and you’ll have to do a targeted search to learn of any dangers of DDT — information on human toxicity is almost impossible to find, though it’s easy to find many recountings of Gordon Edwards’ bold drinking of a teaspoon of DDT before lectures.

(Natalie and Gerald Sirkin write for the American Spectator; at this writing, Google features warnings on all of their material at the time of this writing, saying the site host may try to insert “malicious software” on your computer — so I have not linked there. This problem should sort itself out, I hope.)

(The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to get a history of the agency up on the ‘net; a lot from the DDT ban era is now available at the EPA site for scholars; Milloy will not be happy to have factual rebuttal officially and easily available.)

Below the fold, I’ll offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the bizarre claims in favor of DDT and against the noble public officials who worked to restrict its use.

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How to tell if someone is wrong about DDT and Rachel Carson

December 12, 2007

Here is one surefire way to tell someone is bluffing, and perhaps doing a bit of planned prevarication, about Rachel Carson and the safety of DDT: Look for a footnote like this:

31 Sweeney EM. EPA Hearing Examiner’s recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings. 25 April 1972 (40 CFR 164.32).

Why is that a sign of a bluff?

The volume and paging, “40 CFR 164.32,” is a reference to the Code of Federal Regulations. One knows that codes do not contain hearing records, and sure enough, this one does not. 40 CFR covers the rules of administrative hearings in federal agencies, but there is nothing whatsoever in that entire chapter about DDT, or birds, or chemical safety.

40 CFR is the chapter of the Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to the rules, regulations and procedures of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); it does not contain transcripts of regulatory hearings.

40 CFR is the chapter of the Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to the rules, regulations and procedures of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); it does not contain transcripts of regulatory hearings.  Anyone who cites a hearing to this publication is giving you a bogus citation, probably to promote bogust history and bogus science.

If that citation shows up in a screed against environmentalists, or against Rachel Carson, or urging that we spray poison till the cows come home to die, you can be pretty sure that the person offering it has copied it wholesale from Steven Milloy’s junk science purveyor shop, and that the person has not read it at all.  If the person has a law degree, or was ever a librarian or active in interscholastic debate, you can be pretty sure the person knows the citation is wrong, and is insulting you by listing it, knowing it’s unlikely you’ll ever find it in your local library.

(What is the accurate citation for the hearings? I’m not sure; but 40 CFR is not it. See the current section of CFR below the fold — it’s one page, not more than 100 pages.)

I have posted about this before. The hearings Judge Sweeney presided over were conducted early in the existence of the EPA. They were conducted under court orders requiring EPA to act. The transcripts are not in usual legal opinion publications, so far as I have been able to find. Many claims have been made about the hearings, most of the claims are false. Jim Easter at Some Are Boojums did the legwork and extracted a copy of the actual decision out of EPA’s library. He’s posted it at his blog, so you can see. Check the pages — “40 CFR” is a bogus citation, designed to keep you from learning the truth.

So the footnote is intended to make the gullible or innocent think there is a reference, where there is no reference.

But read the analysis of the hearings at Some Are Boojums. It is more than just the citation is wrong. Contrary to Internet Legend claims, Sweeney did not determine that DDT was harmless. Sweeney determined that DDT usage provided some benefits that outweighed the harms, considering the dramatically reduced use of DDT then allowed. DDT use had been severely restricted prior to the Sweeney hearings; Sweeney was not looking at all uses, nor even at historic uses. Sweeney was looking at dramatically reduced DDT use under the registrations then allowed. His conclusions of “no harm” where he actually concluded that, were based on greatly reduced use of DDT. This finding cannot be used today to urge an expansion of use — or should not be so used, by honest people.

Not to mention that at Caosblog, footnotes are not even listed in the text. The listing of the footnotes is a gratuitous error, there is no footnote 31 in the text.

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Fisking “Junk Science’s” campaign for DDT: Point #6

August 9, 2007

Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.)

Steven Milloy and the ghost of entomologist J. Gordon Edwards listed this as point six in their list of “100 things you should know about DDT “[did Edwards really have anything to do with the list before he died?]:

6. “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT… In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable.”

[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. The Life Sciences; Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs; The World of Biological Research; Requirements for the Future.]

In contrast to their citation for the Sweeney hearing record, which leads one away from the actual hearing record, for this citation, the publication actually exists, though it is no longer available in print. It’s available on-line, in an easily searchable format. [I urge you to check these sources out for yourself; I won’t jive you, but you should see for yourself how the critics of Rachel Carson and WHO distort the data — I think you’ll be concerned, if not outraged.] The quote, though troubled by the tell-tale ellipses of the science liar, is accurately stated so far as it goes.

The problems? It’s only part of the story as told in that publication.  The National Academy of Science calls for DDT to be replaced in that book; NAS is NOT calling for a rollback of any ban, nor is NAS defending DDT against the claims of harm.  The book documents and agrees with the harms Rachel Carson wrote about eight years earlier.

Cover of the electronic version of Life Sciences, the 1970 book looking to future needs in biology and agriculture.

Cover of the electronic version of Life Sciences, the 1970 book looking to future needs in biology and agriculture.

Milloy (and Edwards, he claims), are trying to make a case that the National Academy of Sciences, one of the more reputable and authoritative groups of distinguished scientists in the world, thinks that DDT is just dandy, in contrast to the views of Rachel Carson and environmentalists (who are always cast as stupid and venal in Milloy’s accounts) who asked that DDT use be reduced to save eagles, robins and other songbirds, fish, and other wildlife, and to keep DDT useful against malaria.

First, there is no way that a ban on DDT could have been responsible for 500 million deaths due to malaria.  Calculate it yourself, the mathematics are simply impossible: At about 1 million deaths per year, if we assume DDT could have prevented all of the deaths (which is not so), and had we assumed usage started in 1939 instead of 1946 (a spot of 7 years and 7 million deaths), we would have 69 million deaths prevented by 2008. As best I can determine, the 500 million death figure is a misreading from an early WHO report that noted about 500 million people are annually exposed to malaria, I’m guessing a bit at that conclusion — that’s the nicest way to attribute it to simple error and not malicious lie. It was 500 million exposures to malaria, not 500 million deaths. It’s unfortunate that this erroneous figure found its way into a publication of the NAS — I suppose it’s the proof that anyone can err.

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