Annals of DDT: When they sprayed DDT from airplanes to stop polio

August 10, 2018

March of Dimes Foundation photo:

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.

YouTube explanation:

An animation drawn from episode 207 of Distillations podcast, DDT: The Britney Spears of Chemicals.

The podcast is a short 15 minutes, and fun, “Distillations.”

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.


San Antonio Express-News file photo.

San Antonio Express-News file photo. “A young boy gets polio vaccine in this undated photo.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Science History Institute (@SciHistoryOrg on Twitter).

Annals of DDT: Rachel Carson was right, DDT hurts birds

April 6, 2014

Coming up on World Malaria Day 2014, and U.S. Congressional elections, we’ll start seeing repeated false attacks on Rachel Carson as the right’s most-favored representative of environmentalism, and those attacks will include calls to “end the ban” on DDT to roll back the “increase in malaria caused by the ban. ” Facts are that DDT was never banned in Asia nor Africa (not even under a 2001 anti-pollution treaty); Rachel Carson called for no ban on DDT, but instead urged use of “integrated pest management” (IPM)  to combat disease vectors, and IPM used broadly since 1999 has slashed malaria death totals and infections even more; and malaria deaths and infections started a downward trend in the 1960s that continues today, mostly without DDT.
This is one in an occasional series of posts to correct these hoax claims, with citations to information that readers may check for themselves. Much of this post appeared here earlier, in much longer form.

Rachel Carson was very careful in her 1962 book Silent Spring.  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.

Still, today, there is an organized effort with broad success on the internet to smear Rachel Carson and hide the science she wrote about.  Standard from adherents to this insurgent anti-science movement include are claims that Carson’s book was wrong.  The title comes from a prologue of the book in which Carson described a spring in some future year, a spring which was unheralded by the songs and chatterings of birds.  Carson argued that, if humans do not stop to think about secondary effects of chemicals used, especially as pesticides, whole regions might be devoid of birds, dead from DDT poisoning.

Carson cited research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about just how deadly DDT could be to entire ecosystems.  She was particularly alarmed by research done at Midwestern universities, where DDT sprayed to save American elm trees from Dutch elm blight, quickly killed off most birds who came in contact with the stuff.  Dutch elm blight is spread by beetles, the targets of DDT in those sprayings.

In the 1950s, ornithologists, wildlife managers and bird watchers documented the pending demise of entire species of birds, especially raptors at the top of local food chains.  Audubon bird watchers throughout the eastern U.S. noted that migrations consisted of older birds only, with young and maturing birds appearing to have disappeared. Older birds mated, built nests, and laid eggs. Usually the eggs did not hatch, with chicks dying before the end of gestation.  In the few cases where young hatched, they generally died before they could migrate even one year.

Especially for the American bald eagle, this was a great disappointment. Eagles had been plentiful when European colonists migrated to North America, starting after Columbus’s voyages, 1492-1494.  By 1900, however, eagles had been hunted almost to extinction — well, they were extinct in some states.  Colonists, then farmers and ranchers, saw eagles as pests.  They ate fish the colonists wanted to catch for themselves.  Eagles would sometimes take a farmer’s chicken.  Cases of eagles taking larger prey are sparse to non-existent prior to the latter 20th century — but farmers claimed they did.  And so the birds were hunted mercilessly, simply to shoot them.

In 1911 the federal government tried to solve a many-states-wide problem, with a law protecting eagles from hunting.  It did little good.  In 1941 Congress passed a new law, with criminal penalties for people who poached eagles.  The decline of adult numbers slowed dramatically.  But that problem with hatching fledges stopped the recovery, at least so far as young birds who could replace those who died of old age or accidents.

Carson’s critics argue that eagles were never really in decline.  Steven Milloy and Gordon Edwards invented a fantastic tale that the Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count actually recorded an increase in eagle numbers, a false claim that Audubon certainly never made, based on a twisted misapplication of bird count methods.  USFWS and others noted the decline of eagles speeding up through the 1950s and 1960s.

Carson’s critics then will say that what plagued eagles was hunting and poaching, and not DDT.  While that was true prior to 1941, that was not the case after World War II when the laws were enforced well.

When studies indicated that DDT would stop birds from successfully breeding, Carson cited them. Her critics claim those studies were in error.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo. 1999 report.

But they were not.  In fact, not a single study cited by Carson in Silent Spring has ever been refuted by later peer-reviewed research, nor pulled back for any reason.  A decade after Carson’s death, researchers discovered that residual DDT in birds, especially eagles and other raptors, prevented the females from forming competent shells on the eggs they laid.  Even when the DDT doses were not high enough to kill the chicks outright, the shells could not survive the mother’s sitting on them.  The shells broke, and the chicks inside died.

DDT was a scourge to the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and osprey — and probably many other birds.

Pelican eggs: Healthy pelican egg on left, egg affected by DDT in its laying mother on right.

Pelican eggs: Healthy pelican egg on left, egg affected by DDT in its laying mother on right. Image from VCE Environmental Science.

Discover magazine carried an article about DDT and Carson’s book in November 2007Discover said that, since 1962 when Carson’s book was published, 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.

History also supports the scientists.  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. (The full text of the report may be obtained here.)

Rachel Carson was right.  DDT kills birds.  DDT threatened several species with extinction.

Carson’s science citations were verified by a select panel of the nation’s top biologists including entomologists, certified as scientifically accurate.   Since she published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies have been performed that verify her findings on DDT’s harms to birds.

I have never found a contrary study published in any peer-review science journal, based on research.

Typewriters of the moment: Mitford and Carson, two environmental journalists

September 24, 2013

The great editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun-Times illustrates the gender dimension of the controversy over Carson and Silent Spring. In this 27 October 1963 cartoon he pairs her with Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, a scathing indictment of the funeral home industry. Men from both industries have been flattened under the platens of the women’s typewriters.  All rights reserved © 1963 by Bill Mauldin. Courtesy of Bill Mauldin Estate LLC

The great editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun-Times illustrates the gender dimension of the controversy over Carson and Silent Spring. In this 27 October 1963 cartoon he pairs her with Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, a scathing indictment of the funeral home industry. Men from both industries have been flattened under the platens of the women’s typewriters. All rights reserved © 1963 by Bill Mauldin. Courtesy of Bill Mauldin Estate LLC

Captured from Mark Stoll’s “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that changed the world,” at the Environment and Society Portal.

A well-fitting image in the few days before the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) opens its 2013 convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee (October 2-4).  It was the power of the typewriter in 1963; the power of the word processor in 2013, more likely.  In either case, it’s the hard work of environmental journalists, who are out to make the world a better place by showing us what it is, what shape it’s in, and how we might conserve it.


Quote of the moment: Rachel Carson, on why her nature writing sounds so much like poetry

June 14, 2013

Rachel Carson said:

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Bug Girl wrote a fine review last year of an often over-looked book on Carson, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement  (Mark Hamilton Lytle, 2007. Oxford Univ. Press.)  It’s worth your click over there to read a nice piece on Carson, on women in science, and on nature writing.

Bug Girl spends the necessary time and space answering critics of Carson, of Silent Spring, and those few odd but incredibly active and loud advocates who claim we can conquer disease if we can only spread enough DDT poison around the Earth.  Go see.

I find it impossible to stand in a place like Yosemite and not hear John Muir‘s voice — and it’s probably that John Muir found that, too.  Or stand on the shores of Waldon Pond and not hear Henry David Thoreau, or stand on sandy soil in Wisconsin and not hear Aldo Leopold, or sit on a redrock outcropping in southern Utah and not hear Ed Abbey.  They probably heard similar voices.  But they had the presence of mind to write down what they heard.

Writing wonderful prose, or poetry, must be easier when the subject sings of itself in your ears, and paints itself in glory for your eyes.

If Carson’s prose borders on poetry, does that add to, or subtract from its science value?


U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and n...

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club , on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background: Upper and lower Yosemite Falls. Wikipedia image

Rachel Carson/DDT hoaxing from the Ayn Rand Institute

April 21, 2013

Welcome, refugees and truth-seekers from WUWT:  If this site seems a little unusual to you, you should know that at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we try to stick to science, and we don’t censor opposing opinions.  Genuinely interested in the DDT/Malaria issue?  See this collection.


A couple of physicists get together in a podcast from the Ayn Rand Institute, Poke in Your Eye to Eye, and demonstrate that they don’t know biology well, they know less about history, but they don’t hesitate to tell whoppers about Rachel Carson and the value of DDT“Silent Spring 50 Years Later [a special Earth Day podcast].

English: An image of the main entrance of Rach...

A better indication of the legacy of Rachel Carson: Schools across America named after the woman, to inspire children to explore science, and to read and write. Here, the main entrance of Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Earth Day must be coming up.  The usual suspects trot out their usual disinformation and hoax campaigns — and it will continue through Earth Day on April 22, International Malaria Day on April 25, through Rachel Carson’s birthday, and probably all summer.

Mencken warned us that hoaxes, once out of the bottle, can’t be put back.  Twain (and others) remind us that whopping falsehoods travel around the world “while truth is getting its boots on.”  Amanda Maxham, who is listed as an astrophysicist at the Rand site, interviewed physicist Keith Lockitch — and they repeat almost all the hoary old false fables invented by Gordon Edwards and Steven Milloy about malaria, DDT, and Rachel Carson.

A few of the errors committed by the polemicists at the Ayn Rand Institute:

  • ‘DDT doesn’t breed mosquitoes more resistant to the stuff, but instead weakens the population through reducing diversity.’  Absolutely wrong.  Turns out the new alleles mosquitoes pick up that makes them resistant and immune to DDT, are ALSO the alleles that make mosquitoes resistant to the whole class of chemicals, and thereby foul up efforts to develop new pesticides.

    Tanzania - Removing DDT

    Cleaning up DDT in Africa: 40 tons of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, Tanzania – FAO photo

  • ‘Rachel Carson didn’t account for the value of DDT in eradicating malaria.’  They start out claiming DDT ended malaria in the U.S. (it didn’t; CDC had won the fight will just mop up operations left, by 1939; DDT wasn’t even available for another seven years), and run through the false claim that DDT alone had almost eradicated malaria from Sri Lanka, but listening to Rachel Carson, the nation stopped spraying and malaria roared back (the nation stopped ALL of its malaria fighting efforts due to costs and civil war; when the fight was taken up again, DDT was not useful; largely without DDT, Sri Lanka has once again nearly wiped out malaria).
  • ‘Because of a lack of DDT use, malaria continues to ravage the world killing a million people a year.’  Actually, malaria is at the lowest level in human history, killing less than a million a year, with great progress being made against the disease using the methods Rachel Carson urged in 1962.  Had we listened to Carson earlier, we could have saved a few million more lives, and perhaps have eradicated malaria already.  Also, it’s important to remember that DDT was never banned in Africa nor Asia; the ban on use of DDT on cotton crops in the U.S. did not cause any increase in malaria anywhere; since the ban on DDT use in the U.S. malaria has constantly declined in incidence and deaths.
  • ‘DDT is very effective because it’s ALSO repellent to mosquitoes, after it ceases to kill them.’  So in the end, they urge the use of a poisonous-to-wildlife, mildly carcinogenic substance, because it repels mosquitoes?  Bednets are more effective, cheaper, not-poisonous to wildlife, and they aren’t even suspected of causing cancer.

Rachel Carson’s life is a model for budding scientists, aspiring journalists, and teachers of ethics.  That so many people spend so much time making up false claims against her, in favor of a deadly toxin, and against science, tells us much more about the subrosa intentions of the claim fakers than about Rachel Carson.

Want the facts about Rachel Carson?  Try William Souder’s marvelous biography from last year, On a Farther Shore.  Want facts on DDT?  Try EPA’s official DDT history online (or look at some of the posts here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub). Want the facts about malaria?  Check with the world’s longest running, most ambitious malaria fighting campaign operated by the good people at the World Health Organization, Roll Back Malaria,  or see Sonia Shah’s underappreciated history, The FeverHow malaria has ruled mankind for 500,000 years.


Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Wall of Shame (hoax spreaders to watch out for this week):

Passing the 200 post mark on Rachel Carson, DDT and Malaria

January 13, 2013

I’m running behind in listing some of the articles, but since Utah Rep. Rob Bishop first alerted me to the stupidity raging on Rachel Carson‘s reputation, DDT‘s dangers and malaria, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub hosted more than 200 articles on the topics.

Palau's stamp honoring Rachel Carson

Postage stamp honoring Rachel Carson, part of the “20th century environmental heroes” set from the South Pacific nation of Palau, PlanetPatriot image

Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that Rachel Carson was right, DDT is still dangerous and needs to be banned, but malaria still declines, even with declining DDT use.

You can look at the list of 200 articles, in reverse chronological order, here.


Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring at 50: Catalog of tributes

December 11, 2012

Over the year so many tributes, commentaries, and wild-hare critiques keep pushing Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring back into our memories, and relevance.  Too many to list and comment on, but I’ll make a list of those I found most informative or useful, and of a couple I found most repugnant.

I’ll update this list from time to time.  I’m using this as a file for my writing as well, but some of this stuff needs to be shared more broadly — and of course, I appreciate corrections and pointers to other good sources.

English: An image of the main entrance of Rach...

Main entrance of Rachel Carson Middle School, Falls Church Public Schools, Herndon, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A collection:

Good stuff on Carson and Silent Spring:


People who don’t get it, are blinded by bias, or never had their mouths washed out with soap:

General news:

More, not categorized:

Use of Pesticides: Report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, May 15, 1963

December 10, 2012

This is the full text of The Use of Pesticides, the report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee on May 15, 1963, which exonerated Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring of scientific error.

Cover of the publication:  Use of Pesticides, A report of the President's Science Advisory Committee, May 15, 1963

Cover of the publication: Use of Pesticides, A report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, May 15, 1963

Copies of the report remain difficult to find in many libraries, and unindexed on the internet.  The entire report has been in the public domain since its release.  Ironically, that this document couldn’t be published for profit probably kept it relatively unavailable for the past 20 years.

This is an important historic document.  President Kennedy famously referred to the not-yet-completed study in late 1962, when asked if he had read the book, and what his opinion was (he had read Silent Spring, and he said he’d established a group to check its accuracy and make policy recommendations).  When issued the following May, the report effectively quashed much of the slander campaign against Carson and the book, and led to serious scientific work on pesticides and their safety in all uses.

In the past 15 years, with many of the works vouching for Carson’s accuracy out of print or unavailable, a second propaganda campaign impugning her work, intentions and reputation sprang up.  Much of this folderol would be impossible with the original works available to compare and correct.

This transcription employed optical character recognition software for some of the transcription; one error in the original I have left as is, a misspelling of “millennium.”  But I believe most other transcription errors have been fixed.

Formatting is another issue.  I hope to complete a version that mirrors the format of the original; here I provide page notations in brackets.

Use of Pesticides, STP SB959.U57 1963




May 15, 1963


[blank page]



 This report on the use of pesticides has been prepared for me by my Science Advisory Committee.

I have already requested the responsible agencies to implement the recommendations in the report, including the preparation of legislative and technical proposals which I shall submit to the Congress.

Because of its general public interest, I am releasing the report for publication.

[Signed John F. Kennedy]


May 15, 1963



[Transcribed from a copy found at this library]

University of Minnesota



Statement of the President………………………………………..

I.    Introduction ……………………………………………….. 1

II.  Gains ………………………………………………………………………… 2

III. Hazards ……………………………………………………………………….. 4

A. Classes of Compounds …………………………… 4

B.  Distribution and Persistence in the Environment 5

C.  Biological Effects on Man and Animals ……… 8

D. Toxicity of Specific Compounds ……………………….. 12

IV. Pest Control Without Chemicals ………………………. 13

V.   Role of Government in Pesticide Regulation ……… 15

VI.  Recommendations …………………………………………………….. 19

Members of the President’s Science Advisory Committee Panel

on the Use of Pesticides  …………………………………………… 24

Members of the President’s Science Advisory Committee. . .  25



Man’s primary concerns have always been the struggle for survival and improvement of his lot. As his numbers increased, he attained greater ability to manipulate his environment. In the process he sometimes inflicted damage on himself and on his surroundings. Advances have always entailed a degree of risk which society must weigh and either accept, or reject, as the price of material progress.

A major step in civilization was the domestication of food plants. With the birth of organized agriculture and the resultant concentration of crops and animals, the stage was set for outbreaks of pests. Until that time man had to search for food as did the pests. Afterward neither had to search; instead, pest control became necessary. The welfare of an increasing human population requires intensified agriculture. This in turn enables the pests to increase, which necessitates the use of pesticides with their concomitant hazards. It thus seems inevitable that, as the population increases, so do certain hazards.

In an effort to understand and evaluate these problems, the Panel undertook a review of the information relevant to pesticides, including experimental data and the various administrative procedures which are designed for the protection of the public. The Panel could not have accomplished this review without the assistance it received from the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Health, Education, and Welfare, as well as from many individuals throughout the country.

The information provided to the Panel has demonstrated how remarkably effective the modern organic chemicals are in facilitating both the control of insect vectors of disease and the unprecedented production of food, feed, and fiber. The use of pesticides associated with the production of our food is carefully controlled by the growers and supervised by agricultural specialists and the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the residue levels measured on foods intended for interstate and foreign commerce are low and rarely above Federal tolerance limits.

The Panel believes that the use of pesticides must be continued if we are to maintain the advantages now resulting from the work of informed food producers and those responsible for control of disease. On the other hand, it has now become clear that the proper usage is not simple and that, while they destroy harmful insects and plants, pesticides may also be toxic to beneficial plants and animals, including man. Their toxic effects in large doses are well known and precautions can be taken to see that humans are [1]  never needlessly exposed. But we must now also take measures to insure that continued exposures to small amounts of these chemicals in our environment will not be harmful over long periods of time.

Review of pesticides brings into focus their great merits while suggesting that there are apparent risks. This is the nature of the dilemma that confronts the Nation. The Panel has attempted to state the case—the benefits, the hazards, and the methods of controlling the hazards. It can suggest ways of avoiding or lessening the hazards, but in the end society must decide, and to do so it must obtain adequate information on which to base its judgments. The decision is an uncomfortable one which can never be final but must be constantly in flux as circumstances change and knowledge increases.


Our material standard of living has been greatly elevated during the 20th century by increased control over the environment. Few recent developments have been so effective or have had application in such a wide range of human endeavor as the pesticide chemicals. Although pesticides have been used for centuries as adjuncts in pest control, the great advances of the last 20 years resulting from the discovery, manufacture, and application of new compounds have changed their role in many instances to that of the principal and, frequently, sole control measure.

Pesticides have made a great impact by facilitating the production and protection of food, feed, and fiber in greater quantity and quality; by improving health; and by keeping in check many kinds of nuisance insects and unwanted plants. Agricultural needs have entailed the largest applications of pesticides in this country. Productivity has been so increased that famine is an unknown experience to the people of the developed nations. Mechanization, improved fertilizers, and the breeding of productive and disease-resistant crops have also contributed importantly. In addition, pesticides have made possible the economical production of many crops which otherwise would be available only to a limited number of wealthy consumers.

While reducing food losses, pest control has also resulted in foodstuffs of the highest quality. Today, for example, sweet corn, potatoes, cabbage, apples, and tomatoes are all available unmarred, and the American housewife is accustomed to blemish-free products. Citrus fruits are seldom damaged or lost because of scale insects, fruitflies, or diseases, and the cost of animal protein is lower because large losses of cattle from tick fever and grubs no longer occur.

Modern agricultural efficiency is maintained not only through the use of insecticides, but also by means of herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, nematocides, plant-growth regulators, and other chemicals. Their benefits extend beyond crops raised for direct human consumption. They permit efficient production of forage and grains, which in turn are needed [2] for a productive livestock economy. In addition, they allow profitable yields of nonfood crops such as cotton, tobacco, and timber. Pesticides have not, however, reached an optimum of effectiveness. More than 100 established pests have developed resistance to one or more previously effective chemicals, and new pests are occasionally introduced by international traffic.

Rapid population growth and concomitant decrease in land available for agriculture necessitate greater crop yields per acre and reduction of losses and spoilage in stored foods. Moreover, many products must be protected during the process of manufacture and distribution.

Besides enabling spectacular increases in agricultural production, pesticides have freed man from communicable diseases to an unprecedented extent. In less developed areas of the world, malaria, typhus, and yellow fever, previously controlled only with great difficulty, are now limited and in some locations eradicated. In each case, pesticides have facilitated control of the insect vector. At some stage of their natural history a number of the major communicable diseases involve an intermediate host or vector. Most successful disease-control programs have been directed at eliminating this link in the chain of transmission, rather than treating man after he has contracted the disease.

However, control programs have not achieved disease eradication. Malaria is still the disease responsible for the largest number of deaths in the world each year, although new cases are rare in the United States. Yellow fever, schistosomiasis, plague, and some rickettsial diseases are almost unknown in the mainland of North America, but they still take a large toll of human lives in the rest of the world. Furthermore, reservoirs of disease in animals, and insects which can transmit them, will remain with us for the predictable future both in this country and in other parts of the world, thus requiring a continued effort to control them.

An additional complication in disease control is that the insect vectors, such as mosquitoes that transmit malaria, may produce resistant populations capable of transmitting their resistance to pesticides from generation to generation. In order to keep up with the successive threats of insect vectors as they develop resistance to one chemical after another, it is important to enlarge and improve our capability for controlling pests.

Pesticides also have made control of many nuisance insects and plants financially feasible. Were the cost higher, the funds for their control would be used by other more critical demands on the economy. For example, it might be too expensive to control the varieties of mosquitoes that breed in marshes and estuaries which do not transmit disease, but limit man’s enjoyment of some of the most desirable recreational areas. Similarly, elimination of roaches from kitchens, aphids from roses, and fungi from golf greens are very desirable but nonessential benefits.

Efficient agricultural production, protection of health, and elimination of nuisances are now required and expected by modern man. The methods [3] used to accomplish these ends must continue to improve, although their present scope and magnitude far exceed the few examples included here. It is certain that coming years will witness sophistication of methods and new uses for which pesticides were not originally conceived.


Evidence of increasing environmental contamination by pesticide chemicals has generated concern which is no longer limited to citizens of affected areas or members of special-interest groups. During two decades of intensive technical and industrial advancement we have dispersed a huge volume of synthetic compounds, both intentionally and inadvertently. Many, such as detergents, industrial wastes, and pesticides, are now found far from the point of initial dispersal.

Today, pesticides are detectable in many food items, in some clothing, in man and animals, and in various parts of our natural surroundings. Carried from one locality to another by air currents, water runoff, or living organisms (either directly or indirectly through extended food chains), pesticides have traveled great distances and some of them have persisted for long periods of time. Although they remain in small quantities, their variety, toxicity, and persistence are affecting biological systems in nature and may eventually affect human health. The benefits of these substances are apparent. We are now beginning to evaluate some of their less obvious effects and potential risks.

Precisely because pesticide chemicals are designed to kill or metabolically upset some living target organism, they are potentially dangerous to other living organisms. Most of them are highly toxic in concentrated amounts, and in unfortunate instances they have caused illness and death of people and wildlife. Although acute human poisoning is a measurable and, in some cases, a significant hazard, it is relatively easy to identify and control by comparison with potential, low-level chronic toxicity which has been observed in experimental animals.

The Panel is convinced that we must understand more completely the properties of these chemicals and determine their long-term impact on biological systems, including man. The Panel’s recommendations are directed toward these needs, and toward more judicious use of pesticides or alternate methods of pest control, in an effort to minimize risks and maximize gains. They are offered with the full recognition that pesticides constitute only one facet of the general problem of environmental pollution, but with the conviction that the hazards resulting from their use dictate rapid strengthening of interim measures until such time as we have realized a comprehensive program for controlling environmental pollution.


The term pesticide broadly includes compounds intended for a variety of purposes. They are used to control insects, mites, ticks, fungi, nematodes, [4] rodents, pest birds, predatory animals, rough fish, plant diseases, and weeds; and also to act as regulators of plant growth, as defoliants, and as desiccants. As of June 1962, almost 500 compound,‘ incorporated in more than 54,000 formulations were registered for use in the United States.

1.  The chlorinated hydrocarbons containing carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine are the pesticides used in greatest tonnage. The most familiar are DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, toxaphene, lindane, methoxychlor, chlordane, and heptachlor. Among those used extensively as herbicides are 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T for control of broad-leaved weeds in lawns, pastures, cereal crops, and brush growth along highways and fences.

2.   The organic phosphorus compounds, composed of phosphorus, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, are used principally as insecticides and miticides. Parathion, malathion, phosdrin, and tetraethyl pyrophosphate (TEPP) are examples.

3.   Other organic compounds include the carbamates, dinitrophenols, organic sulfur compounds, organic mercurials, and such natural products as rotenone, pyrethrum, nicotine, strychnine, and the anticoagulant rodent poisons.

4.  Inorganic substances with a long history of use include copper sulfate, arsenate of lead, calcium arsenate, compounds of chlorine and fluorine, zinc phosphide, thallium sulfate, and sodium fluoroacetate.


The worldwide use of pesticides has substantially increased since the development of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons in the early 1940’s. United States production and use are illustrated in figures 1 and 2. It is estimated that 350 million pounds of insecticides alone were used in the United States during 1962. They are distributed annually over nearly 90 million acres (about I acre out of 20 within the 48 contiguous States). These acreages are composed of farmlands, forests, and insect-breeding areas, including wetlands. Weedkillers are distributed on approximately the same number of acres, with some overlap of areas covered by insecticides. Thus the land area treated with pesticides is approximately 1 acre of 12 within the 48 States. About 45 million pounds are used each year in urban areas and around homes, much of this by individual homeowners. The annual sale of aerosol “bug bombs” amounts to more than one per household. Other compounds, such as fungicides, also are used in substantial tonnage.

In recent years we have recognized the wide distribution and persistence of DDT. It has been detected at great distances from the place of application and its concentration in certain living organisms has been observed. Dar has been found in oil of fish that live far at sea and in fish caught off the coasts of eastern and western North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Observed concentrations have varied from less than 1 part per million (ppm) to more than 300 ppm in oil. [5]

Residues of DDT and certain other chlorinated hydrocarbons have been detected in most of our major rivers, in ground water, in fish from our fresh waters, in migratory birds, in wild mammals, and in shellfish. Small amounts of DDT have been detected in food from many parts of the world, including processed dairy products from the United States, Europe, and South America. The amounts are rarely above Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tolerance limits, but these have probably contributed to the buildup of DDT we now observe in the fat of the people of the United States, Canada, Germany, and England. In the United States, DDT and its metabolites have been found in the fat of persons without occupational exposure at an average of 12 ppm (approximately 100 to 200 mg. of DDT per adult) for the past 10 years. In England and Germany, recent studies revealed an average concentration of 2 ppm in human fat. Data about children are not available.

An important characteristic of several commonly used pesticides is their persistence in the environment in toxic form. The chemical half life of stable chlorinated hydrocarbons in soils, and the time they remain active against some soil insects, are measured in years. The organic phosphorus [6] compounds are more rapidly degraded although, under certain circumstances, they have persisted from one growing season to the next following routine application. Pyrethrum, rotenone, and nicotine are destroyed relatively rapidly after application, but compounds incorporating copper, lead, and arsenic arc persistent.

The distribution and persistence of other chlorinated hydrocarbons have been studied in less detail, although some of these chemicals have been widely applied. One of these, dieldrin, resembles DDT in stability, persistence, and in solubility. Recently, it has been found in the fat of residents of southern England. It has also been found in many wild birds, fish, and mammals in the United States. These facts led the Panel to anticipate that surveys will discover dieldrin and other persistent chlorinated hydrocarbons in man and wildlife throughout most of the United States.



1. Exposure of man

The extent of hazard associated with use of a pesticide is determined by the degree of exposure and the compound’s toxicity. Exposure depends on persistence, the amount applied, the method of application, and availability of the chemical in a biologically active form. Pesticides can enter the body by (a) ingestion, (b) absorption through the intact skin, and (c) inhalation.

(a)   When examining the potential hazards to man from extensive use of pesticides, an early consideration should be the possible effects of chemical residues in the Nation’s food supply. The Panel has received evidence that, before pesticides are recommended for registration, considerable research has been performed on the extent and nature of their residues on foods, and that safeguards exist which can permit pesticide usage without danger to the consumer. These include proper controls over manufacture, commercial distribution, and techniques of pesticide application to crops; strict establishment of tolerance limitations; inspection for residues in produce; and other precautions. When measured in foods entering interstate or foreign commerce, and in total diet studies, residue levels have been very low and rarely above the legal tolerance limits. If illegal residues are found, the foods containing them are removed from the market.

Residues are not so consistently low for food items marketed within their State of origin. Some State authorities sample food for pesticide residues. Data from certain States have shown residues well above the Federal tolerance on 3 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables offered for sale in wholesale markets. Many States do not perform systematic sampling for residues in the produce and dairy products intended for consumption within the State.

Residues of several chlorinated hydrocarbons have been measured in game birds and game fish at levels above Federal tolerance limits. Because few wildlife meals are consumed, this is not an important source for residue accumulation in man. By contrast, household use of pesticides with inadvertent contamination of dishes, utensils, or food may well produce more significant residues in man.

(b)   Most insecticides are readily absorbed through the intact skin. Skin contamination can be an important source of exposure for persons who mishandle pesticides in their formulation or commercial application. Furthermore, since householders usually take few precautions in their home and garden uses of these chemicals, they may receive extensive skin contact both from successive applications and from continuing exposure to residues.

The rate of absorption through the skin depends on the chemical nature of the pesticide and on its formulation. In general, compounds in solution in oils or in organic solvents are absorbed more readily than those in aqueous preparations or in dry powder. Skin absorption [8] can occur from pesticide aerosols, from dusts, from clothing or blankets impregnated with chlorinated hydrocarbons, and from contaminated soil or lawn grass.

The rates of skin absorption have not been adequately studied in man. It is particularly important to determine the rates at which mothproofing insecticides are absorbed through human skin in contact with impregnated clothing or blankets. Such impregnation is performed during the manufacture of mothproofed garments and materials, and routinely during dry-cleaning. Many of these articles, such as sweaters and blankets, may be in direct contact with the skin for prolonged periods. Clearly, studies are needed to understand possible sensitization and allergic responses.

(c) Man’s exposure to pesticides can also occur through inhalation. Airborne insecticides are sources of exposure when released during fogging operations directed against nuisance insects in public areas, buildings, and homes. Pesticides may be inhaled in dusts from treated soil, from house dusts contaminated by applications for household pests, or from mothproofed rugs and blankets.

2. Effects on man

There have been few systematic studies of people occupationally exposed to pesticides. In one such investigation, a small group of volunteers with an intake up to 35 mg. of DDT per day over a period of months was reported to show no apparent ill effects during 18 months of gross observation. DDT and its metabolites averaged 270 ppm in their fat, more than 20 times the average level found in adults sampled in this country. Limited groups of adults occupationally exposed to the more toxic pesticides are also being studied, and there is evidence of neurologic impairment, usually reversible, in those individuals heavily exposed to certain chlorinated hydrocarbons and organic phosphates. Unfortunately, possible long-term effects of other compounds cannot be predicted on the basis of experience with DDT, or even predicted for DDT itself, on the basis of the limited clinical studies available.

Accidental acute poisoning in man has been caused by about 50 pesticides, including at least 1 compound from each major class. Each year, approximately 150 deaths are attributed to misuse of pesticides in the United States. About half of these occur in children who were accidentally exposed at home. The number of nonfatal poisonings can only be estimated. A Special Committee on Public Policy Regarding Agricultural Chemicals, appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown on June 15, 1960, reported that in California, which uses 20 percent of the nationally consumed pesticides, 3,000 children per year ingest various amounts of these compounds. In that State during 1959 there were also 1,100 cases of occupational disease due to agriculture chemicals, mostly among agricultural workers. These figures include acute illnesses, whether the reaction was very mild, or severe enough to require hospitalization. One difficulty in estimating the incidence of poisoning is that the symptoms caused by pesticide toxicity are little different from those of many common illnesses.


Little is known about the consequences to man when he accumulates more than one pesticide in his body. Synergism, or potentiation, is the joint action of two agents which results in an effect which is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Some combinations of two organic phosphates have produced effects 10 times those observed when either compound was fed separately. Preliminary FDA data show only additive effects from mixtures of chlorinated hydrocarbons included in diets of experimental animals.

Physicians are generally unaware of the wide distribution of pesticides, their toxicity, and their possible effects on human health. Diagnosis of pesticide toxicity is apparent when a patient with acute asthma has to be resuscitated in the middle of the night following exposure to commercial fogging. However, diagnosis is difficult in patients with nonspecific symptoms that may result from unsuspected contamination with pesticides. The Panel was unable to find any federally sponsored research in this area of potential medical importance.

3. Effects on wildlife

Many kinds of insect-control programs have produced substantial mortalities among birds and other wildlife. Some fatalities have been the result of carelessness or nondirected use others have followed programs carried out exactly as planned. Mortalities among birds have approached 80 percent in areas heavily treated with DDT for Dutch elm disease control, with heptachlor for imported fire ant control, and with aldrin or dieldrin for controlling the Japanese beetle. Fish losses have been extensive even with lower rates of application in programs such as spruce budworm control using DDT. Losses following agricultural operations are more scattered and less well documented.

Most insecticides are toxic to a wide range of animals, and certain classes are consistently more susceptible than others. Insecticides tend to be more toxic to invertebrates than vertebrates, because the target insects are more closely related to other invertebrates. For example, pink shrimp have been experimentally poisoned by 0.9 parts per billion of heptachlor. Other marine organisms are also highly sensitive. The growth of young oysters has been inhibited by concentrations as low as 3 parts per 100 million of chlordane, heptachlor, or rotenone. Five other commonly used pesticides inhibit oyster growth in concentrations of 1 part per 10 million.

An entire year’s production of young salmon was nearly eliminated in the Miramichi River in New Brunswick in 1954, and again in 1956. This resulted from DDT applications of one-half pound per acre for control of the spruce budworm. Stream insects, which are a most important food for young salmon, disappeared and failed to return within 2 years. Surviving young salmon were very thin. In British Columbia, mortality of coho salmon approached 100 percent in at least four major streams after the surrounding forests were sprayed with 1 pound of DDT per acre for control  [10] of the black-headed budworm. This mortality occurred despite preventive measures to avoid treating the streams themselves.

Among vertebrates, fish are generally more sensitive than birds, and birds are more sensitive than mammals. Reptiles and amphibians vary greatly from species to species, but their susceptibilities usually fall between those of fish and birds. Variations in sensitivity may result in the elimination of certain forms from the food chain. While some organisms may be decimated, resistant organisms which survive exposure may concentrate and store pesticides at levels higher than those found in the environment. Such biological magnification on the part of resistant species may ultimately damage more sensitive organisms which are higher in the food chain. At Clear Lake, Calif., for example, waters containing 0.02 ppm of TDE produced plankton containing 5 ppm, which in turn produced fish with fat containing hundreds to thousands of parts per million. Grebes that fed on the fish died although their fat contained somewhat smaller residues than the fish.

Robin populations declined drastically after Dutch elm disease spraying in certain communities in Wisconsin and Michigan. Earthworms, resistant to DDT, fed on fallen elm leaves and accumulated substantial amounts of the pesticide. Robins, for whom worms are a principal food, fed on the worms and died.

The process of biological magnification has less impact on man because human food is produced by a two- or three-link chain in which the process, if recognized, can be controlled, For example, residues are permitted on feeds for domestic animals only in amounts that will not ultimately yield unacceptable levels in meat, in milk, or in other animal products. Thus, excessive levels of pesticide residues in agricultural products used for human food result only from accident or misuse, while damaging levels in the food of wild animals may be unwanted effects resulting from recommended practices. When contaminated fish and shellfish are harvested commercially, any residues they may contain are of concern to the fisherman and the consumer. Yet the commercial fisherman cannot control the sources of such contamination.

Wild animal populations are affected differently by pesticides residues than are domestic animals and man. Unlike the latter, wild animals cannot be kept from treated areas long enough for the chemical residues to degrade or otherwise dissipate. Because birds and mammals are free to range over relatively large areas, they are exposed to a variety of different compounds. Insectivorous birds are likely to be attracted to areas with dense insect populations, and may be exposed when chemicals are applied. Furthermore, birds reoccupy a depleted area very rapidly; thus a treated area may constitute a trap into which successive waves of birds move and are killed. Fish in streams are generally less mobile than birds and mammals, but they, too, may be subject to multiple exposure to pesticides.


Flowing waters contaminated by accidental drifts or run-offs can affect the fish even though they do not move into treated areas.


1. Chlorinated hydrocarbons

In very small doses (some cases less than 1 ppm) chlorinated hydrocarbons have caused liver damage to experimental animals, and in large doses they have caused acute central nervous system effects, occasionally followed by death. The mechanisms leading to these effects are unknown.

The biological effects of DDT have been studied more fully than those of other pesticides. Its toxicity to man and other mammals is low. People ingesting large amounts of DDT usually suffer no apparent ill effects. In chronic feeding experiments with rats, 5 ppm produced characteristic chlorinated hydrocarbon changes in the liver, but no evidence of tumor induction. Reproduction studies in rats showed that 50 ppm reduced the number of young that survived the nursing period. There was no effect on reproduction at 10 ppm. However, many useful insects and other valuable invertebrates such as shrimp, crayfish, and crabs are highly susceptible to DDT. Decimation of these useful populations may be a costly side effect of extensive applications.

Dieldrin and aldrin are many times more toxic to vertebrates than DDT. Since aldrin is converted to dieldrin in man and in the environment, a discussion of dieldrin applies to both.

Dieldrin is present in the body fat of residents of England (average 0.2 ppm) and is probably also present in the fat of the U.S. population as a result of extensive applications of the chemical in this country. There have been many cases of acute poisoning in people exposed to dieldrin in their work. Signs of intoxication involve the central nervous system, and may include electroencephalographic changes, muscle tremors, and convulsions. Individuals have suffered recurrences of these symptoms after they have been free of them for more than a month following their last exposure.

Our knowledge of toxicity at lower doses comes chiefly from FDA feeding experiments in which mice were fed varying concentrations of dieldrin and aldrin in their diet. Chronic exposure to as little as 0.5 ppm produced histological liver damage while increase to 10 ppm caused a fourfold increase in the frequency of liver tumors. There are virtually no data on the effects on embryonic development. In one of the few experiments known to the Panel, the feeding of dieldrin (at 0.6 mg./kg. of body weight) to several pregnant dogs resulted in 100 percent mortality of 14 nursing puppies. The mothers were fed the pesticide during pregnancy but none during lactation. In another study, rats fed dieldrin at 2.5 ppm in the diet showed a significant reduction in number of pregnancies and an increased mortality in suckling young.


Although most insecticides do not kill wild mammals in the field even when they kill birds and fish, 1 to 3 lbs. per acre of dieldrin or aldrin produces high mortality among mammals in the treated areas. Dieldrin is also highly toxic to many birds, amphibia, reptiles, and fish. It reduces the reproduction of captive quail by decreasing egg production, decreasing the percentage of eggs that hatch, and increasing the mortality of chicks. Many beneficial and useful invertebrates are very susceptible.

Other chlorinated hydrocarbons in common use have shown marked acute toxicity to rats in feeding experiments. Chronic effects have been noted with chlordane and heptachlor at the lowest level fed to experimental animals. Chlordane at 2.5 ppm produced liver damage and 0.5 ppm of heptachlor epoxide produced liver damage and increased mortality in the laboratory mice. Field use also suggests high toxicity to birds and mammals. Although these substances are used in large quantities, there have been no studies to determine whether they accumulate in the human population, nor are there adequate studies of their genetic, tumorigenic, teratogenic, or reproductive effects in mammals or birds.

2. Organic phosphorus compounds

Among their effects, the organic, phosphorus compounds inhibit cholinesterase activity and thereby interfere with transmission of impulses from nerve to ganglion and nerve to muscle.

Most organic phosphorus insecticides have relatively high acute toxicities and have caused many fatal and nonfatal poisonings in man. In cases of poisoning, removal from exposure to the compound usually permits rapid recovery. Many of them are degraded rapidly and thus seldom persist in the environment, but some, such as parathion, have persisted for months in soils and have recently been found in trace amounts in water drawn from deep wells.


Methods for controlling pests without the use of pesticides were known to farmers even in ancient times. Crops were planted in areas least liable to pest damage; crops were moved to virgin territory to ,leave the pests behind ; rotation was practiced and crops that were less prone to disease were planted ; if the pests came late in the season, crops were planted early, and vice versa. Many of these methods are used today.

The environment can also be modified indirectly; for example, we use screens on windows to keep out mosquitoes, and flood or drain marshes to destroy their breeding areas. In certain cases parasites, predators, and diseases control the pests without chemicals. In the United States and many other countries of the world parasites and predators have been successfully introduced to combat scale insects on citrus fruits, apples, and sugarcane; and in Australia the myxomatosis virus was introduced to kill rabbits.

Entomologists have long been interested in the use of insect enemies for pest control. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been active in this [13] area since 1888. It has imported more than 500 species of insect-destroying organisms, of which about 36 have had partial or complete success. Introduced insects have succeeded in controlling cactus in Australia and Klamath weed in the Western United States. However, biological methods of insect control have received relatively little attention in the United States by comparison with the great emphasis on chemical control.

An effective method of biological control is the discovery or breeding of resistant varieties of crops. This method has worked best for plant diseases, and several varieties of wheat which are resistant to rust have been bred in this country. Another example of the use of plant resistance was provided by the grafting of French wine grapes to resistant American rootstocks when the French grapes were severely damaged by the root insect Phylloxera in the middle of the last century.

Other examples of effective biological control can be cited, but success has not been frequent. Continued and extensive searches will undoubtedly yield more, and the Panel believes this approach should be expanded.

Although nonchemical methods for pest control are intriguing, they also have weaknesses. Two are particularly important. In the first place, parasites and predators have adjusted over the millenia to a dynamic balance with their hosts such that they kill some but not all of them; complete host destruction would eliminate the parasite or predator by destroying its food supply. Thus, control of the pest is seldom complete enough to prevent economic damage. Furthermore, reduction of the pest population is rarely sufficient to prevent its becoming dense again. A second limitation to the use of natural enemies is that the host may become resistant, just as it may develop resistance to chemical controls.

Australian rabbits, for example, are becoming resistant to myxomatosis, and their populations once again are on the increase.

A new method of biological control is the laboratory production of sterile male insects in very large numbers, using either gamma rays or specific chemical sterilants. The males are then liberated into the natural population where their matings produce infertile eggs. Although this procedure eliminated the screwworm fly in Florida, it has not yet been investigated extensively for controlling other insects.

A still newer method is the use of sex attractants to lure male insects into traps and thus to their death. With certain species this technique has great promise, and developmental research is being expanded.

The variety of methods that has proven useful for biological control of certain pests, and the indication of potential value for others, lead to the conclusion that more active exploration and use of these techniques may yield important benefits for the national economy and for the protection of health.




Public interest in the protection of the Nation’s health and its resources has led to the enactment of legislation and the establishment of administrative procedures to regulate the marketing and use of pesticides. The Public Health Service has general responsibilities for the health of man and the Fish and Wildlife Service for the protection of wild animals. In addition, two fundamental laws, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, assign responsibility for pesticide control to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and responsibility for the safety of foods containing pesticide residues to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). The Secretary has delegated this responsibility to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When a new pesticide is developed in an industrial laboratory an application is submitted to USDA requesting that it be registered for use. If the proposed use does not include application on a food crop, USDA reviews the experimental data submitted with the application. The compound is registered for use if it is concluded that no undue hazard to man and domestic animals is associated with the proposed use when applied according to the instructions on the label.

When a pesticide is proposed for use on food crops, the application for registration must list each crop on which it is to be applied and must present the necessary data on effectiveness and toxicity. If it can be demonstrated to USDA that the produce leaves no residue on a particular crop when used in the proposed manner, the specific pesticidal formulation covered by the application is registered for use on that crop on a “no residue” basis. The product may then be legally shipped in interstate commerce. If, however, the compound leaves a residue, USDA delays registration until a residue tolerance has been established by FDA.

To initiate this procedure, the manufacturer files a petition for tolerance with FDA. The USDA then certifies to FDA that the product under consideration is useful and offers an opinion on whether the petitioner’s proposed tolerance reasonably reflects the residues to be expected from its use according to directions. Until 1955, tolerances were established by FDA on the basis of testimony presented in public hearings. Present law requires the petitioner w present FDA with experimental evidence on toxicity to establish what tolerances, if any, will be safe, to show that the tolerances can be met under the practical conditions of the pesticide use and to provide practical methods of analysis for enforcement of the tolerances.

The concept of “zero tolerance” should be distinguished from that of no residue.” “No residue” is a determination by USDA, based on experimental data, that none will remain from a particular pesticide use, irrespective of toxicity. “Zero tolerance” is an FDA prohibition of any residue on [15] a crop because the compound is too toxic to permit a residue. The concepts of “zero tolerance” and the “no residue” registration have been modified as more sensitive detection methods became available. In practice, “zero tolerance” is interpreted by FDA in some cases to include a detectable level of residue, lower than that believed to be pharmacologically significant.

In addition to toxicity data, the petitioner must also submit information on the chemistry of the compound, reference to related uses, and residue measurements on the crop involved. If the raw agricultural product is to be used for animal feed, data must be submitted on residues in meat and milk. A method of analysis suitable for enforcement purposes also must be submitted.

When a tolerance has been set by FDA, USDA registers the pesticide which can then be marketed with approved labeling. No pesticide can be shipped in interstate and foreign commerce without USDA registration; however, by law USDA must grant registration “under protest” upon written demand of a petitioner subsequent to registration refusal by USDA. At present, the purchaser cannot distinguish such a product from one which has been accepted for registration because the label does not carry any indication of its unsanctioned status.

A pesticide registration must be renewed every 5 years. Within that interval petitioners may apply for increased tolerances or for extension of existing tolerances to additional crops. Similarly, FDA may alter residue tolerances if new information warrants. Lower tolerances are not set unless the FDA believes it could prove in court that the hazard is greater than formerly determined.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for establishing safe tolerances of pesticide residues on food products and for enforcing such tolerances by preventing illegal residues on interstate and foreign food shipments. The Department of Agriculture has sole responsibility for approving registration for pesticide use on any agricultural product other than food crops, on food crops where no residue results, and for all nonagricultural uses.

Both USDA and FDA have enforcement programs. The USDA is responsible for insuring that the marketed pesticides are properly labeled. The FDA is responsible for ensuring that tolerances are not exceeded. In addition, individual States may directly control pesticides uses, and enforce their own tolerances for produce sold within the State.


Federal laws and administrative practices relating to pesticides are intended to assure both efficacy of the product and safety to the purchaser, user, and the public. Decisions on efficacy appear to be based on reliable evidence. Experiments are well designed, meaningful controls are used, sample sizes are adequate, and conclusions reached are supported by the [16] data obtained. However, efficacy alone is not an adequate criterion for judgment. Unless a pesticide proposed for registration is equally effective in a less hazardous way than methods already available, the Panel believes registration should be considered conservatively. As a corollary to cautious registration of new pesticides, more hazardous compounds might well be removed from the market when equally effective and less hazardous substitutes are found. The Panel believes that it is necessary to modify the use of some especially hazardous and persistent materials now registered.

The Panel has found that decisions on safety are not as well based as those on efficacy despite recent improvements in the procedures required by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for the establishment of safe tolerances for pesticide residues on food. Until 1954, the evidence of safety was submitted in the form of testimony at public hearings, and tolerances were established when the evidence appeared to support the application. At that time, the manufacturer was not required to provide an analytical method for the practical enforcement of the tolerance. Moreover, FDA had no subpoena power to require testimony not voluntarily offered. Amendments of the act in 1954 materially improved these procedures. In addition to requiring the submission of data on chemistry, toxicology, and residues, it also required the petitioner to provide a practical analytical method for use in enforcement. The result was the provision of more data from animal experiments and, in some cases, information on human pharmacology.

As an administrative principle, tolerances are set by FDA at 1/100 of the lowest level which causes effects in the most sensitive test animals whenever data on human toxicity are not available. However, tolerances have been set for some compounds such as dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor (epoxide), and chlordane, although a “no effect” level in animals has never been determined. After reviewing the data on which tolerances are based, the Panel concludes that, in certain instances, the experimental evidence is inadequate. Recent review by FDA has also demonstrated several such examples and the tolerances are being reassessed.

The Panel believes that all data used as a basis for granting registration and establishing tolerances should be published, thus allowing the hypotheses and the validity and reliability of the data to be subjected to critical review by the public and the scientific community.

The FDA has responsibility only for setting tolerances for pesticides which remain on foods. Decisions on all the other uses of these compounds and registration for all other compounds are the responsibility of USDA. Thus the Department of Agriculture regulatory staff evaluates and approves uses that bring pesticides into intimate contact with people, such as mothproofing of clothes and blankets, and applications to households, lawns, and gardens. The Panel believes that decisions on registrations, clearly related to health, should be the responsibility of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.


Current registration procedures are primarily intended to protect people and domestic animals from damage by pesticides. The protection of fish and wildlife resources will require affirmation of this intent by Congress. Following such action by the Congress, the Panel believes the Secretary of the Interior should actively participate in review of all registrations that may affect fish and wildlife.

Federally operated or supported programs are subject to review by the Federal Pest Control Review Board. In addition, an Interdepartmental Committee on Pest Control exchanges information regarding control programs. An Armed Forces Pest Control Board provides liaison and coordination within the Department of Defense and regulates sales of pesticides in military stores. There are no provisions for Federal control of use after sale except in Federal programs and by indirect means such as enforcement of residue tolerances.

The Federal Pest Control Review Board was established in 1961 through joint actions of the Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Health, Education, and Welfare, and is composed of representatives from each of these departments. Technical matters are referred to staffs within the agencies for consideration and advice, and occasionally to the Interdepartmental Committee on Pest Control. The Board has not used consultants from outside the Government. The basic responsibility for Federal pest control operations is placed by statute in various departments and agencies. The fact that these same agencies constitute the Federal Pest Control Review Board restricts the Board’s effectiveness in reviewing the programs of member agencies. The Board carefully considers programs before giving clearance and, when appropriate, offers recommendations for altering proposed procedures. Although many programs have been modified as a result of such reviews, particularly by the incorporation of additional safeguards, the discontinuation of a program has not been recommended.

More than half of the insecticides used in Federal programs are applied for the control of pests introduced from foreign areas. Quarantine is a first defense, but there are opportunities for pests to spread. Through prompt action, the Mediterranean fruitfly has been eradicated on three occasions during the last 33 years, following introduction into Florida. In these cases, prompt eradication of the fly prevented its spread and the need for more extensive use of chemicals.

Although eradication of a pest population is a laudable goal, it is seldom realistic. Control programs by contrast, apply pesticides in less volume, to a smaller land area, with fewer undesirable side effects at any one time, yet produce the same economic results. The gypsy moth, fire ant, Japanese beetle, and white-fringed beetle programs, which have been continued for years, are examples of failures of the “eradication” approach. The acceptance of a philosophy of control rather than eradication does not minimize the technical or economic importance of a program, but acknowledges the realities of biology. As new control techniques such as male sterilization [18] or highly specific attractants are developed for practical use, the elimination of some of our alien pests may become technically and economically feasible.

In 1962, the Federal Government supported control programs involving the application of pesticides to more than 4 million acres, at a cost of about $20 million. Although the federally supported programs represent only a small pan of the total national use of pesticides, individual programs may involve thousands of acres of populated urban areas.

The Panel feels that Federal programs should be models of correct practice for use in the guidance of States, localities, and private users. They should, therefore, be conducted not only with attention to maximum effect on the target organisms, but with further evaluation of the associated hazards. It would, in these terms, be reasonable to expect that every large- scale operation be followed by a complete report which would appear in the public literature.


The Panel’s recommendations are directed to an assessment of the levels of pesticides in man and his environment; to measures which will augment the safety of present practices; to needed research and the development of safer and more specific methods of pest control; to suggested amendments or public laws governing the use of pesticides; and to public education.

A.  In order to determine current pesticide levels and their trends in man and his environment, it is recommended that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare:

1.    Develop a comprehensive data-gathering program so that the levels of pesticides can be determined in occupational workers, in individuals known to have been repeatedly exposed, and in a sample of the general population.  As a minimum, the survey should include determinations on fat, brain, lever and reproductive organs in adults and infants; examinations to determine if placental transmission occurs; and determination of levels which may be excreted in human milk.  These studies should use samples sufficiently large and properly drawn to obtain a clear understanding of the manner in which these chemicals are absorbed and distributed in the human body.

2.    Cooperate with other departments to develop a continuing network to monitor residue levels in air, water, soil, man, wildlife, and fish.  The total diet studies on chlorinated hydrocarbons initiated by the Food and Drug Administration should be expanded.  These should, for example, include data on organophosphates, germicides, and the carbamates in populated areas where they are widely used.

3.    Provide Federal funds to assist individual States to improve their capabilities for monitoring pesticide levels in foods which are produced and consumed within the state.

B.   In order to augment the safety of present practices, it is recommended that:


1.    The Food and Drug Administration proceed as rapidly as possible with its current review of residue tolerances, and the experimental studies on which they are based.  When this review is completed, it is recommended that the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare select a panel from nominations by the National Academy of Sciences to revaluate toxicological data on presently used pesticides to determine which, if any, current residue tolerances should be altered.  Of the commonly used chemicals attention should be directed first to heptachlor, methoxychlor, deldrin, aldrin, chlordane, lindane, and parathion because their tolerances were originally based upon data which are in particular need of review.  Upholding the same standards, the Secretary should ensure that new compounds proposed for registration by rigorously evaluated.

2.    The existing Federal advisory and coordinating mechanisms be critically assessed and revised as necessary to provide clear assignments of responsibility for control of pesticide use.  The Panel feels that the present mechanisms are inadequate and that it is necessary to provide on a continuing basis for:—

(a)     Review of present and proposed Federal control and eradication programs to determine if, after consideration of benefits and risks, some programs should be modified or terminated,

(b)     Development and coordination of a monitoring program conducted by Federal agencies to obtain timely, systematic data on pesticide residues in the environment.

(c)      Coordination of the research programs of those Federal agencies concerned with pesticides.

(d)     Initiation of a broad educational program delineating the hazards of both recommended use and of the misuse of pesticides.

(e)      Review of pesticide uses and, after hazard evaluation, restriction or disapproval for use on a basis of “reasonable doubt” of safety.

(f)       A forum for appeal by interested parties.

3.    The National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council be requested to study the technical issues involved in the concepts of “zero tolerance” and “no residue” with the purpose of suggesting legislative changes.

4.    The Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, and Health, Education and Welfare review and define their roles in the registration of pesticides that are not present on food, but that may impinge on fish and wildlife or come into intimate contact with the public.

5.    The accretion of residues in the environment be controlled by orderly reduction in the use of persistent pesticides.

As a first step, the various agencies of the Federal Government might restrict the wide-scale use of persistent insecticides except for necessary control of disease vectors.  The Federal agencies should exert their leadership to induce the States to take similar actions.

Elimination of the use of persistent toxic pesticides should be the goal.

C.   Research needs:


1.    In order to develop safer, more specific controls of pests, it is recommended that Government-sponsored programs continue to shift their emphasis from research on broad spectrum chemicals to provide more support for research on—

(a)     Selectively toxic chemicals.

(b)     Nonpersistent chemicals.

(c)      Selective methods of application.

(d)     Nonchemical control methods such as the use of attractants and the prevention of reproduction.

In the past few years, the Department of Agriculture has shifted its programs toward these specific controls. The Panel believes this trend should be continued and strengthened. Production of safer, more specific, and less persistent pesticide chemicals is not an unreasonable goal, but its attainment will require extending research efforts beyond empirical approaches to more fundamental studies of subjects such as: the mode of action of pesticides; comparative toxicology; the metabolism of compounds in insects, plants, and higher animals; and the processes of chemical degradation and inactivation in nature. Such studies will also provide the information necessary to control those pests which are rapidly becoming resistant to currently available chemicals. Intensified effort is needed in the search for selective methods of pesticide application. Compounds are often applied in excessive quantity or frequency because of such inefficiencies as drift, uneven coverage, or distribution methods insufficiently specific to reach the target pest.

2.    Toxicity studies related to man

The toxicity data upon which registrations and tolerances are based should be more complete and of higher quality. Although data are available on acute toxic effects in man, chronic effects are more readily demonstrated in animals because their generation time is shorter, and thus the natural history of pesticide effects is telescoped chronologically. However, there will continue to be uncertainties in the extrapolation from experimental animals to man, and in the prediction of the nature and frequency of effects in humans on the basis of those observed in other forms of life.

The Panel recommends that toxicity studies include determination of-

(a)     Effects on reproduction through at least two generations in at least two species of warmblooded animals. Observations should include effects on fertility, size and weight of litter, fetal mortality, teratogenicity, growth and development of sucklings and weanlings.

(b)     Chronic effects on organs of both immature and adult animals, with particular emphasis on tumorigenicity and other effects common to the class of compounds of which the test substance is a member.

(c)      Possible synergism and potentiation of effects of commonly used pesticides with such commonly used drugs as sedatives, tranquilizers, analgesics, antihypertensive agents, and steroid hormones, which are administered over prolonged periods.


3.    Toxicity studies related to wildlife

The Panel recommends expanded research and evaluation by the Department of the Interior of the toxic effects of pesticides on wild vertebrates and invertebrates.

The study of wildlife presents a unique opportunity to discover the effects on the food chain of which each animal is a part, and to determine possible pathways through which accumulated and, in some cases, magnified pesticide residues can find their way directly or indirectly to wildlife and to man.

4.    Amplification of research resources

Only by stimulating training and basic investigation in the fields of toxicology and ecology are research needs likely to be met. An increased output of basic research data and a continuing supply of capable research personnel could be ensured by a system of grants and contracts. Training grants, basic research grants, and contracts to universities and other nongovernmental research agencies funded by the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Health, Education, and Welfare would stimulate this research. In order to accelerate immediate progress, it might prove useful to explore the contributions which can be made by competent research people and their facilities in other countries.

D.  In order to strengthen public laws on pesticides, it is recommended that amendments to public laws be requested. These should:

1.    Eliminate “protest” registrations.

The Panel concurs with the Department of Agriculture that these technically evade the intent of the public laws. Industry needs an appeal mechanism, however, to protect it from arbitrary decisions. Public hearings could be held on such appeals.

2.    Require that every pesticide formulation carry its official registration number on the label.

The Department of Agriculture has recommended such an amendment as a means of increasing the protection of the consumer.

3.    Clarify the intent of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to protect fish and wildlife by including them as useful vertebrates and invertebrates.

4.    Provide, as a part of the operating budgets of Federal control and eradication programs, funds to evaluate the efficiency of the programs and their effects on nontarget organisms in the environment. Results of these studies should be published promptly.

Approximately $20 million were allocated to pest control programs in 1962, but no funds were provided for concurrent field studies of effects on the environment. The Department of Agriculture has repeatedly suggested that other interested agencies participate in the control programs, but funds have not been available except by diversion from other essential agency functions.


E.   To enhance public awareness of pesticide benefits and hazards, it is recommended that the appropriate Federal departments and agencies initiate programs of public education describing the use and the toxic nature of pesticides. Public literature and the experiences of Panel members indicate that, until the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, people were generally unaware of the toxicity of pesticides. The Government should present this information to the public in a way that will make it aware of the dangers while recognizing the value of pesticides.


Panel on the Use of Pesticides

H. Stanley Bennett, Dean, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Chicago

Kenneth Clark, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Colorado Paul M. Doty, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University

William H. Drury, Jr., Director, Hatheway School of Conservation Education, Massachusetts Audubon Society

David R. Goddard, Provost, University of Pennsylvania

James G. Horsfall, Director, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station William D. McElroy, Chairman, Department of Biology, The Johns Hopkins University

James D. Watson, Professor of Biology, Harvard University

Colin M. MacLeod (Chairman), Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, New York University

Technical Assistants, Office of Science and Technology

Peter S. Bing

John L. Buckley

James B. Hartgering

Gay E. G. Luce



Harvey Brooks, Dean, Division of Engineering and Applied Physics, Harvard University

Paul M. Doty, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University

Richard L. Garwin, Watson Research Laboratory, Columbia University— International Business Machines Corporation

Edwin R. Gilliland, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Donald F. Hornig, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University

George B. Kistiakowsky, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University

Colin M. MacLeod, Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, New York University

William D. McElroy, Chairman, Department of Biology, The Johns Hopkins University

Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, Director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University

John R. Pierce, Executive Director, Research, Communications Principles Division, Bell Telephone Laboratories

Frank Press, Director, Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Edward M. Purcell, Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Frederick Seitz, President, National Academy of Sciences

John W. Tukey, Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University

Jerrold R. Zacharias, Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jerome B. Wiesner (Chairman), Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, The White House


Laissez Faire Today, lazy and unfair as yesterday on issues of DDT

September 25, 2012

In June [2012] I drew encouragement that Henry I. Miller, the musty old anti-science physician at the Hoover Institution, had not renewed his annual plea to bring back DDT.  Miller is just one of the most predictable trolls of science and history; most years he waits until there are a number of West Nile virus victims, and then he claims we could have prevented it had we just jailed Rachel Carson and poisoned the hell out of America, Africa, Asia and the Moon with DDT.  For years I’ve reminded him in various fora that DDT is particularly inappropriate for West Nile . . .

Rachel Carson Homestead Springdale, PA

Rachel Carson Homestead Springdale, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since June, Miller popped up and popped off in Forbes, but using the event of the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s brilliant book Silent Spring.  Brilliance and science and history aside, Miller still believes that protecting wildlife and humans from DDT’s manifold harms is a threat to free enterprise — how can anyone be expected to make a profit if they can’t poison their customers?

Miller is not the only throwback to the time before the Age of Reason, though.  It’s time to put the rebuttals on the record, again.

Comes this morning Jeffrey Tucker of Laissez Faire Today, complaining that the resurgence of bedbugs in America is an assault on democracy, apple pie, free enterprise, and Rachel Carson should be exhumed and tortured for her personal banning of DDT worldwide.  You can read his screed.  He’s full of unrighteous and unholy indignation at imagined faults of Carson and imagined benignity of pesticides.

I responded (links added here):

I’m shocked by your mischaracterizations of Rachel Carson, her great book Silent Spring (which it appears to me you didn’t read and don’t know at all), and pesticide regulation. Consequently, you err in history and science, and conclusion. Let me detail the hub of your errors.

You wrote:

Carson decried the idea that man should rule nature. “Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.” This anthropocentrism she decried.

Carson was concerned that we were changing things that would have greater effects later, and that those effects would hurt humans. Her concern was entirely anthropocentric: What makes life worth living? Should we use chemicals that kill our children, cripple us, and create havoc in the things we enjoy in the outdoors, especially if we don’t know the ultimate effects?

Exactly contrary to your claim, her book was directed at the quality and quantity of human lives. She wanted long, good lives, for more people. How could you miss that, if you read any of her writings?

She suggested that killing a bedbug is no different from killing your neighbor: “Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is — whether its victim is human or animal — we cannot expect things to be much better in this world… We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature.”

Carson never wrote that there should be difficulty in killing bedbugs. The passage you quote, but conspiratorially do not cite, comes not from Silent Spring, but from a commentary on a compilation of hunting stories.* She’s referring to killing for the sake of killing, in that passage. I think it’s rather dishonest to claim she equates fighting biting bedbugs with killing animals unsportingly. I worry that you find it necessary to so grossly and dishonestly overstate your case. Is your case so weak?

In fact, she spoke of animals in patently untrue ways: “These creatures are innocent of any harm to man. Indeed, by their very existence they and their fellows make his life more pleasant.”

She did not write that about bedbugs. That’s a false claim.**

I guess she never heard of the Black Death.

I guess you never heard of accuracy. On page 266 of Silent Spring Carson directly addressed plague in a list of insect- and arthropod-borne diseases; Carson wrote:

“The list of diseases and their insect carriers, or vectors, includes typhus and body lice, plague and rat fleas, African sleeping sickness and tsetse flies, various fevers and ticks, and innumerable others.

“These are important problems and must be met. No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are making it worse.” (Silent Spring, page 266)

Carson describes abuse of pesticides — such as DDT on bedbugs — that actually makes the insects stronger and tougher to get rid of. That appears to be your stand, now, to do whatever Carson said not to do, in order to poke a thumb in her eye, even if it means making bedbugs worse.

[Tucker continued:] In short, she [Rachel Carson] seemed to suggest that bedbugs — among all the millions of other killer insects in the world — enjoy some kind of right to life. It was a theory that could be embraced only in a world without malaria and bedbugs. But embraced it was.

That’s total fiction. What you write is completely divorced from fact.

By 1972, DDT was banned. And not only DDT. The whole enterprise of coming up with better and better ways to further human life and protect its flourishing was hobbled.

By 1960, DDT had ceased to work against bedbugs — this was one of the things that worried Carson*** and would worry any responsible person [see Bug Girl’s blog]. In her book, Carson warned that indiscriminate use and abuse of DDT would render it useless to fight disease and other insects and pests. By 1965, super mosquito-fighter Fred Soper and the World Health Organization had to stop their campaign to eradicate malaria when they discovered that abuse of DDT in agriculture and other uses had bred malaria-carrying mosquitoes in central and Subsaharan Africa that were resistant and immune to DDT. Keep in mind that the U.S. ban on DDT applied only in the U.S., and only one other nation in the world had a similar ban. DDT has never been banned in Africa, nor Asia.

Carson sounded the warning in 1962. By 1972, when the U.S. banned use of DDT on agricultural crops (and only on crops), it was too late to preserve DDT as a key tool to wipe out malaria.

Was the pesticide industry “hobbled?” Not at all. EPA’s order on DDT explicitly left manufacturing in the U.S. available for export — keeping profits with the pesticide companies, and multiplying the stocks of DDT available to fight disease anywhere in the world that anyone wanted to use it.

The fact is that DDT was a fortunate find, a bit of a miracle substance, and we overused it, thereby cutting short by decades its career as a human life-saver. That was exactly what Carson feared, that human lives would be lost and made miserable, unnecessarily and prematurely, by unthinking use of chemical substances. Pesticide manufacturers have been unable to come up with a second DDT, but not because regulation prevents it. Carson understood that.

There is no shortage of science-ignorant, and science-abusive websites that claim Rachel Carson erred. But 50 years out, the judgment of the President’s Science Advisory Council on her book remains valid: It’s accurate, and correct, and we need to pay attention to what she wrote. Not a jot nor tittle of what Carson wrote in 1962 has proven to be in error. Quite the contrary, as Discover Magazine noted in 2007, thousands of peer-reviewed studies reinforce the science she cited then.

Malaria deaths today are at the lowest level in human history, largely without DDT, and much due to malaria fighters having adopted the methods of fighting the disease that Carson advocated in 1962. Unfortunately, those methods were not adopted for nearly 40 years. Still, the reductions in malaria are remarkable. At peak DDT use in 1959 and 1960, a half-billion people in the world got malaria every year, one-sixth of the world’s people. 4 million died from the disease. In 2009, about 250 million people got malaria — a reduction of 50% in infections — and fewer than 800,000 people died — a dramatic reduction of more than 75% in death toll. This is all the more remarkable when we realize that world population more than doubled in the interim, and at least a billion more people now live in malaria-endemic areas. Much or most of that progress has been without DDT, of necessity — every mosquito on Earth today now carries the alleles of resistance and immunity to DDT.

You impugn a great scientist and wonderful writer on false grounds, and to damaging effect. I hope you’re not so careless in other research.

Rachel Carson was right. The re-emergence of bedbugs, 50 years after she wrote, is not due to anything Carson said, but is instead due to people who petulantly refused to listen to her careful and hard citations to science, and exhortations to stick to what we know to be true to protect human health and the quality of life.


* Rachel Carson: Legacy and Challenge, by Lisa H. Sideris, Kathleen Dean Moore, citing another of Carson’s writings, a critique of a collection of Aldo Leopold’s essays on hunting, Round River.

**  Here is the full quote, from pages 99-100 of Silent Spring, highlights added here:

Incidents like the eastern Illinois spraying raise a question that is not only scientific but moral. The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized. These insecticides are not selective poisons; they do not single out the one species of which we desire to be rid. Each of them is used for the simple reason that it is a deadly poison. It therefore poisons all life with which it comes in contact: the cat beloved of some family, the farmer’s cattle, the rabbit in the field, and the horned lark out of the sky. These creatures are innocent of any harm to man. Indeed, by their very existence they and their fellows make his life more pleasant. Yet he rewards them with a death that is not only sudden but horrible. Scientific observers at Sheldon described the symptoms of a meadowlark found near death: ‘Although it lacked muscular coordination and could not fly or stand, it continued to beat its wings and clutch with its toes while lying on its side. Its beak was held open and breathing was labored.’ Even more pitiful was the mute testimony of the dead ground squirrels, which ‘exhibited a characteristic attitude in death. The back was bowed, and the forelegs with the toes of the feet tightly clenched were drawn close to the thorax…The head and neck were outstretched and the mouth often contained dirt, suggesting that the dying animal had been biting at the ground.’

***  See page 273 of Silent Spring.


Silent Spring’s 50th anniversary: Birds sing, air is cleaner, water is cleaner

June 16, 2012

Fifty years ago today New Yorker published the first of four parts of Rachel Carson‘s epic research book, Silent Spring.

Cover of New Yorker Magazine, June 16, 1962 -- the issue which carried the first of four parts of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Cover of New Yorker Magazine, June 16, 1962 — the issue which carried the first of four parts of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

What a difference five decades make!

People outside of it claim claim Carson started the entire environmental movement .  Historians, politicians and people inside the movement don’t forget the contributions of John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Moran, John Wesley Powell, Laurance Rockefeller, John Muir, Thomas Meagher, Gifford Pinchot, William H. Jackson, Frederick Law Olmsted, and dozens of others of more or lesser fame and prominence.  Carson’s book still stands tall among the contributions of those giants, for its literary achievement, its voice, and its scientific foundations.

Contrary to the history of history-turning books, the controversy over Silent Spring grows stronger in the last decade.  Upton Sinclair‘s fictional works on Chicago meat packing company misdeeds gets lionized in high school history courses.  Thomas Malthus‘s work on population growth crops up in economics texts.  Adam Smith shows up on ties.  Few read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but no one defends slavery nor calls Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s book inaccurate even though it was a work of fiction.

In contrast, the attacks on Carson and Silent Spring grow more shrill — today’s Google searches find many more listings for scathing and wildly inaccurate critiques of the book than there are tributes to either.

Carson and her book deserve the praise most often denied, and they deserve little if any of the criticism.  Fifty years on Silent Spring’s influence is almost universally positive.

  1. Carson forced the public, and scientists, to look at the wild as an integrated whole, including the plants and animals and mineral, land and ater resources, and also including the towns speckled among wild lands, and especially the farms sprawling in verdant production across most of America.  Carson, almost as much as Darwin, forced scientists to see their science as part of a larger whole — study of ecosystems became important, perhaps more important that the study of individual species or locations.
  2. Silent Spring alerted humans that all actions in the wild have consequences in the wild, and that the tyranny of numbers affects the entire out-of-doors as much as smaller parcels.  Human effects were seen as world-wide.
  3. Carson’s writing found firm footing in science and showed literary flair, with more than 50 pages of careful and thorough footnotes including precise citations to science research publications.  This demonstrated what Richard Feynman later brilliantly described, that a knowledgeable, scientific view of nature makes it more beautiful, and more charming.  This near-refutation of Mark Twain‘s philosophy of learning from Life on the Mississippi opened a new genre of literature that is non-fictional and floridly descriptive, but readable and persuasive because of its scientific accuracy.
  4. Silent Spring made it clear that local actions can make big environmental effects.  The bird-killing, spring-silencing actions that could cause the silent spring fable in the books introduction was not a massive federal project, but was instead the result of actions of small towns and cities, county governments, and even individual farmers.  Planet-saving action could be started at home, next door, in the block in the neighborhood, in the county — and did not require first approval from a national government.
  5. Silent Spring unabashedly pointed a finger at all of us as the culprit of the damage, and not some “other” as a bad guy.  While this troubles many today, it carries with it the explicit realization that our own actions can start our own salvation.  Personal responsibility becomes real in Silent Spring.
  6. Silent Spring made nature appear accessible to anyone with a yard, or a patch of grass nearby.  This gave rebirth to the parks movement, and it encouraged countless thousands to recreation in the outdoors, and to careers outdoors as farmers, ranchers, scientists, forest and park rangers, land managers and gardeners.
  7. Carson specifically addressed the trade-offs required to stop pollution.  DDT was a key part of the campaign to eradicate malaria from the planet, she noted.  But overuse or abuse of DDT would surely lead to insect resistance to the stuff, she documented with research already a decade old that showed exactly that.  If DDT overuse were allowed to continue, she said, DDT would stop being effective in the fight against malaria.  The book was published in 1962.  In 1965 the World Health Organization stopped its campaign against malaria in Central and Subsaharan Africa that relied on DDT.  Getting support from the not-strong national governments in the region had delayed implementation (80% of all households must be treated with DDT in this program and medical care must be improved to cure malaria in human carriers to make it work).  Worse, in areas yet untouched by the WHO campaign, mosquitoes were already resistant and immune to DDT due to overuse in agriculture and other fields.  Within 18 months after her 1964 death, Rachel Carson had been revealed as a reluctant prophet.
  8. Carson alerted the world to alternatives to technological fixes, especially those that carry high costs.  Carson worried about the effects on the fight against malaria if DDT was to be rendered ineffective by overuse.  Few planned for that eventuality, but it happened.  Happily, she also pointed to other solutions.  At peak DDT use, 500 million malaria infections annually killed 4 million people worldwide.  Today, mostly without DDT but instead with wiser policies of medical treatment and the use of bednets, malaria infections have been cut in half, to about 250 million annually, and malaria deaths have been reduced by 75%, to under 1 million annually.  This is more impressive when one realizes the total world population more than doubled in the same time, and the area where malaria is endemic also increased.  Carson told us it was possible to defeat a disease without poisoning our selves and our environment, and we have done it, to a great degree, with malaria.
  9. Birds still sing in the spring, the bald eagle is off the Endangered Species List, America’s air is cleaner, America’s water is cleaner, and more land is set aside for the regeneration of America’s renewable resources and our national, collective psyche in recreation.  Much of this can be attributed to actions by people inspired by Rachel Carson’s book.
Rachel Carson in New Yorker, 2007, illustration by Tom Bachtell

Rachel Carson in New Yorker, 2007, illustration by Tom Bachtell

Rachel was right.  Careful research, care in writing forged by years of research and writing about research, gave Carson the voice and the research chops to write a readable, scientifically accurate call to action.

That call still sounds today, even if one must strain to hear it over the chorus of ill-informed or ill-intentioned hecklers.

More, resources and related articles:

Annals of DDT: Interior Dept compliments Rachel Carson’s research in Silent Spring

October 17, 2010

One of the most frequent hoax charges against Rachel Carson claims that she didn’t base Silent Spring on research.  Greater hoaxers claim that there is little or no evidence of harm to birds from DDT.

Rachel Carson's book stirs controversy, newspaper headlines

Rachel Carson’s book stirred controversy, as shown in newspaper headlines

These critics forget history, or they try to cover it up so you won’t know any better.  Carson provided more than 50 pages of citations to peer-reviewed research and communications with leading scientists in ornithology and chemistry about DDT and the damage it does.

Carson’s deep research won acknowledgment from the U.S. Department of the Interior, in this 1962 speech before the Audubon Society meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas, by the Special Assistant Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Robert M. Paul.

Paul told the birders that Interior was proud of the fact that so much of the research in the book relied on Interior’s research, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

In addition, we are proud that so much of ‘Silent Spring“ is based on Fish and Wildlife Service research. And, with no modesty at all, we like to point out that Miss Carson is nobly carrying on a tradition that employees of the Department of the Interior, beginning with Walt Whitman nearly a century ago, have written some of the Nation’s most important books.

That’s quite the compliment to Carson, being compared even distantly to Walt Whitman.  It’s also a helluva brag for USFWS.

It’s also a 30-second response to the false charge that Carson’s work was not research based, or that research did not show DDT damage to wildlife.

Paul spoke to the Audubon Society about work to set up and operate the Federal Pest Control Board.

A .pdf of the speech can be found at the website for Interior, in a compilation of information from Interior about DDT between 1945 and 1998.  Full text below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lorrie Otto, environmental warrior

June 9, 2010

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel carries the news that Lorrie Otto has died.

When DDT spraying killed birds and bats in her yard, Lorrie Otto went to work to stop the destruction.  Otto won.  Someone should step up to take her place, in each of the things she did.

‘Nature Lady’ Otto helped lead DDT fight

Lorrie Otto leads Natural Landscape Tour in Milwaukee - Journal-Sentinel photo by Michael Sears

Caption from the Journal-Sentinel: Lorrie Otto (left) leads the "Natural Landscape Tour" along the banks of Lake Michigan in the 9700 block of N. Lake Drive. A video crew from NBC News photographed the event for a segment. Journal-Sentinel photo by Michael Sears

She began with natural yards, progressed to national causes

By Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: June 2, 2010

Lorrie Otto understood that it wasn’t nice to mess with Mother Nature.

And so the woman known as “the Nature Lady” planted her Bayside yard with native species and wildflowers – fighting for the right to keep her land natural and teaching others how to do the same. She rose to become an environmental warrior, a leader in the battle to ban DDT in Wisconsin and then nationally.

She shared her vision that average people could make a difference by eliminating the standard lawn for more ecological alternatives. The well-manicured lawn was not, she said, a healthy green space.

“They look like golf courses,” Otto once said, then corrected herself. “They look like cemeteries.”

Otto died of natural causes Saturday in Bellingham, Wash., where she moved in 2008 to be near her daughter. She was 90.

Otto served as a founder and leader with groups including Citizens Natural Resources Association of Wisconsin, the Riveredge Nature Center and Wild Ones. She became a nationally recognized naturalist and speaker, called “the godmother of natural landscaping.” Media credits include everything from Martha Stewart Living to “NBC Nightly News.”

“In recent years, a New Yorker article credited her and Rachel Carson for leading the movement,” said daughter Tricia Otto, referring to the author of the famous book “Silent Spring.”

Lorrie Otto, Milwaukee environmental activist, in 1999 - Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal photo

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photo: Lorrie Otto, shown in 1999, kept a lively prairie garden.

Otto was named to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1999. The Schlitz Audubon Center’s annual natural yards tour is named in her honor.

“If suburbia were landscaped with meadows, prairies, thickets or forests, or combinations of these, then the water would sparkle, fish would be good to eat again, birds would sing and human spirits would soar,” Otto said.

She was born Mary Lorraine Stoeber, taking the name Lorrie after marriage. She grew up on a family dairy farm in Middleton and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

During World War II, she saw an advertisement for the Women Airforce Service Pilots – what the ad called the “Cream of the Crop” – her daughter said.

“You had to be college-educated and have a pilot’s license,” Tricia said. “She went to the local airport and, with her own money, became a pilot.”

WASP pilots were civilians and the first women to fly American military planes. Just before she graduated, the war was coming to an end and the program quickly disbanded. She married her high school sweetheart, Owen Otto, and they settled in Bayside about 1952.

For Otto, the battles for natural landscaping and against DDT began in her own yard.

The former farm girl planted the family’s yard in a natural way, mostly to create “an enchanting place for my children to play.”

Soon Otto was confronting what she called “the lawn police” in Bayside. One day, a crew arrived and mowed part of her yard. She fought back, proving that her yard might look wild but that it did not contain weeds.

“She was so passionate,” Tricia said. “She would appear in court as an expert witness to defend someone whose yard was being persecuted.”

In the late 1950s, she learned of plans to develop the Fairy Chasm woodland area in her area. “She finally triumphed in 1969, when the Nature Conservancy purchased Fairy Chasm,” according to a copyrighted article by the National Wildlife Federation.

Those were also the days of routine DDT spraying, first to kill mosquitoes and then to kill the beetles destroying elm trees.

“Robins would go into convulsions. . . . I’d see the dead robins near the road,” she told The Milwaukee Journal in 1992. “Red bats would be dangling dead in the rosebushes.”

“She carried big bushel baskets of dead robins into village hall,” Tricia said. The official response ranged from indifferent to angry. “They said, ‘What do you want, lady, birds or trees?’ ”

Otto took the fight to the state level, finally deciding to sue. She contacted the Environmental Defense Fund, a fledgling out-of-state group that won a national reputation for action in Wisconsin. In 1970, Wisconsin banned the use of DDT. The federal ban was approved in 1972.

“She invited scientists from all over the country to her house, and they worked on the paper to present to Congress to get the ban on DDT,” said Dorothy Boyer, a friend and president of the Milwaukee North chapter of Wild Ones. “She had scientists sleeping in sleeping bags in her living room.”

Years later, she was still making new friends and encouraging others. One younger couple, Susannah and Lon Roesselet, began their own natural landscaping in Bayside a few years ago.

“One day the doorbell rang and this little white-haired woman was there, saying, ‘Hello, my name is Lorrie Otto,’ ” Susannah Roesselet said. “We knew about her. She stepped in and became our mentor. Our entire yard is now natural; she is everywhere. She’ll be missed, but she left her mark.”

When Otto finally had to leave her own home, she moved to Washington state to live with her daughter on a hundred acres of natural land.

“She was just having a ball,” Tricia said. “Living here, she said, you could believe the world was happy and whole.”

And Otto made plans for her own last plot of land, delighted to find a green burial cemetery and planting flowers on what would be her own grave. She will be buried without benefit of embalming or chemicals, returning to the earth she loved.

Otto is also survived by her sister, Betty Larson.

A Wisconsin gathering is being planned by friends.

The Nature Conservancy: Rachel Carson

May 3, 2010

It’s way too short, but a great idea.


War on malaria: Wall Street Journal and bloggers side with malaria

May 24, 2009

It’s spring.  Each of the past four years, spring has been the time that the anti-Rachel Carson, anti-environmental protection, anti-environmentalist, pro-DDT groups throttle up their campaigns to impugn Carson and environmentalists, and argue that all we need to do is poison Africa to make the world safe from malaria.

Here’s where Col. Renault joins us from Casablanca to say “Round up the usual suspects.”  It’s spring 2009.  Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution could be along any moment to say we need DDT to fight West Nile Virus, though DDT is not the pesticide of choice even among pesticide professionals.

The Wall Street Journal has become a favorite venue for these poison-the-Earthers as it has left rational policy decisions behind, at least in the editorial and op-ed pages. Steven Milloy’s got a book out slandering environmentalists, Green Hell, and a new blog to promote the book.  No doubt someone will trot out Gordon Edwards’ Lyndon-Larouche-tainted claims against Rachel Carson, though none of them check out.

Right on cue:  “Malaria, Politics and DDT – The U.N. bows to the anti-insecticide lobby” from the Wall Street Journal! It appeared in the Saturday edition, May 23.

Sure enough, Green Hell blog picks it up repeating the old canard about how a day without DDT is like a day of genocide. You can’t teach a stupid dog new tricks, you know.  In a post title that drips with calumny, Milloy says “Greens re-boot African genocide.”  They have no case; smears must do the work.

Let’s dissect the WSJ piece, eh?

In 2006, after 25 years and 50 million preventable deaths, the World Health Organization reversed course and endorsed widespread use of the insecticide DDT to combat malaria. So much for that. Earlier this month, the U.N. agency quietly reverted to promoting less effective methods for attacking the disease. The result is a victory for politics over public health, and millions of the world’s poor will suffer as a result.

So much error in so little space!  The error-to-word ratio may be a new land speed record.

Were there 2 million deaths per year from malaria, we could say malaria killed 50 million people in the last 25 years.  But for many, or most of the past 35 years, the death rate has hovered around 1 million, sometimes lower.  That’s still too high for those of us who think malaria should be beaten, but it’s not 2 million a year.  WSJ exaggerates the death figures — what else do they exaggerate?  If they have a case, why do they need to exaggerate?

WHO never abandoned DDT for specific usesThere was no policy for WHO to reverse in 2006.  WHO made it clear that they would continue to use DDT where appropriate, and where local governments would allow.  WSJ, new to the business of caring about Africans afflicted by malaria, doesn’t know the history.

DDT’s effectiveness against malaria-carrying mosquitoes began to wane by 1950.  By the mid-1960s, many populations of mosquitoes had developed resistance and even immunity to DDT.  That was why the World Health Organization (WHO) abandoned its campaign to eradicate malaria.  Overuse of DDT, especially in agriculture, led to rapid evolution of resistance among mosquitoes.  Without a weapon that worked as DDT had worked before resistance, the campaign could not succeed.

The Journal is simply wrong when it says only less-effective methods are left. DDT’s greatly reduced effectiveness is part of the reason; but research over the past five years, in tests run broadly in several African nations, shows that bednets reduce malaria infections by between 50% and 85%.  That is much more effective than DDT in broadcast spraying.

One of the things WSJ fails to mention — maybe they don’t know, there is much demonstration of ignorance in the editorial — is that DDT is not used in broadcast spraying to fight malaria.  Such campaigns proved disastrous because they killed off the predators of mosquitoes more effectively than they killed the mosquitoes, and because they often produced harmful results in other ways.  Along some African rivers, the spraying campaigns killed off a lot of fish local people used for food.  The dangers of DDT have been demonstrated in Africa.

WHO had championed a campaign in the late 1950s and 1960s to eradicate malaria.  The strategy was to use DDT to knock down local mosquito populations for six months or a year, and in that time treat humans infected with the malaria parasites so that, when the mosquitoes came back, there would be no pool of malaria infection among humans from which to draw malaria to spread.

Alas, the overuse of DDT caused mosquitoes to develop resistance before the malaria-fighters could get into the field in some places and get the health care components of the campaign to work.

Because of the worldwide resistance to DDT among insects, DDT cannot be counted on as a panacea against malaria in any case.  While it was never the panacea, never the sole tool to beat the disease, its role has been dramatically reduced by the rise of resistance to the chemical.

The U.N. now plans to advocate for drastic reductions in the use of DDT, which kills or repels the mosquitoes that spread malaria. The aim “is to achieve a 30% cut in the application of DDT worldwide by 2014 and its total phase-out by the early 2020s, if not sooner,” said WHO and the U.N. Environment Program in a statement on May 6.

Citing a five-year pilot program that reduced malaria cases in Mexico and South America by distributing antimalaria chloroquine pills to uninfected people, U.N. officials are ready to push for a “zero DDT world.” Sounds nice, except for the facts. It’s true that chloroquine has proven effective when used therapeutically, as in Brazil. But it’s also true that scientists have questioned the safety of the drug as an oral prophylactic because it is toxic and has been shown to cause heart problems.

Where was the Wall Street Journal when these studies were proposed, when they were run, and when they were reported?  WHO and health care agencies in affected countries carefully worked to find non-DDT solutions to malaria.  All programs to fight malaria require good health care systems, to diagnose malaria in victims, accurately as to the form of parasite affecting the victim, and to treat the disease to restore health to the victim and remove that person from the pool of people from whom mosquitoes can draw new malaria to infect others.  The results are in.  The treatment works.  Now comes WSJ to pose questions that have already been answered?  They are too late, and wrong.

Most malarial deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where chloroquine once worked but started failing in the 1970s as the parasite developed resistance.

Fascinating.  In discussions with the pro-DDTers, resistance of mosquitoes to DDT is generally denied.  But here the WSJ cites similar resistance by the parasite.  Remember, dear reader, that the DDTers are selective in their use of evidence.

Even if the drugs were still effective in Africa, they’re expensive and thus impractical for one of the world’s poorest regions. That’s not an argument against chloroquine, bed nets or other interventions. But it is an argument for continuing to make DDT spraying a key part of any effort to eradicate malaria, which kills about a million people — mainly children — every year. Nearly all of this spraying is done indoors, by the way, to block mosquito nesting at night. It is not sprayed willy-nilly in jungle habitat.

DDT is more expensive than bednets.  DDT is used now only for indoor residual spraying (IRS).  Hut walls are treated with DDT to kill or repel mosquitoes after they have already bitten a victim; this prevents the spread of some parasites, at least in the bodies of the mosquitoes killed.  IRS requires some expensive work, however.  First, analysis of the mosquitoes must be done to be sure DDT is effective; annd second, a professional or highly-trained person must apply the stuff.  DDT applications have to be repeated about every six months.  They cost about $12.00 each time.  IRS may decrease malaria infection by as much as 35% (I’m being liberal).

In contrast, bednets decrease malaria infection by 50% to 85%.  They cost about $10.00 for the expensive ones, and they last five years.  In tests and in practice in Africa over the past five years, bednets have proven to be a necessary and very effective method to fight malaria.  Bednets work without DDT (there are alternative chemicals available for IRS); DDT can’t work without bednets.

There is strong opposition to use of DDT even for IRS, in Uganda, for example, where cotton and tobacco farmers have sued to stop the use.  In other areas, local people still fear fish kills.  DDT is controversial because of local opposition to it, not because of any environmental group’s action.

And the net result is that DDT is not the cheapest nor most effective method to fight malaria.  It is an increasingly expensive, controversial, and decreasingly effective tool.

But here is the bottom line:  Unless malaria is wiped out in human hosts, there will always be mosquitoes ready to spread the disease from one infected human to a dozen uninfected humans.  The key to eliminating malaria is not killing every mosquito on Earth, as quixotic a goal as that may be; the key is to develop methods of curing humans quickly and well and interrupting the life cycle of the parasite.  Drugs are expensive?  DDT cannot substitute for drugs, regardless how cheap it is.

WHO is not saying that DDT shouldn’t be used. But by revoking its stamp of approval, it sends a clear message to donors and afflicted countries that it prefers more politically correct interventions, even if they don’t work as well. In recent years, countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia have started or expanded DDT spraying, often with the help of outside aid groups. But these governments are also eager to remain in the U.N.’s good graces, and donors typically are less interested in funding interventions that WHO discourages.

These campaigns have provided little success against malaria — nothing on the scale of success of bednets.

Oddly, one of the greatest roadblocks to the use of DDT in Africa since 2000 was the Bush administration, which refused to allow any U.S. dollars for the purchase of DDT or treatment.  There are foggy signs the Bush policies eased in 2008.  But again, it may simply be that the opportunity to use DDT is gone.  It’s time to move on to fight malaria, and quit tilting at the DDT windmill.

“Sadly, WHO’s about-face has nothing to do with science or health and everything to do with bending to the will of well-placed environmentalists,” says Roger Bate of Africa Fighting Malaria. “Bed net manufacturers and sellers of less-effective insecticides also don’t benefit when DDT is employed and therefore oppose it, often behind the scenes.”

Roger Bate acts as a shill for malaria over recent years.  Despite the name of his organization, he stands opposed to any effective means of fighting malaria, and he always stands for poisoning Africa.  His claims here are directly contradicted by the results of campaigns run by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a group which has dedicated its time and an astounding amount of money to beating malaria.  Bill Gates has no axe to grind on the issue — the foundation encourages bednets and medical care, and is relatively silent about DDT.  The Foundation’s work has saved more lives in the past three years than Roger Bate has in more than a decade of promoting DDT.  The Gates Foundation clearly is more credible.

All other serious experts tend to agree with the Gates Foundation path as well.

It’s no coincidence that WHO officials were joined by the head of the U.N. Environment Program to announce the new policy. There’s no evidence that spraying DDT in the amounts necessary to kill dangerous mosquitoes imperils crops, animals or human health. But that didn’t stop green groups like the Pesticide Action Network from urging the public to celebrate World Malaria Day last month by telling “the U.S. to protect children and families from malaria without spraying pesticides like DDT inside people’s homes.”

Pesticide Action Network is probably the only so-called green organization as crazy against DDT as Roger Bate is crazy for DDT.   Ignore what they say.  Pay attention to what’s really going on. (See comments on PAN.)  DDT is dangerous — PAN, for any inaccuracies they may have, are more accurate than the pro-p0ison side.

The National Academy of Sciences did a serious study of DDT in the late 1970s, and in a publication on the future of such chemicals in 1980, NAS said that while DDT was at one time a near-miracle working chemical, it is more dangerous than its benefits justify, and it needs to be eliminated from use.  The entire world has been working to protect people from dangerous man-made chemicals.  The Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty of 2001 (POPs) calls for an end to use of dangerous chemicals, and singles out a dozen of the most dangerous. DDT is among the dozen most dangerous.  POPs includes a waiver to allow DDT use for fighting disease, so even it does not ban the stuff.  History shows that DDT decreases in effectiveness, and we discover new dangers from the stuff almost every year.  Since we have effective alternatives, and since DDT use has been hamstrung by litigation in Africa and ineffectiveness in the field, now is a great opportunity to end DDT use with very little harmful effect.

“We must take a position based on the science and the data,” said WHO’s malaria chief, Arata Kochi, in 2006. “One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual spraying. Of the dozen or so insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT.” Mr. Kochi was right then, even if other WHO officials are now bowing to pressure to pretend otherwise.

Kochi was right to call for IRS then — and since we now have effective alternatives to DDT to use in IRS, WHO is right again to call for a reduction in DDT use in 2009.  We must take a position based on the science and the data, after all.

DDT is less effective than alternatives, and more expensive.  DDT is a killer once released in the wild.  DDT is unnecessarily controversial where it might do the most good, and therefore even less effective than it might be.  How can the Wall Street Journal come to any different conclusion, if they’re looking at the economics and science?  Who would have suspected political string-pulling at WSJ?

Rachel Carson was right.  47 years after Silent Spring is not too soon to eliminate DDT use.


Here’s one indicator of the silly and bizarre exaggerations pro-DDT people tend to use:  This guy claims DDT had eliminated polio. In an otherwise over-the-top claim that Rachel Carson is a mass murderer — a claim that is false in all respects — the author goes even farther, claiming DDT effectiveness as a pharmaceutical against a disease like polio where there is no record for DDT’s ever having been used.


Even more flight from reality: Climate Change Fraud blog, a site that appears to be a haven for anti-science, reprinted the WSJ editorial and added a bogus history introduction.  And another addition to the Wall of Shame:  Black and Right.

Cartoons: Bill Mauldin on DDT

May 16, 2009

Bill Mauldin rose to fame drawing cartoons from the fronts during World War II, first as a soldier, and then as the cartoonist for Stars and Stripes.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning in 1945.  After the war he continued to be a major force in American culture, eventually cartooning for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and quickly winning a second Pulitzer, and then with the Chicago Sun-Times, with drawings syndicated to other newspapers around the world.

In 1962 Mauldin turned his pen to DDT and the controversy created in part by Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring.

CREDIT: Mauldin, Bill, artist. Another such victory and I am undone Copyright 1962, Field Enterprises, Inc. Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

CREDIT: Mauldin, Bill, artist. “Another such victory and I am undone” Copyright 1962, Field Enterprises, Inc. Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

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