Legacy of DDT abuse: Cleaning up old pesticide dumps

February 15, 2014

Contrary to science denialist claims, DDT is not harmless.  Users and abusers of DDT, abandoned stocks of DDT and other pesticides around the world, after the stuff had become essentially useless against insect or other pests originally targeted.

In the U.S., EPA moves in to clean up DDT dumps, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), or Superfund.  In much of the world, various UN agencies find the old pesticides, and clean them up as funding allows.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) documents its cleanup efforts with photos of sessions training technicians to find and catalog dump sites, repackaging of old drums when necessary, extraction, packing and shipping to a disposal site.

Photos tell a story words on paper cannot.

Caption from FAO: TN (Tanzania) before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN - : M. Davis

Caption from FAO: TN (Tanzania) before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN – : M. Davis

Sometimes the toxic wastes did not stay neatly stacked.

FAO caption:  TN before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN

FAO caption: TN before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN View real size

DDT use against insect vectors of disease essentially halted in the mid-1960s.  The Rockefeller Foundation’s and UN’s ace mosquito fighter, Fred Soper, ran into mosquitoes in central Africa that were resistant and immune to DDT. Farmers and businesses had seized on DDT as the pesticide of choice against all crop pests, or pests in buildings.  By the time the UN’s malaria-fighting mosquito killers got there, the bugs had evolved to the point DDT didn’t work the malaria eradication campaign.

Also, there were a few DDT accidents that soured many Africans on the stuff.  Around lakes where local populations caught the fish that comprised the key protein in their diet, farmers used DDT, and the runoff killed the fish.

Use of DDT ended rather abruptly in several nations.  Stocks of DDT that had been shipped were abandoned where they were stored.

For decades.

FAO caption:    Obsolete DDT in Luanda, Angola - July 2008 -  : K. Cassam

FAO caption: Obsolete DDT in Luanda, Angola – July 2008 – : K. Cassam

Prevention and disposal of obsolete chemicals remains as a thorny problem throughout much of the world.  Since 2001, under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty, (POPs), the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has coordinated work by WHO and a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as governments, to make safe the abandoned pesticides, and detoxify or destroy them to prevent more damage.  FAOs efforts, with photos and explanation, is a history we should work to preserve.

DDT provided powerful insect killing tools for a relatively short period of time, from about 1945 to 1965.  In that short period, DDT proved to be a deadly killer of ecosystems to which it was introduced, taking out a variety of insects and other small animals, on up the food chain, with astonishing power.  One of DDT’s characteristics is a long half-life — it keeps on killing, for months or years. Once that was thought to be an advantage.

Now it’s a worldwide problem.

Remembering Love Canal, 30 years ago

November 26, 2008

Hell-raising site called Red State Rebels remembers that the Love Canal disaster came to a head 30 years ago, with the evacuation of the homes surrounding the toxic dump site.

Your students probably don’t know about it, and the textbooks will do the story no justice, if they mention it at all.  While this article is written from a biased perspective, it’s a solid recounting of the history — and your AP kids need to read stuff with viewpoints, anyway.

Adeline Levine, a sociologist who wrote a book about Love Canal, described to me the scene she had witnessed exactly 30 years earlier, on Aug. 11, 1978. “It was like a Hitchcock movie,” she said, “where everything looks peaceful and pleasant, but something is slumbering under the ground.”

That “something” was more than 21,000 tons of chemical waste. The mixed brew contained more than 200 different chemicals, many of them toxic. They were dumped into the canal — which was really more of a half-mile-long pond — in the 1940s and 1950s by the Hooker Electrochemical Co. In 1953, the canal was covered with soil and sold to the local school board, and an elementary school and playground were built on the site. A working-class neighborhood sprang up around them.

“The neighborhood looked very pleasant,” says Levine, who was a sociology professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, in 1978. “There were very nice little homes, nicely kept, with gardens and flowers and fences and kids’ toys, and then there were young people who were rushing out of their homes with bundles and packing up their cars and moving vans.”

Love Canal was in the midst of an all-out panic when Levine arrived; just nine days earlier, the state health commissioner had declared an emergency and recommended that pregnant women and children under the age of two evacuate the neighborhood. A week after that, the state and federal governments agreed to buy out homes next to the canal.

See the entire piece.


DDT and other poisons in the Great Lakes: Alma Conference update

March 30, 2008

Earlier this month, just before the conference at Alma College, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a draft report on toxic wastes found in the Great Lakes and other surrounding waters. Was it the pending conference that kicked the thing loose?

See the report at CDC’s site, here.

The Center for Public Integrity snagged a copy of the study earlier, and published it at their website. Some of us infer the hurdles for the report to be more the administration’s War on Science. But supression of a report is a lot easier if there are no copies circulating on the internet.

CDC had sat on the report for most of a year. After this interview of Chris Derosa, the report’s author appeared on CNN, and before the Alma Conference on DDT, CDC got a sudden change of heart and released the report.

Too few news reports came out of the conference. Let’s hope the proceedings will be available soon.

Logo from the CPI project on Great Lakes health

Logo from the Center for Public Interest project on Great Lakes area health, used at the release of the suppressed health report.

Green light bulbs, and World Net Daily trying to make a hoax

May 18, 2007

World Net Daily’s inaccuracies and blatant, fact-bending bias would be the source of much great humor, if so many gullible conservatives did not take the thing seriously.

Recently WND featured a story about the impossibility of changing light bulbs to save energy, alleging that doing so might turn one’s home into a toxic waste dump that costs $2,000 per bulb to clean up. Was anyone suckered in by the story?

According to Snopes.com, both Fox News and the Financial Post also got suckered, probably from the WND story.

Chiefly, that these news outlets got suckered is evidence they need better copy editors and fact checkers. Time for such news organizations to raise the pay of their “morgue” keepers and librarians, to get the facts straight. Read the rest of this entry »

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