October 23, 2017

DDT Lunacy

A most revealing letter appeared in the November 27th 1970 issue of Science. It emphasised the fact that DDT is addictive and that an addicted area can never do without it again—as this poison, by its very nature, must destroy all natural controls. The experience of Ceylon is particularly illustrative. As soon as its use was abandoned “there were over one million cases of human malaria in a population of ten million people and no part of the island of Ceylon was free of the disease or its vector”. The situation was so serious that “. . . the Singhalese government sent out an emergency call for 10 million pounds of DDT in 1969 to recover control”. The writer also cites similar experiences with forest insects in Sweden and with the gypsy moth in the Eastern States of America.

It is curious that what to any serious scientist would constitute a particularly damning indictment of DDT was designed to show how splendid and irreplaceable it is. The writer for instance points out that “the World Health Organisation has critically examined over 1,000 such possible substitute pesticides to replace DDT in the worldwide antimalaria programme, and has found none that can meet the essential requirements of availability, efficacy, safety, stability and cost”.

I shall not bother to comment on the extent to which DDT in fact satisfies these—in some cases—contradictory criteria. This statement, however, is a truly frightening one, especially after the publication of such revealing books as Chemical Fallout and Man’s Impact on the Global Environment.

The writer considers that it is only over-emotional and ignorant laymen who attack the uses of DDT. He ends his letter with the following plea: “Will the afflicted public finally be aroused to return the administration of pesticides to trained and experienced scientists, operators and administrative officers who are obviously best qualified to exercise such jurisdiction?”

The answer to this must be: yes, when such individuals are capable of judging the long-term effects of their work on the biosphere as a whole and not simply its immediate effects on that small section of it that happens to fall within the narrow compass of their specific discipline.

What is particularly alarming about this astonishing letter is that it should have been written by one whose job should be to contribute in some way towards the protection of our environment against such poisons as DDT. He is Robert White Stevens, Bureau of Conservation and Environment, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08903, USA.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Diaspora
  • Identi.ca
  • email
  • Add to favorites
Back to top