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DDT Makes a Comeback to Save Millions of LivesBonnie King Salem-News.com
A 1948 Nobel Prize winner learned that DDT could eliminate malaria, but since 1972, that’s been a crime.
(SALEM) - Two deaths from E. Coli-tainted spinach have dominated the news media during the last week, while the West Nile Virus has caused an average of 111 deaths annually across the entire United States over the past seven years.
Though tragic, those numbers don’t compare to what is happening in Uganda, a small country in central Africa with a total population about 3/4 that of the state of California.
Ugandans suffer 100,000 malaria deaths each and every year because of the lack of an effective mosquito killer. This is the equivalent of a jetliner crashing every day and killing all 275 people on board. But all that is about to change.
On Monday, September 18th, hundreds of Ugandans took to the streets of Kampala, not in protest, but in a March of Thanksgiving, to praise the World Health Organization (WHO) and the new leader of its malaria program, Dr. Arata Kochi, for publicly authorizing the use of DDT for malaria control.
It was first synthesized in 1877, but it was not until 1940 that a Swiss chemist discovered that it could be sprayed on walls and would cause any insect to die within the next six months, without any apparent toxicity to humans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promoted the widespread spraying of DDT because it effectively reduced the amount of pests eating crops, increasing crop yield. It’s low cost resulted in its being used to kill the mosquitoes associated with malaria, curbing outbreaks of the disease worldwide with great success.
The scientist who discovered the insecticidal properties of DDT, Dr. Paul Müller, was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
After many years of use, and perhaps overuse, a book by Rachel Carson Silent Spring was released in 1962. The book argued that pesticides, and especially DDT, were poisoning both wildlife and the environment and also endangering human health. It is widely believed that the emotional public reaction to Silent Spring launched the modern environmental movement.
In 1969 a study found a higher incidence of leukemia and liver tumors in mice that were fed DDT compared with unexposed mice.
Next, the decline in populations of such wild bird species as the osprey and peregrine falcon, and thinning shells were thought to be the fault of contact with DDT.
Convinced that even low exposure to DDT could cause cancer in humans, newly formed environmental groups rallied for a ban.
Willamette Valley farmers and others involved in agriculture watched as several states moved to ban the pesticide, and in 1970 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a plan to phase out all but essential uses.
In 1971 authority over pesticides was transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In June 1972, after seven months of testimony, EPA head William Ruckelshaus—who had never attended a single day’s session in the months of EPA hearings, and who admittedly had not even read the transcript of the hearings—declared that DDT was a “potential human carcinogen” and banned it for virtually all uses.
Since then, there have been many advocates of DDTs return to fight malaria, as the number of deaths clearly has risen since the ban.
An unexpected victim, the honeybee’s population decreased when the use of DDT was discontinued, while the ban helped the increase the number of mosquitoes.
Without bees, pollination will barely occur in some cases, greatly affecting the amount of produce generated each season. Wherever pesticides are applied to plants there is a possibility of damage to honeybees.
Without DDT, the other more toxic pesticides applied to crops caused serious damage to bees, wiping out entire commercial operations. Suddenly agriculture was threatening to the bees it depended on.
Severity increased to the point of disaster for many beekeepers in Oregon and Washington in particular, when usage of DDT was decreased and then eliminated by legislation.
In the attempt to protect the environment, a key agricultural tool was damaged as a consequence.
After decades of failure and increasing disease that led to millions of deaths, things are finally changing. According to the Congress of Racial Equality, new WHO policies under Dr. Arata Kochi are leading the way.
Since a Malaria Expert Committee meeting in 1998, the WHO position has been that, “for some time to come there will continue to be a role for DDT in combating malaria.” However, many officials still did not publicly support the chemical’s use in controlling the killer disease.
That demonstrates why last week’s decision is even more momentous. On September 15th, in Washington DC, Dr. Kochi issued revised guidelines that underscore the major role that DDT and other insecticides will again play in preventing malaria. “Indoor spraying and ACT drugs are vital to any cohesive, comprehensive, effective program,” he emphasized.
Euphoric Ugandans, many of who have lost loved ones to this dreaded disease, see this policy as an opportunity for their country to look forward to the eventual eradication of malaria.
EU President José Manuel Barroso allayed the fears of the Ugandan business community, with regard to threatened trade bans, in his response to a letter from physician and US Senator Tom Coburn. “The European Union fully supports the right and responsibility of countries to use DDT and other appropriate malaria control techniques, under Stockholm Convention and WHO guidelines,” he declared.
Carlos Odora, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), Kampala Fellow, emphasized that Uganda will implement indoor residual spraying with conscious responsibility and caution. He asked the consumers in Europe to trust that Uganda will ensure that no produce or products will enter Europe contaminated by DDT and to support the use of this life-saving insecticide-repellant, and all other malaria control measures.
Fiona Kobusingye, Chairperson of CORE-Uganda, said CORE-Uganda and Africa Fighting Malaria will continue to lobby and educate the EU and European consumers, to ensure that products are not banned, and its business and economic interests are not harmed, because the country seeks to protect the lives of its children.
So what about the charges against DDT?
A 1978 National Cancer Institute report concluded after two years of testing on several different strains of cancer-prone mice and rats that DDT was not carcino-genic.
As for the DDT-caused eggshell thinning, it is unclear whether it did occur and, if it did, whether the thinning was caused by DDT at all. After reassessing their findings using more modern methodology, Drs. Hickey and Anderson found that the egg extracts they had studied years before contained little or no DDT and said they were now pursuing PCBs, chemicals used as capacitor insulators, as the culprit.
The conflict and the questions continue in the U.S., but in Uganda it is a time of relief and celebration.
From now on, they will not fear that daily jetliner crash.
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