Sunday, April 22, 2007

Environmental Reminder on Earth Day

The banning of DDT in 1972 has caused 1,000,000 deaths a year. Those are deaths of human beings, mostly children, to malaria; not birds to thinner eggshells.

Now explain to me why Iraq is such a travesty. We strain at gnats and swallow camels.

Update: Good counter-arguments in comments section


Woody said...

Banning DDT makes people "feel good" about a cause, and they don't want that feeling spoiled with facts.

bs king said...

But, but, but....the WHO acknowledged all of that in September and allowed it again. It's allowable for indoor spraying, as in on the walls of homes, but it's actually not as effective when used outdoors, as was the norm when it was banned, which is why public health folks didn't fight for it when it got banned in the 70s. The WHO was pretty responsive when it was pointed out that spraying walls inside homes would be helpful. Also to note, from all the reading I've done, no one raised that objection in the 70s. It was the same environmentalists and public health people who got it banned who did the research and reinstated it.

bs king said...

Sorry, just reread the post and double checked the date...I question anyone who would write an article bashing environmentalists like that without mentioning that a major policy change in favor of what she's advocating has already occurred. The rest of her facts are now questionable to me. I had this discussion with a Harvard prof of public health. He also mentioned that the whole "Malaria eradication was going well until the 60s when we banned DDT" is linking two things that don't have that much of a causal link. They have some, but that leaves out drug resistant malaria issues, which also occurred around then.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes and no. During the EPA hearings on DDT, there certainly were people who fought for its continued use, including especially J. Gordon Edwards (I didn't remember his name, I had to look it up. Don't be impressed). The organizations that insisted it was dangerous, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, were not among the recent leaders in getting it reinstated. It was banned for poor reasons; the burden of proof should be on those banning a chemical that has demonstrably saved lives. It wouldn't have been the "same" people 30 years later anyway.

DDT has remained legal in many poor countries, but they have also had grant aid tied to banning its use. That this is no longer the case is a good thing, but a little late.

Malaria is also fought by draining swamps, and DDT - resistant mosquitos were indeed showing up. It might be true that even if we had continued using it, that it would have lost its effectiveness and we would be back where we started in a few years. Might. Eradicating the disease was thought possible at the time. And that's still a few million people saved while the mosquitos rebound, even in the worst scenario.

As to not having a causal link, perhaps I misunderstand the Harvard professor, but that seems ridiculous. Even if the link between DDT and mosquito-killing was not certain then, it certainly is now. Chemical used, mosquitos die, malaria lessens; that's pretty strong even without a proven causal link. When the evidence comes on board later, it doesn't disprove a causal link but rather supports it.

Woody said...

AVI, now we have "environmentalists" against draining the swamps, which they renamed "wetlands."

Anonymous said...

This is a very good conversation with both sides being represented very well. I am a bit more likely to lean towards keeping DDT while searching for a better alternative.

I have to ask this, isn't malaria carried predominantly byt the TSietse fly? Will draining a swamp help with this? I am afraid I am not near neough educated on the subject to really make much comment one way or the other.

Tom the Redhunter said...

"woody" nailed it in his first comment.

I think that AVI is also right when he says that the anti-DDT people don't have the forum all to themselves like they used to.

The bottom line is that unregulated use of DDT is environmental harmful. But if used properly it can be a huge aid in saving lives through reduction of Malaria. The problem is that so many environmentalists have hardened their position that they're not willing to listen to facts.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

DDT is up and running at present, as bsking notes. It was always in use in some places. There was a push by European groups to go for a full ban a few years ago, but last year the WHO announced DDT would be in its arsenal against malaria going forward.

As far as I can tell, Greenpeace, EDF, and WWF are still calling for a DDT ban.

Dubbahdee said...

If the point you are trying to make is that we are all subject to the law of unintended consequences, then I am with you. Especially in areas such as protecting our ecosystems, the issues are varied and unremittingly complex. Any actions taken are likely to have many unforeseen ramifications. This is true with DDT vs. Malaria as you alluded.
If, on the other hand, you believe that DDT is a singularly benign agent clearly provide by God as a tool for the good of mankind, I have a bit of a challenge accepting that. Sweeping statements like “there is no decisive evidence that DDT causes cancer in people” are just as misleading as Carson’s claims about instant cancer.
The key problems with DDT stem from two important properties. First it hangs out and collects in tissue of living organisms. It is not naturally expelled from or metabolized in the body. Thus us you move up the food chain, you will find DDT in larger and larger ratios of exposure. It does not affect all organisms alike but as it accrues in the ecosystem, it will begin to affect larger and larger swaths of the system.
The second issue is not that DDT causes cancer, but that it is a very effective disruptor of the plasma membranes in cells. For humans it seems to have the most dramatic effect on nerve cells, disrupting the concentrations of sodium and postssium ions necessary for proper nervous function. Because of the cumulative nature of the chemical, it will not show up in high concentrations immediately. With consistent widespread use, however, it most certainly would. And eventually it will become a major health problem.
So there we have the law of unintended consequences at work Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s life and it sucks. But DDT is not a simple solution.
And if you think that developing countries will adhere consistently to carefully prepared guidelines for safe use…I’m not so sure of that. I wouldn’t be so sure of using it here in the U.S. for the same reason. And I definitely don’t want it around my kids.

bs king said...

By linking the two, I meant that malaria started to surge once DDT was banned for a variety of reasons, not all of which had to do with DDT being banned. Cloroquinine (the drug that is used to treat malaria) for example, has been peddled on street corners and is given to everyone in the endemic regions with a high fever. Thus, malaria itself is becoming resistant to treatment. That started to occur right around when DDT was banned as well, meaning that some of those stats about the "DDT banning caused malaria to increase" are more complicated than the environmentalist-bashers would have you believe.

I do fully support controlled use of DDT for vector control. However, that article irked me because I felt it left out major points to attempt to make a stronger case against environmentalists. Then again, it was the op-ed section.