April 20, 2004

DDT: Millions Die, Remedy Banned

DDT use is either banned, unfunded by relief agencies, or simply discouraged in most of the world today. The facts that DDT virtually ended malaria in the western world, and that today millions die in Africa every year in its absence, cannot overcome the political inertia that continues to limit its use. Here's an excerpt from a long but worthwhile article in the New York Times Magazine by Tina Rosenberg in which she credits, for better or worse, the book that became the turning point for DDT:

''Silent Spring'' for the first time caused Americans to question the scientists and officials who had been assuring them that no harm would result from the rain of pesticides falling on their farms, parks and backyards...

...''Silent Spring'' changed the relationship many Americans had with their government and introduced the concept of ecology and the interconnectedness of systems into the national debate. Rachel Carson started the environmental movement. Few books have done more to change the world.

But this time around, I was also struck by something that did not occur to me when I first read the book in the early 1980's. In her 297 pages, Rachel Carson never mentioned the fact that by the time she was writing, DDT was responsible for saving tens of millions of lives, perhaps hundreds of millions.

DDT killed bald eagles because of its persistence in the environment. ''Silent Spring'' is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. Public opinion is so firm on DDT that even officials who know it can be employed safely dare not recommend its use.

(via Virginia Postrel)

Here's another informative article from The American Council on Science and Health called "The DDT Ban Turns 30", which I linked to in this August, 2003 post.

Posted by dan at April 20, 2004 9:40 PM