Millions of deaths later: The birth of the green movement and junk scienceThe story of how DDT was banned on the back of flimsy scientific evidence is revealing of the green movement more generally
This is the story of how dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), previously used to treat malaria, was banned based on flimsy evidence and ideology, seeing the beginnings of the green industry.
Millions have died as a result. Malaria is a disease that is caused by a bite from a female mosquito, which induces protozoan parasites into the blood stream of the recipient. Reproducing in the liver it can lead to headaches and fever at best, coma and death at worst. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate in 2010 there were 260 million cases with 665,000 deaths, 86 percent under the age of five.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with malaria is to spray swamps with DDT.
Discovered in 1874, the insecticidal qualities of DDT were not realised until 1939 thanks to Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948.
DDT was first used for this purpose in the Second World War in Italy in 1943. Merck & Company produced and delivered 500 gallons of DDT to Italy to stem an epidemic of louse-borne typhus. The U.S. Army also supplied troops with rations of 10-percent-DDT dust to kill lice.
DDT protected millions of Allied troops from contracting malaria and other infectious diseases like typhus and the plague and also importantly saved the lives of concentration-camp survivors by treating the typhus-carrying lice. Malaria was also wiped out in Italy for good.
In the 1950s and 1960s DDT was also used to startling effect in Sri Lanka. Annual malaria cases in 1948 were 2.8 million, reducing to 17 in 1963. Post spraying saw a rise in cases to 2.5 million. Zanzibar in 1958 saw a drop in prevalence of malaria from 70 percent of the population to 5 percent in 1964. It rose to 55 percent in 1984.
The chief malaria expert for the U.S. Agency for International Development said that malaria would have been 98 percent eradicated had DDT continued to be used. Drs. Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak estimate the widespread use of DDT up until 1970 saved 500 million lives. The benefits are obvious.
Then, in 1962, "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson was published – supposedly documenting the effect of DDT on the environment in harming and even killing not only animals and birds, but also humans. More specifically, the book details alleged causal links between DDT and breast cancer and diabetes in humans, as well as the effects of DDT on egg shell fragility in birds of prey in particular, leading to reductions in population.
The book’s publication and its influence were profound. It is no coincidence that Al Gore, on its reissue in 1994, wrote an introduction extolling Carson’s book: “Because Carson’s work led to a ban on DDT, it may be that the human species...or at least countless human lives, will be saved because of the words she wrote.” The clown prince of man-made global warming can’t help himself.
Ultimately, DDT was banned in the USA in 1972, with most developed countries following in the 1970s and 1980s.
Finally the Stockholm Convention, signed under the authority of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2001, called for the restriction and elimination of DDT. It was implemented on 17th May 2004 with 173 legally-binding signatures. The only circumstance left open to the use of DDT was “vector control”, where it is sprayed inside homes and on mosquito nets. The World Health Organization as usual likes to get involved in the junk science.
But let’s look at the evidence on DDT. On breast cancer, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, “Plasma organochlorine levels and the risk of breast cancer”. It concluded that “Our data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to DDT and PCBs increases the risk of breast cancer.” This study is not unique.
Another supposed victim of DDT, the Birds of prey group, has had its numbers closely monitored in the U.S and the number of ospreys grew during DDT usage – from 191 in 1946, to 288 in 1956, to 457 in 1967, and 630 in 1972. A 1969 review of Organochlorine pesticides in Britain found falcon reductions had finished in 1966 despite the use of DDT. It said: “There is no close correlation between the decline in population of predatory birds, particularly the peregrine falcon and the sparrow hawk, and the use of DDT.”
Finally, the hysteria surrounding DDT and the quality of eggshells is also based on shakey ground. The Cecil, Bitman, Harris paper found no effect on eggshells, if adequate calcium is in a DDT diet. Published in Poultry Science in 1971 it concluded: “When carefully reviewed, Dr. Bitman’s study revealed that the quail in the study were fed a diet with a calcium content of only 0.56 percent (a normal quail diet consists of 2.7 percent calcium). Calcium deficiency is a known cause of thin eggshells. After much criticism, Bitman repeated the test, this time with sufficient calcium levels. The birds produced eggs without thinned shells.”
The Dr. ML Scott et al. study in 1975 concluded: “Dietary polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and related compounds, in well controlled experiments, produced no detrimental effects upon egg shell quality”
In 2004 the late Dr. Gordon Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Entomology at San Jose State University, wrote a devastating critique and bluntly opined: “The ban on DDT, founded on erroneous or fraudulent reports and imposed by one powerful bureaucrat, has caused millions of deaths, while sapping the strength and productivity of countless human beings in underdeveloped countries. It is time for an honest appraisal and for immediate deployment of the best currently available means to control insect-borne diseases. This means DDT.”
That said, under the guidance of no-nonsense Japanese physician public health expert Dr. Arata Kochi, the WHO is finally allowing the outside use of DDT – it is a shame that it is nearly 40 years too late. 50 million, needless, mainly child deaths later, an apology from the greens and junk scientists would not go unnoticed.
In such a scientifically-advanced world, ideology, dogma, and above all politics shield the truth. There seems, particularly within liberal-left circles, any means of denigrating capitalism, to attack profitable, economic, and socially essential products.
Communism died in 1989 but the need of Communism’s heirs, the liberal-left, remains the same: control. They seek to control our bodies with "health initiatives", dictating our food, alcohol or tobacco habits; or to control the environment we live in.
AGW global warming, climate change, whatever you wish to call it, is a new cause célèbre for the greens. Rachel Carson and the DDT scandal is yet another sordid tale of faith over science, politics over facts, and death over life. In this case a plague on your house. Of course it will be DDT free.
David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20