Friday, March 7, 2008

DDT: The Environmental Side

Beginning in 2003, the Bush Administration has made some monumental changes to the way in which the United States contributes to the fight against Malaria. Funding has been somewhat diverted from the research of this disease and has been directed towards making mosquito nets, combination drugs, and DDT readily available. While without a doubt the Bush Administration's contributions to the fight against malaria have been much more effective than the poorly executed aide programs of the past and has created a great example for programs in the future, it seems rather strange that the use of DDT is such a large component of the U.S. aide program when the majority of its uses were outlawed in the U.S. in 1972.

The ban of DDT in the early 1970's followed the release of biologist Rachel Carsen's Silent Spring. In this book, Carsen questions the widespread use of a toxic chemical of which the total effects are largely unknown. She claimed that DDT was a cause of cancer in humans and posed a major threat to many different species of wildlife. This book was extremely monumental. Beyond spreading knowledge about the dangers of DDT use and triggering public outcry and ultimately its ban, she jump started the environmental movement as a whole.

While DDT has been a very effective means of halting the spread of malaria, its links with breast cancer, danger to many bird species, and reproductive problems are important consequences to keep in mind.


Tom Smith said...

More on DDT:

A recent study by the National Park Service found notable levels of DDT in alpine lakes in Sequoia National Park, in Sierra Nevada of California. The following is an article from the Sacramento Bee (which wins for best newspaper name):

The study described contaminant levels throughout U.S. National Parks. The press-release is here:

John Latto said...

It's a fascinating dilemma and there may be no easy answer. What environmental price are we willing to pay to control malaria? We may not be able to get the result we want without a cost.

Which reminds me of a slightly longer story which I guess I can post.