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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
February 2, 2000

DDT Myths

Setting the Record Straight

In the days of the Aztec empire, priests convinced the people that severe weather changes and losses of crops and livestock could be prevented by ritual human sacrifice. One of the biggest human sacrifices of modern times is the estimated 100 million deaths a year caused by malaria, almost exclusively in tropical regions, mainly of children (30% of childhood deaths in Africa). Yet in 1945, after the introduction of DDT, the eradication of malaria was seen as an achievable goal, and by 1969 was achieved in 36 of 143 countries. In 1963, the number of new cases reported in Sri Lanka was down to 17, only to rise back to 2.5 million in 1968-69 after the U.S.- initiated ban on DDT was adopted. It is now reported that the world's elites are contemplating a total ban on DDT.

An article by Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, professor of entomology at San Jose State University, CA, refutes the major myths circulated at the time of the ban in 1972 and still widely accepted today. "Remembering Silent Spring and Its Consequences," available from the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness archives at http://ww.oism.org/ddp, presented at the DDP annual meeting 1996. , Audio and image files available on CD-ROM, $5 postpaid, DDP, 1601 N. Tucson Ave., Suite 6, Tucson, AZ 85716, Tel: 520-325-2680


DDT kills birds.
Just not so. Bird counts in 1960, after almost 20 years DDT use , vs. 1941 showed 12 times more robins, 21 times more cowbirds, 38 times more blackbirds, etc. The effects could actually be beneficial, e.g. by increasing plant yields resulting in more food and protective cover, and reduction of mosquito-borne bird diseases.

DDT causes eggshell thinning.

Shown to be due to zealous "scientists" exposing DDT-fed birds to agents known to result in thinner eggshells to achieve the desired result, such as lower illumination, water deprivation, and reduced calcium diets. Experiments since repeated with control and test groups treated identically show no thinning.

DDT undergoes "biological magnification" in food chains.

To "prove" this, propagandists selected figures for DDT concentrations found in hawk brains, where they are highest, fish muscle, where it is lowest, and duck fat, which is intermediate. Comparison of muscle tissue from crustaceans, fish, duck hawk shows no magnification.

DDT persists in the environment

Dr. Edwards cites more than 140 articles demonstrating breakdown. Many of the myths arose from contamination of the samples from substances contained in tubes and measuring apparatus, never retracted. One GLC result showed five kinds of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides present in soil samples, although none existed until 30 years after the samples were sealed.

DDT causes cancer

A much-quoted item in Science from testimony at the pre-ban hearings stated that DDT-fed mice developed cancer. This was true. It was also true, however, that mice that were not fed DDT developed more cancers (83 vs. 68). This omission was never clarified. Laboratory mice tend to be cancer prone. Workers at the Montrose Chemical Company absorbed 400 times as much DDT as the average American, yet 1300 man-years of exposure resulted in not one reported case of cancer.

The scientific committee that evaluated the 9,000 pages of testimony declared DDT to be one of the most beneficial chemicals ever produced and were unanimous in finding no case for banning it. But the EPA secretary at the time did not attend the hearings and admitted to not even reading the summary findings because the decision to ban DDT had already been taken for political reasons, whatever the evidence said.

A comprehensive coverage of the bad science and political shenanigans surrounding the issue is given in George Claus and Karen Bolander's 1977, Ecological Sanity (David McKay & Co., NY 592 pp., ISBN 0-679-50388-9). As far as I know, this book is no longer in print. I tracked a copy down in a used book store in New Jersey. Silent Spring, the popular treatment of the subject that started the bandwagon rolling and contains the untruths listed above, is still available and reprinted regularly, of course.

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