Benefits of DDT
In spite of its 1972 ban, DDT was known to be very beneficial well before that time.
Nor was DDT shown to be a human carcinogen, certainly at environmental doses, as stated by A.J. Lehman, M.D., director of pharmacology at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in 1965.
Harm to Wildlife — Where?
The propaganda assault on DDT was enormous. Activists alleged that it was harming birds, including declines in bird populations, loss of reproductive capabilities, eggshell thinning, etc. A closer examination of the literature showed different results.
The raptor populations of eagles, hawks and falcons have been the subjects of scorn for decades, prior to the introduction of DDT in the early 1940s. Not only were they viewed as vermin, but because they were at the tops of their food chains, they were also viewed as menaces to other birds — especially game birds. However, as a result of over-hunting and egg-collection, raptor populations were approaching extinction years before the use of DDT.
The ban’s supporters in one case reported DDT in bird tissue taken from stuffed museum birds, which had died before the advent of DDT, a difficult finding to explain. Effects must always follow causes, not before. The analyses were later found to be incorrect, but not before they had been publicized and accepted as fact.
Bird-count data from sources such as the Audubon Society and the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, showed a steady increase in raptor populations during the years of heavy DDT use. Lawmakers banned the hunting, collection and shooting of raptors, permitting raptor populations to recover. Thus the DDT ban was not responsible for the population increase.
Contrary to the unsupportable musings of Rachel Carson (who triggered the assault on DDT with her book, “Silent Spring”), the robin population increased a stunning 12-fold during the years of heavy DDT use. Even today, alarmists still consider her unscientific words biblical.
Other bird-count data showed that at least 26 varieties of bird populations increased during the years of heavy DDT use (1941 to 1960).
Focused laboratory experiments attempted to replicate eggshell thinning in many bird species, and failed to demonstrate eggshell thinning over wide ranges of DDT doses. In a few cases a small increase in eggshell thickness occurred in birds fed high doses of DDT.
The world owes much to the efforts of Africa Fighting Malaria’s Bate and The Malaria Project’s Attaran. Their decision to revisit the use of DDT may prove influential in saving millions of lives. As EPA administrator, Whitman has the opportunity to follow in Bate and Attaran’s footsteps.
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