Tuesday, May 27, 2008

DDT in the Third World

I found this article by Dr. Henry Miller which hits on two topics of concern for me. The first one is the blather our government school children are fed. The second is the scientific community's willingness to twist fact in order to push a certain agenda. Application B referenced below is in the new Iowa government school standards.

A more egregious example is Application B on the same page, which instructs students to use what they’ve been taught “and other research, [to] write a letter to your legislator arguing against the sale of DDT to Third World countries when it is banned in the U.S.”

This requirement is both stupid and cruel. Malaria, which is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes, is one of the worst scourges on the planet, particularly for the inhabitants of poor tropical countries. Forty-one percent of the world’s population live in areas where malaria is transmitted (e.g., parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, Hispaniola, and Oceania), and each year 350–500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide. More than a million people die, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, malaria caused 10.7 percent of all children’s deaths in developing countries. Those who survive are often terribly debilitated.

In the absence of a vaccine, elimination of the vehicle that spreads the disease — in this case, the mosquito — ought to be the key to preventing epidemics, but fundamental shortcomings in public policy limit the weapons that are available.

In 1972, on the basis of data on toxicity to fish and migrating birds (but not to humans), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned virtually all uses of the pesticide DDT, an inexpensive and effective pesticide once widely deployed to kill disease-carrying insects. Not only did government regulators underplay scientific evidence of the effectiveness and relative safety of DDT, but they also failed to appreciate the distinction between its large-scale use in agriculture and more limited application for controlling carriers of human disease. Although DDT is a (modestly) toxic substance, there is a world of difference between applying large amounts of it in the environment — as farmers did before it was banned — and using it carefully and sparingly to fight mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. A basic principle of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.

No comments: