With the thirtieth anniversary of the DDT ban upon us, the Senate is concluding consideration of a treaty that will ban DDT use worldwide a policy that condemns millions of poor children to death.
The Senate's consideration of the treaty, notes the American Council on Science and Health, falls close to the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most tragic public health decisions in history: the Environmental Protection Agency's original ban on DDT, a powerful and inexpensive pesticide.
On June l4, l972, the Environmental Protection Agency's first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, rebuffed the advice of his scientific advisors, ignored the pleas of the broader scientific community, and banned DDT despite the fact that it had earlier been hailed as a "miracle" chemical that repelled and killed mosquitoes that carry malaria, a disease that can be fatal to humans.
There was no evidence that DDT posed a hazard to human health and little evidence of substantial harm to animals. Yet the ban still took effect, leading to diminished production in the United States and less availability of DDT for the developing world.
The results were disastrous: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about two and a half million people die of malaria each year, mostly in Africa, the majority of them poor children about one child every thirty seconds. That means some sixty million or more lives have been needlessly lost since the ban on DDT took effect. "It's a real tragedy that DDT has been so demonized over the years by activist organizations such as Environmental Defense and the regulatory bodies that they have duped," says ACSH's President, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.
Malaria's devastating effects all but stopped during the time that DDT use was widespread, around 1950-1970. Indeed, the discovery that DDT could kill malarial mosquitoes earned Dr. Paul Muller the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948.
In one of the most miraculous public health developments in history, Greece saw malaria cases drop from 1-2 million cases a year to close to zero, also thanks to DDT.
Meanwhile, in India, malaria deaths went from nearly a million in 1945 to only a few thousand in 1960.
In what is now Sri Lanka, malaria cases went from 2,800,000 in 1948, before the introduction of DDT, down to 17 in 1964 then, tragically, back up to 2,500,000 by 1969, five years after DDT use was discontinued there.
In all, DDT has been conservatively credited with saving some 100 million lives.
Yet governments around the world now stand poised to enact a global ban on DDT and related chemicals, eliminating what little DDT usage remains. The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, at the urging of Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Jim Jeffords (Ind.-VT), has been debating implementing an international treaty against "POPs" (persistent organic pollutants), including DDT. DDT is indeed persistent, but its mere presence is not indicative of adverse effects. DDT poses no known human health risk.
The anti-chemical treaty, on the other hand, poses grave risks to human health. If enacted, it will ensure ongoing widespread deaths from malaria. "I continue to be astounded," says ACSH's Medical Director, Dr. Gilbert Ross, "that so many millions of lives have been sacrificed to an environmentalist political agenda with no trace of scientific support for human harm from DDT in its regulated and approved uses."