DDT – Political Football, not Panacea

April 30th, 2004

To the Editor,

Ms. Wente raises a point often raised by economists and business journalists who rely upon market research for their information on toxic chemicals. The data surrounding the “approvals” for marketing pesticides and many common chemicals must qualify for that limited definition. Such research is purely proprietary in nature, unbalanced by release of studies demonstrating negative findings which then languish in locked corporate file cabinets. Anyone following the saga of marketing processes for use of antidepressants by children will have a clear view of this process. The suffering and death of malaria victims is heinous. However, it is being exploited by industry determined to reap benefits from profitable technologies of the past while “teaching us all a lesson” about governmental interference in business.

We now know that the extraordinary persistence of DDT affects populations living far from its points of application. The body burdens of DDT metabolites are now a threat to the Inuit in Arctic regions who must weigh the risks/benefits of breast feeding along with limiting their consumption of indigenous food sources. Independent research has shown that DDT is associated with high rates of miscarriage, pre-term birth/low birth weight, precocious puberty in young girls, birth defects and immune system collapse in amphibians who share similarities in immune system functioning with mammals. In March, 2001, research was presented in the Lancet by Van Wendel de Joode et al., indicating that chronic exposure to DDT “…is associated with a permanent decline in neurobehavioral functioning…” .

Is this what we wish to impose upon Africans? Despite the existence of safer repellents that won’t lead to the insect resistance already plaguing mosquito control programs prior to the ban? Yes, industry remains our major source of product development. However, they have little motivation for dropping this political football that allows them to wear a halo while bemoaning government regulation. Rather than becoming hostages to industrial agendas of this type, western nations need to use our wealth to fight the scourge of such diseases using the best science we can muster in defense of all peoples and our planet. The message of Earth Day was never more important than it is today.

Barbara Rubin

Categories: Globe and Mail

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