Is there a Place for DDT?

August 7th, 2003

To the Editor,

Dr. Henry Miller’s opinion (“Is there a Place for DDT?“) concerning the desirability of bringing back DDT to combat West Nile Virus is analogous to asking a surgeon to remove your nose to cure a cold. It will not cure your infections and will bring much greater harm to the individual. A mosquito is just as dead from application of milder, less persistent chemicals in the environment as it would be if one used this demonstrably harmful chemical, whose presence in our soil and body tissues is just beginning to decline.

In fact, the use of adulticides to control the WNV has been declared the least effective method of abatement by our own Center for Disease Control. Last year, even FEMA stated that the WNV was a health concern but NOT an emergency to officials in Louisiana–home to the largest number of cases and fatalities. For the most part, WNV is a benign illness that will sweep the nation and create immunities in the majority of the population just as many, far more contagious, viral illnesses do. Those with damaged immune systems are at risk for more dangerous forms of the illness. However, adulticides cause damage to immune and neurological systems which render far more people vulnerable to severe forms of the disease we are trying to prevent!

DDT is broken down in the body into toxic byproducts or metabolites. These have been shown, in peer reviewed research, to cause 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. High amounts of DDT metabolites have been found within breast milk and the bodies of nursing babies far in excess of tolerances set by governments. 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…” .

As with all pesticides, mosquitos show a significant degree of resistance to it after a brief period of use, unlike other life forms who cannot make such adaptations. Recognizing this, DDT advocates then laud the persistence of DDT in the environment so it can act as a repellant. Central nervous system damage is too high a price to pay for a service that can be provided by a wide variety of harmless products.

We repeatedly see pleas for the return of DDT from organizations like the Hoover and Cato Institutes, all devoted to the eradication of government regulation of industry. I prefer to look to medical science rather than political/economic think tanks for answers to questions regarding disease and acceptable risks in public health issues. Public policy may dictate the continual exposure of people to “economical” poisons but no amount of legislation will make human biochemistry compatible with them.

Barbara Rubin

Categories: NY Times

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