A Wall Street Journal editorial has supported what Professor J. Gordon Edwards, specialist in DDT, professor of entomology, long suspected—the reason for environmentalists’ opposition to DDT. It decreases deaths, leading to overpopulation and therefore is bad for the environment.
In World War I, typhus killed more soldiers than bullets. It was then discovered that DDT has insecticidal properties. It rapidly curbed malaria in the U.S. and Europe. Then came a gifted writer, Rachel Carson, whose best seller, Silent Spring, taught the U.S. that DDT was a chemical, a pesticide, a killer, and would silence the birds and devastate the earth. (She died of cancer, and if she had taken DDT, she might have lived—but more of that below.)
The environmental banner opposing DDT is still being carried by an organization called Pesticide Action Network, but its influence is not what it once was. On June 30, 1972, “a date that lives in junk-science infamy” says Stephen Milloy, William Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT. The U.S. Agency for International Development immediately spread the word throughout the world that any country that used DDT could bid good-bye to American grants. Ultimately, U.S. AID changed its position, but Pesticide Action Network has not given up.
As for Ruckelshaus, in a speech to the Audubon Society (of which he was a member) in Milwaukee in 1971, he said, “As you know, many mass uses of DDT have already been prohibited, including all uses around the home. Certainly we’ll all feel better when the persistent compounds can be phased out in favor of biological controls. But awaiting this millennium does not permit the luxury of dodging the harsh decisions of today.”
The millennium came the following year. Phase it out he did. On the appeal of the infant Environmental Defense Fund, Ruckelshaus overruled Administrative Judge Sweeney’s decision clearing DDT. Ruckelshaus banned DDT without attending a day of Sweeney’s seven-month hearing on DDT and without reading a page of the 9,300-page transcript. For he was the Administrator. He had the political power. As he wrote the American Farm Bureau Federation some months later, science can help decide these issues, but science is trumped by politics.
Another steadfast friend of Pesticide Action Network is, or was, the World Health Organization, which reversed its anti-DDT position in 2006. Still another, still a friend, is the United Nations. It briefly accepted DDT but then returned to the opposition. The Secretary General has a special envoy for malaria, but to him, it’s insecticide-treated bed nets that are the defense against malaria.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in 1962, ten years before the ban by EPA’s Ruckelshaus, taught that chemicals, especially pesticides, and particularly DDT, cause cancer. It was disinformation, but most of the country, and indeed the world, learned it and has not forgotten it. “For the first time in the history of the world,” intoned Silent Spring, “every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception to death.” Not so. Environmentalism got its start then; EDF takes pride in its role in banning DDT. Fear or distaste or distrust of chemicals, might have gotten its start then.
Miss Carson dedicated Silent Spring to Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who said, “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” Professor Edwards, an expert on DDT, got Schweitzer’s autobiography and on page 262 found the following: “How much labor and waste of time these wicked insects do cause, but a ray of hope, in the use of DDT, is now held out to us.” Schweitzer was worried not about DDT but about nuclear war.
There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that Carson was wrong on cancer. The 130,000 men who sprayed DDT on the inner walls of mud and thatched huts in Africa never developed cancer, nor did the millions who lived in them. Employees of Monsanto Chemical Company who from nine to 19 years worked in unprotected clothing producing DDT, never developed cancer—not a one of them, though their bodies had from 38 to 647 parts per million of DDT. The average American ingests five or six parts ppm. DDT is so safe that canned baby food is permitted to contain five ppm.
There is more. Wayland Hayes, U.S. Public Health Service scientist, for 18 months fed volunteers three times the quantity of DDT that the average American was ingesting annually. None experienced any adverse effect, then or six to ten years later. Indeed, entomology Professor Edwards believed that DDT inhibits cancer. “DDT in the diet has repeatedly been shown to enhance the production of hepatic enzymes in mammals and birds. Those enzymes inhibit tumors and cancers in humans as well as wildlife,” Edwards explained in 1992.
Research into DDT in the war on cancer may be useful. Meanwhile, we learn that the U.S. has started spraying the walls inside huts with DDT in Zambia and Mozambique under President George W. Bush’s policy, which President Obama so far is continuing.
By Natalie Sirkin