Agribusiness professor Jacqueline Rowarth had a terrific piece in the most recent NBR, reminding readers that but for fact-free environmental bans on DDT back in the 60s on the back of Rachel Carson’s “lyrical but scientifically flawed” book Silent Spring – the book that captured a nation and helped kick-start the modern environmental movement – the Zika virus may have been a total non-starter.
The headline itself is plain enough:
The irony here is that Rowarth herself was inspired to study agricultural science in part because of Carson’s book. But she argues that the banning of DDT was wholly a “political move” on the back of the book, one “claimed as the first major victory for the environment movement,” but one with a tragic payoff – once with the failure to eradicate malaria that DDT had all-but promised (a failure that left millions to die), and now, again, with the rise and rise of the Zika-bearing mosquitoes.
Forty-four years from the banning of DDT, the lines of sad women in hospitals in Brazil, with their microcephalic babies in their arms or still in utero, have etched themselves into memory.
People are wondering whether the scientifically-proven use of DDT could have prevented this tragedy. . . .
It’s certainly a fair question.
The headline writer at least has no doubts.
[Hat tip Julian D.]
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- “DDT is banned internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an agreement ratified by more than 170 countries.
“But an exception is allowed for malaria control -- a disease that still kills millions of people worldwide. Several countries, mostly in Africa, currently use DDT to combat malaria. …
“Goldman said the pesticide is effective against the Anopheles mosquito, a night-biter that spreads malaria indoors while people are sleeping.
“In many developing countries, DDT has proven effective when sprayed on the indoor walls of buildings.
"’Basically the anopheles likes to rest on a wall surface between feedings and thus is poisoned by the DDT that is on the walls,’ Goldman said. . . .
“But the mosquito that transmits Zika is not the anopheles but another genus known as the Aedes, which also transmits dengue and chikungunya viruses, according to Goldman.
“Aedes mosquitos bite outdoors, during the day, she said. Spraying walls with DDT won't help.
“The best way to deal with aedes is by controlling its breeding and using products such as the popular insect repellent DEET, Goldman said.”
Zika virus: Is DDT an option? – CNN
- “Although an official at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been quoted as saying that environmental concern about DDT ‘has to be reconsidered in the public health context,’ CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency is ‘still working on vector control plans for Zika.’
“It is ‘safe to say,’ Skinner added, that controlling Aedes ‘will involve lots of public education, eliminating breeding sites, larvicidal spraying, and spraying to kill adult mosquitoes in areas experiencing outbreaks.’
“What sprays will be used has not been decided yet, but this ‘all of the above’ approach reflects the challenging biology of Aedes aegypti.
“The most significant challenge is that Aedes evolved widespread resistance to DDT in the decades after the pesticide came into widespread use in the 1940s. The extent of that resistance has likely waned in the decades since use of the pesticide was curtailed, with more of the mosquito population evolving back to its pre-resistant, susceptible-to-DDT status. But that does not mean resistance has disappeared or that it will not come roaring back in response to DDT spraying.
“’Once you have resistance, it generally stays in a population for a long time,’ Conlon said. ‘It’s not ephemeral like resistance to other pesticides, where a population reverts back to being susceptible.’”
Zika outbreak revives calls for spraying with banned pesticide DDT – STAT