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Daily News Archive
From September 15, 2006                                                                                                        

Groups Say DDT Use for Malaria Control Threatens Public Health
(Beyond Pesticides, September 15, 2006)
Efforts to use DDT for malaria control in developing countries are being challenged by groups that say the health risks of the chemical are not warranted given the availability of safer alternatives for malaria prevention. As the World Health Organization (WHO) announces its new policy encouraging the indoor application of DDT for malaria control in developing countries at a September 15, 2006 press conference, environmental and public health advocates warn that good intentions are in this case misguided. According to the Washington, DC-based non-profit organization Beyond Pesticides, advocating a reliance on pesticides, especially DDT, as a silver bullet solution for malaria protection is extremely dangerous. When the underlying causes of pest problems are not adequately addressed, then a sustained dependence on toxic pesticides like DDT causes greater long-term problems than those that are being addressed in the short-term.

“Given the well-documented adverse health effects associated with DDT’s toxic properties and its persistence, the international community has a social responsibility to reject the use of this chemical and practice sound and safe pest management practices at the community level that prevent insect-borne diseases like malaria,” says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. Mr. Feldman’s group advocates strategies aimed at preventing mosquito breeding sites, repellents, bed netting, larvicides, and development efforts that address the conditions of poverty in developing countries that contribute to mosquito breeding.

Governmental agencies in the U.S. and internationally have classified DDT as an agent that can cause cancer and nerve damage. Worse still is the fact that DDT and its metabolites have been identified as endocrine disruptors. Proponents of DDT use often argue that “the dose makes the poison” so it can be used in a way in which the benefits outweigh the risks. However, because DDT acts as an estrogen mimic, it wreaks havoc on biological systems causing severe adverse effects because of exposure to miniscule amounts during vulnerable periods of life.

According to a study published in Environmental Pollution 144 (2006) 902-917,"Simultaneous presence of DDT and pyrethroid residues in human breast milk from a malaria endemic area in South Africa," the return of DDT for malaria control in South Africa has lead to women with 77 times the international limit for DDT residue and 12 times more than WHO's acceptable intake limit in infants, even in families not living in treated dwellings. Scientists believe the widespread human contamination is the result of contaminated water used for fishing and drinking. This highlights why no society, especially developing ones, can be unconcerned with DDT’s impact on the worldwide ecosystem.

At the September 15, 2006 press conference, WHO panelists repeatedly called DDT use in the homes "safe," and stated that the science shows that it will not cause harm to people, even though it is classified as a class B "probable human carcinogen" by EPA and numerous studies have shown other adverse effects, such as endocrine disruption. The speakers also attempted to create a rift in the environmental/public health movements by suggesting that those who were against DDT were concerned with nature, but not African babies.

Arata Kochi, PhD, director of WHO's Malaria Department, began his statement with the following, "I am here today with one urgent message to everyone who cares about the environment. Your concern, your activism, your heroics have helped - and continue to help - protect the earth's wildlife and nature. I am here today to ask you please: Help save African babies as you are helping to save the environment."

Groups like Beyond Pesticides believe that it is possible to effectively fight malaria without poisoning future generations of children in malaria hot spots. “We should be advocating for a just world where we no longer treat poverty and development with poisonous band-aids, but join together to address the root causes of insect-borne disease, because the chemical-dependent alternatives are ultimately deadly for everyone,” says Mr. Feldman.