I don’t judge people by their looks, intelligence, bank account or fame. I only judge people by the good things they have done to save and improve lives. It’s a simple equation. Using a similar life calculator, Dr. Paul Offit, in an article in the Daily Beast, examined the legacy of Rachel Carson, and her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Published in the early 1960s, Carson was the first to warn that DDT effects include accumulation in the environment, and by doing so, it could bring harm to wildlife. She also warned that its overuse could make it ineffective. And finally, she said that we should use natural means for pest control, like bacteria that killed the mosquito larvae.
If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Offit, he is an inventor of a lifesaving vaccine and provider of scientific information about vaccines – he absolutely cares about human lives, despite the nastiness thrown his way. Dr. Offit’s rotavirus vaccine, which he invented, has saved millions of lives across the world. Who amongst us can make that claim, of saving so many lives?
But Dr. Offit looked at something that is generally ignored with regards to the most important of DDT effects – it killed malaria carrying mosquitoes that kills millions of lives. Today, because of DDT, there is no malaria in the USA. But it’s more than just America, Dr. Offit looks carefully at other successes of the pesticide:
As malaria rates went down, life expectancies went up; as did crop production, land values, and relative wealth. Probably no country benefited from DDT more than Nepal, where spraying began in 1960. At the time, more than two million Nepalese, mostly children, suffered from malaria. By 1968, the number was reduced to 2,500; and life expectancy increased from 28 to 42 years.
It’s hard to imagine, but Nepal had a 99% decrease in malaria infections just because of DDT. From our cozy homes in the wealthy developed world, malaria seems like some distant disease that matters not. But it wasn’t too long ago that malaria was rampant in many areas of the developed world, like Italy, the American south, Greece, and other areas. It’s not some boring disease, it kills.
And since DDT was banned, malaria has come screaming back. According to Dr. Offit, “since the mid 1970s, when DDT was eliminated from global eradication efforts, tens of millions of people have died from malaria unnecessarily: most have been children less than five years old. While it was reasonable to have banned DDT for agricultural use, it was unreasonable to have eliminated it from public health use.”
There is a claim out there that whether we chose DDT, and killed ourselves and the environment, or choose malaria with no DDT, it was all the same. But in fact, real scientific studies have since shown us that the danger from DDT was overstated, while the danger from malaria stayed the same.
It’s the 0,1 binary scale of decision making that we see by a lot of anti-science types. DDT may save lives of by preventing malaria, but any harm to the environment is bad. Either an insecticide must be 100% safe, or it’s 100% unacceptable.
Let’s go into more detail about DDT and Rachel Carson – the story is complicated. Continue reading “DDT effects – Paul Offit tries to set the record straight”