DDT, Malaria and the New York Times

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A pesticide researcher, Donald Roberts, whose article in Public Library of Science Biology I blogged earlier this month, speaks out in a New York Times op/ed on the continuing usefulness of DDT in combating disease-carrying mosquitoes. To wit:

DDT, the miracle insecticide turned environmental bogeyman, is once again playing an important role in public health. In the malaria-plagued regions of Africa, where mosquitoes are becoming resistant to other chemicals, DDT is now being used as an indoor repellent. Research that I and my colleagues recently conducted shows that DDT is the most effective pesticide for spraying on walls, because it can keep mosquitoes from even entering the room….

In our studies, in which we sprayed DDT on the walls of huts in Thailand, three out of every five test mosquitoes sensed the presence of DDT molecules and would not enter the huts. Many of those that did enter and made contact with DDT became irritated and quickly flew out….

It would be a mistake to think we could rely on DDT alone to fight mosquitoes in Africa. Fortunately, research aimed at developing new and better insecticides continues — thanks especially to the work of the international Innovative Vector Control Consortium. Until a suitable alternative is found, however, DDT remains the cheapest and most effective long-term malaria fighter we have.

Whole New York Times op/ed here

Thanks to frequent H&R commenter AMVHuck for the heads up.

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  1. Do I have to keep reminding you’uns that according to the most fair and balanced analysis available, DDT-hatin’ Rachel Carson is worse than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao combined, and that she remains a threat as long as she is able to direct her swarms of trained superintelligent malaria-dripping mosquitoes from beyond the grave?

    Or was that Rachel Hunter? I get them confused all the time.

  2. It would be a mistake to think we could rely on DDT alone to fight mosquitoes in Africa. Fortunately, research aimed at developing new and better insecticides continues

    Or not. DDT has been around for what, 50-odd years (or more?) and nothing has been found in that time to work better? Maybe DDT is it boys. Heck, even penicillin didn’t have that kind of half-life.

  3. JW,
    how long was that half-life for DDT in Sri Lanka?

  4. Worth reading:
    http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/curtiscf.htm
    It’s not another Op/Ed piece.

  5. Where the hell is joe? I can’t believe he’s letting Ron get away with these horrible, evil LIES!!!11!!1

  6. Interesting to note that the Green Party’s own Ralph Nader is an advocate of DDT. On this issue at least he’s on the side of the good guys…

  7. JW,
    how long was that half-life for DDT in Sri Lanka?

    Beats me. I was only commenting on the continued efficacy of a *very* old pesticide formula, not it’s over-application in a particular instance.

  8. Josh,

    The reason you’re not seeing me calling out Bailey for his lies or slander in this post is that there were no lies or slander in this post.

    It’s that thing we liberals do, where our response to information we come across depends on the facts of the case. Why would I slag Bailey for this?

  9. Somehow the good news about malaria from the WHO escaped Ron Bailey’s attention:

    In Kenya, from 2004 to 2006, a near ten-fold increase in the number of young children sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets was observed in targeted districts, resulting in 44% fewer deaths than among children not protected by nets, according to preliminary data from the Government of Kenya. This is the first demonstration of the impact of large-scale distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets under programme conditions, rather than in research settings, where, in different parts of Africa, reduction observed in overall mortality has ranged from 14 % up to 60 %.

    And the new WHO position statement:

    Use of ITNs is one of the most cost-effective interventions against malaria. In a recent analysis of the
    cost of five ITN and two IRS programmes in Africa, LLINs were found to be significantly cheaper to
    use than conventionally treated nets. The cost per death averted and the cost per DALY averted with
    LLINs lasting three years were less than half the comparable costs using conventional ITNs. The
    findings of the study also suggest that, in high-transmission areas where most of the malaria burden
    occurs in children under five years, and assuming it is possible to effectively target LLINs to this
    population group, the use of LLINs is 4 to 5 times cheaper than IRS which cannot be targeted to
    children only. Average annual cost per LLIN was US$ 2.10 (1.48-2.64), equivalent to US$ 1.05 per
    person protected per year, compared with US$ 3.60 per person protected per year for IRS (calculated
    for the whole population) (Yukich, Lengeler et al., submitted)

    Technology has advanced since the 1940s. Who knew?

  10. It’s that thing we liberals do, where our response to information we come across depends on the facts of the case.

    joe i love you like an e-brother but sometimes you make me want to send stem cells to karl rove so he can live forever.

  11. Ron has always been full of shit on this issue: these latest posts have been non-sequitur after the fact ass-covering for the fact that he bought the “Rachel Carson worse than Hitler” nonsense hook line and sinker, and has never corrected himself or apologized.

  12. “you make me want to send stem cells to karl rove so he can live forever.”

    That would be, like, Rotsa Rove.

  13. It’s that thing we liberals do, where our response to information we come across depends on the facts of the case.

    Yes, but the volume level never changes.

    Set lungs to: SHRIEK

    sixstring: outstanding! I’m reading everything with a Scooby voice now.

  14. Well, JW, it’s a good things there isn’t a tax on shrieking. Because then it would be collected. BY FORCE! COERCIVE FORCE!! AT GUNPOINT!!!1!!1!

  15. “Until a suitable alternative is found, however, DDT remains the cheapest and most effective long-term malaria fighter we have.”

    So there might be a more-effective long-term malaria fighter … but it’s more expensive? How much more expensive, one wonders?

  16. I thought the other problem with DDT was the thinning of raptor shells?

  17. Tim: It’s not either bed nets or DDT, it’s both.

    plunge: Did you actually read anything I wrote about Carson? One relevant part:

    Meanwhile, Carson’s disciples have managed to persuade many poor countries to stop using DDT against mosquitoes. The result has been an enormous increase in the number of people dying of malaria each year. Today malaria infects between 300 million and 500 million people annually, killing as many 2.7 million of them. Anti-DDT activists who tried to have the new U.N. treaty on persistent organic pollutants totally ban DDT have stepped back recently from their ideological campaign, conceding that poor countries should be able to use DDT to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

    So 40 years after the publication of Silent Spring, the legacy of Rachel Carson is more troubling than her admirers will acknowledge. The book did point to problems that had not been adequately addressed, such as the effects of DDT on some wildlife. And given the state of the science at the time she wrote, one might even make the case that Carson’s concerns about the effects of synthetic chemicals on human health were not completely unwarranted. Along with other researchers, she was simply ignorant of the facts. But after four decades in which tens of billions of dollars have been wasted chasing imaginary risks without measurably improving American health, her intellectual descendants don’t have the same excuse.

    List of part of my reporting on DDT here.

    grumpy: You’re right. Check out my reporting on “DDT, Eggshells and Me.”

    Carson was also wrong about cancer risks posed by DDT.

  18. According to A Cultural History or Tobacco, pre-Columbian South Americans used tobacco to get rid of insects. That might have potential, especially if you can steep the usefull compounds out of the leaves instead using the smoke.

  19. Yes Ron: your writing is exactly what I used to judge you. The fact that you write some sentences claiming that, for instance, Carson’s led to the “result” you claim doesn’t make it true. Actual malaria experts have pointed out in detail why you are full of it here, but apparently you saying “no i’m not!” is supposed to convince me?

    Here’s a link from someone that’s not a lying douchebag on this issue:
    http://membracid.wordpress.com/2007/08/09/an-odd-email-campaign-by-africa-fighting-malaria/

  20. James wrote:
    “So there might be a more-effective long-term malaria fighter … but it’s more expensive? How much more expensive, one wonders?”

    I posted an article lnk earlier which would answer that, here it is again:
    http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/curtiscf.htm

    now with a relevant quote:
    “DDT has already been replaced by organophosphate or carbamate insecticides such as malathion or bendiocarb where DDT resistance has been detected, e.g. in Sri Lanka, parts of India, Pakistan, Turkey and Central America. However, these compounds are considerably more expensive to use than DDT, and malathion does not persist well on mud walls.

    Pyrethroids such as deltamethrin and lambdacyhalothrin are effective at far lower doses than DDT (c.25 mg/sq. metre compared with 2 gm/sq. metre). Although more expensive per unit weight, these pyrethroids are not much more expensive per house protected per year (Curtis, 1994). They are also much more acceptable to householders because they leave no visible deposit on walls and because they kill nuisance insects such as cockroaches. Therefore rates of refusal of spraying by householders are lower with pyrethroids than with DDT and therefore there is a much better chance of reaching a level of coverage at which the vectorial capacity of the mosquito population will be lowered to a point at which malaria transmission will be interrupted.”

  21. Sam-Hec: Again, not either/or, but both. DDT prevents mosquitoes from entering houses even when they are resistant to it.

    plunge: I hope you are more pleasant to other people. In any case, your very helpful link to a such a fair and balanced environmentalist website is certainly a useful addition to the discourse over DDT.

    Evidently for you, disciples of saints, even of environmentalist saints like Carson, can never be wrong when they are acting in the name of the saint, right? As usual, the environmentalist community would prefer to forget the causes they championed when the scientific evidence turns against them. Having covered environmentalism and environmental science for more than 20 years as a reporter, I am sadly familiar with the pattern.

    In any case, take at look at the open letter from Malaria Foundation International in which more than 300 malariologists begged POPs negotiators not to go along with the proposed ban of DDT. Obviously they were delusional in thinking that committed environmentalist ideologues wanted to ban DDT for use in spraying house interiors.

    Or the reporter in the Guardian got it wrong when he reported on the environmentalist campaign to ban DDT in the POPs Treaty.

    Or this 1999 AP story about the WWF’s proposal for a global ban on DDT. To wit: “There is no longer a question about whether to DDT should be banned, only how soon it can happen while still ensuring developing countries access to safe, affordable alternative malaria control”[WWF spokesman] Curtis said.

    Or this 1999 Inter Press Service story on WWF’s proposal to ban DDT. (Interestingly, the WWF has taken down the report on which the story is based.)

    Clearly no disciples of Carson opposed DDT for malaria control.

    BTW, you might want to re-read Silent Spring. I think you might find a just few places where Carson got the science wrong. Since she was writing 50 years ago, she might be forgiven. Her modern-day followers don’t have that excuse.

    Finally, if you enjoy “science by press release” may I suggest that you look for anything put out by Fenton Communications.

  22. Ron,
    I agree that DDT is just one tool among many; but there seems to be a worshipping of the stuff among the rightwing blogosphere. Or at least a love-to-hate the ‘Patron Saint’ of the Enviros. While basic criticism of Carson may be in order, participating in the same irrationality as the enviros only undermines the legitimate critiques. Your third Paragraph doesn’t help.

    Same goes with Al Gore. I am sure there are legitimate critiques of him, but there are so many who are so in love with their hatred of him, that reasonable arguments, which might sway the fence-sitters, get ignored.

    And for a Magazine called ‘Reason’

    😉

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