If Pesticides Help In The US, Why Not In Africa
American Cities Are Using Pesticides To Protect Themselves From The West Nile Virus. Why Not Let Africa Use DDT To Fight Malaria?
October 19, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
BridgeNews October 13, 2000
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--The West Nile virus has the potential to spread over most of America, says New York state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone. "Three years from now, I think it'll be over most all of the country."
With it could come the risk that American children and seniors will die of virus-related brain infections such as encephalitis and meningitis.
That's why planes are misting the air near the nation's capital with pesticides, and helicopters swoop over New York's Central Park. They are hoping to kill mosquitoes carrying the new-to-America virus. Seven Americans died of it last year. At least 39 Romanians died in a 1998 outbreak.
Doctors say the disease is often mild, but can kill the weak or elderly. The West Nile virus successfully over-wintered and is being found in eight different U.S. mosquito species, 60 types of American birds, and a lengthening list of mammals including chipmunks, raccoons and bats.
"We're going to spray," was the response of Montgomery County council president, Michael Subin, when virus-killed crows turned up in that Maryland county. "And we're going to do so as soon as weather conditions permit."
But the pesticide scaremongers haven't given up. "I'm not going to say it's not a good idea," responded Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network. "I'm recommending that they alert the people living in those areas about the potential health effects...because the pesticides themselves are also a public health threat."
But Berlin can show no evidence of negative health effects from the pesticides. Up against a real threat, the public has clamored for whatever it takes to protect themselves and their families. Maryland is spraying permethrins, a synthetic copy of the natural pesticide in pyrethrum flowers used by organic farmers.
Ironically, our society is simultaneously locked in another deadly battle over pesticides on the other side of the globe. In tropical countries, malaria has been making a big-time comeback.
The First World countries wiped it out with the pesticide DDT and with window screens. But the world still suffer over one million deaths from malaria a year. Most are children under five. Millions more live but are afflicted with recurrent, wrenching spasms of the disease. They can't work much and often need nursing.
The only cost-effective way to prevent further spreading of malaria is to spray the interior walls of tropical homes with DDT, a powerful mosquito repellant, in addition to killing many of the insects.
Moreover, DDT is cheap and safe to use. The World Health Organization is defending this limited use and are not considering going back to spraying millions of pounds of DDT on the fields.
But First World activists want to ban DDT completely. They seem not to care that billions of dollars in research over 40 years have given DDT a clean bill of health for both humans and wildlife.
Edmund Sweeney, the Environmental Protection Agency hearing examiner who ruled in 1972 that DDT should keep its registration, concluded that "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man...The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife." No research since has proved Sweeney wrong.
Yet EPA Administrator Donald Ruckelshaus overruled him in 1972. Environmentalist Rachel Carson's assertions in her book "Silent Spring" were apparently enough to convince him of DDT's dangers.
Researchers have fed primates 33,000 times as much DDT as average humans were exposed to during DDT's heyday. The results were inconclusive with respect to a carcinogenic effect of DDT--in other words, the animals didn't get cancer.
Despite shooting, poisoning, pollution and habitat loss, the Audubon Society counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960, during DDT use, than in 1941, before DDT. By then, people had begun to admire the big raptors.
The West Nile Virus could be a useful character test for First World citizens. Unless we're willing to welcome the West Nile virus into our cities, forbid spraying and let our families contract encephalitis, First World residents should let people in Africa and India use DDT.
Indoor spraying to repel malaria mosquitoes brings up no wildlife issues and is harmless to householders. Let's give kids in far-away countries a break.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.