Nothing really new coming from Tom
Last Sunday, the New York Times, keeper of the liberal flame, raised environmental eyebrows with a weekend magazine article titled “What the World Needs Now Is DDT.”
Following is a letter to the Editor of the NYT that was drafted by the students in my Honors Environmental Studies class here at CMU in response to this article. They were concerned about the biased nature of this report from a paper that prides itself on balanced reporting. The odds of getting our letter published are slim. The NYT receives over 1,000 letters to the editor per day and publishes 10 to 15. I thought that I would put it out here for review by the readers of Enviro-Mich.
Mr. Thomas Feyer, Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Feyer:
We are waiting to express our concerns about the biased article by Tina Rosenberg supporting the use of the insecticide DDT in fighting malaria in South Africa published in the April 11, 2004 issue of the NYT Magazine (“What the World Needs Now Is DDT”).
While Rosenberg provides a variety of evidence supporting the use of DDT to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes, she cites little evidence of the harmful effects of DDT. It is admirable to advocate the use of this pesticide to “save the lives of African children” but it is disingenuous to downplay the human health and environmental risks of using this highly toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative chemical.
Decades of peer-reviewed research have shown DDT to be linked to many detrimental effects in humans and wildlife. Exposure to chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides such as DDT has been proven to have quantifiable effects on the neurological system of children. An article in the Spring 1999 edition of “Physicians for Social Responsibility Reports” gives evidence of the damaging effects of DDT on children’s motor skills.
DDT bioaccumulates in breast milk, fat and other bodily fluids, resulting in it being passed from generation to generation in species ranging from humans to bald eagles to Atlantic salmon. Accumulation of DDT throughout these generations can lead to reproductive problems rendering humans and other species infertile. Persistence of this pesticide could lead to more serious effects than those manifested by malaria, namely the extinction of the African culture.
Let us not forget that raptorial birds at the top of the food chain in North America were almost made extinct by historical DDT use. Only now, some thirty years after the ban on use of this pesticide are populations of eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons recovering from these effects. Likewise, species ranging from alligators and pelicans in the south and salmon and mink in the north were threatened as DDT impaired reproductive success of these populations from the 1940s to the 1970s. Do we want to do the same thing to happen to humans and wildlife in Africa?
“Silent Spring” (Houghton-Miflin 1962), by Rachel Carson, is mentioned as a major source of opposition to DDT. Rosenberg discredits Carson for not mentioning the positive effects of DDT in her book, accusing Carson of “Killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind.” However, this is hypocritical due to the fact that Rosenberg herself is guilty of providing only one side of the argument, and her arguments for DDT use may threaten African children as well.
Rosenberg provides no mention of the possible alternatives to using DDT. The science of pest management has advanced dramatically since the “spray and pray” programs of the early post-war period. Less toxic alternative pesticides as well as a suite of integrated pest management alternatives, such as eliminating mosquito-breeding habit and personal protective measures, are not mentioned in her article. This omission must have been intentional to bolster her arguments for DDT use.
With an environmental half-life of about 30 years, in 1968 Americans were consuming .025 mg/day of DDT. We are still suffering from the residual effects of DDT applications made from thirty to fifty years ago. Imagine the effects that Africans would experience after multiple applications of this chemical now and into the indeterminate future.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We hope that you will publish our letter to give some balance to Ms. Rosenberg’s writings.
Somang (David) Bae
Jeremy K. Goff
Thomas K. Rohrer, Director
Environmental Studies Program
318 Brooks Hall
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant MI 48859
U. S. A.
Ph. (989) 774-4409
email = firstname.lastname@example.org
CMU Environmental Studies Program information is available at:
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