Researching DDT

Jonathan Adler at The Commons Blog dropped me a note regarding my comments on his post on DDT use in combating malaria, and I immediately started digging for information. What I’ve come across (in addition to material Jonathan suggested ):

  • Two reports from the International Development Research Centre in Canada: one detailing efforts in Mexico to combat malaria without DDT, and another opinion piece suggesting that limited DDT usage should be continued until less toxic methods are more fully developed.
  • A position statement from the World Wildlife Federation (which is a few years old, but still, in my humble opinion, relevant) also suggesting a middle ground in regards to DDT and the POP treaty. (PDF)

I’ll be honest — I’m still a bit wary of the information from Africa Fighting Malaria (which JA suggested), as I’m not convinced that this group’s founders are very open to methods of combating malaria other than DDT (and, quite frankly, I become immediately skeptical when I see affiliations with with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and similar right-leaning think tanks). At the same time, I’m willing to admit I may have been a bit quick to assign the label “irresponsible.” I do believe that none of us want to see anybody suffering and dying from malaria, and I believe that there’s a space in which we can discuss the issue.

What I’ve learned:

  • indoor applications of DDT differ from the agricultural applications that set DDT loose in a variety of ecosystems.
  • The science regarding the health effects of indoor applications is undecided at best.
  • Many organizations that I find credible on this issue see limited DDT use as a lesser evil at this point, considering the harm caused by malaria.
  • We should work towards elimination of DDT use in favor of less toxic alternatives, but allow it’s use when circumstances warrant it for now.
  • Finally, we should continue to fund and encourage methods of fighting malaria that use environmental health and ecosystems approaches — in the early stages, these have proven quite effective. Cost and socioeconomic development seem to be the main hurdles right now to overcoming malaria completely without the use of persistent organic poisons…

Most important (as always) — we’ve got to discuss these issues…

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