The melamine poisoning scandal along with a recent movie has me thinking about DDT. Remember DDT? DDT is formally named dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. If you can say that entire word you get to the bonus round of today's blog. I remember as a young boy my mother walking around the foundation of our Warwick, Rhode Island family home on Vineyard Road with a cardboard container very much like today's bread crumb dispensers. She would shake the white powder onto the concrete foundation and grass to kill the bugs, as she would proudly declare. "Don't get near it! I mean it!" she'd yell at us. I could have said instructed but there was no instruction going on with the tone of her voice; she wanted to put the fear of God's wrath into us and she did. I never touched it but can't say much for my older brother. He's a little light in the head so I can't speak for what he may have done.

Today mom looks back and like the two eggs we had to eat every morning she now believes she was killing us slowly.

I'll ask again, do you remember DDT?
DDT in a bottle

One dictionary defines DDT as a noun.  

Definition: an insecticide effective especially against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. It has been banned in many countries since 1974 because of its toxicity, its persistence in the environment, and its ability to accumulate in living tissue. C14H9Cl5. lists the chemical composition as:

DDT, Chemistry - a white, crystalline, water-insoluble solid, C14H9Cl5, usually derived from chloral by reaction with chlorobenzene in the presence of fuming sulfuric acid: used as an insecticide and as a scabicide and pediculicide: agricultural use prohibited in the U.S. since 1973.

Also called dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, chlorophenothane.

Origin: d(ichloro)d(iphenyl)t(richloroethane)

Wikipedia describes it as "DDT (from its trivial name, Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) is one of the best known synthetic pesticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history."

DDT was supposed to be used for killing misquitos to annihilate malaria. DDT was used extensively in the 1940's and 1950's then the whole cancer thing got in the way and low and behold DDT died a quick death. Of course there were casuaties along the way and along the genetic highway. DDT tends to stay in the genes and is passed on to the next generation.

A Taiwaneze filmmaker has just released Surviving Evil, a film that explores the 1979 controversy surrounding PCBs and how the population was exposed and continues to suffer. The Taiwan Journal explores the film and how food contamination caused human suffering long after the source of the contamination would be discovered.

"In April 1979, a handful of students and teachers at Taichung County's Huei Ming School in central Taiwan discovered they were suffering from rashes, or exhibiting symptoms of chloracne--a skin condition consisting of blackheads, cysts and pustules. As time went by, the number of afflicted increased to more than 100.

Tests conducted on the victims revealed they had been poisoned by PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. Around 2,000 people from the nearby counties of Changhua, Hsinchu and Miaoli were eventually identified as having been exposed to the toxic chemicals."

Surviving Evil is a documentary that explores the suffering of real people from contaminated oils used for food preparation. The PCB contamination of 1979 is very similar to the oil contamination in Japan 40 years earlier.

The filmmaker opens this documentary film with an observation.

"Isn't the melamine contamination outbreak a repeat of PCB poisoning in Taiwan from 30 years ago? And isn't the latter a repeat of what happened in Japan 40 years ago? Unless we remember the past, the next tragedy is just around the corner." It closes with a message laden in significance for Taiwan's leaders, "[we don't know] whereto people with eyes will lead Taiwan, but blind people will definitely find their own way."

Today, several countries continue to use DDT  as a pesticide to control disease carrying insects.  The World Health Organization in 2006 came out in support of using DDT inside homes.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 - The World Health Organization on Friday forcefully endorsed wider use of the insecticide DDT across Africa to exterminate and repel the mosquitoes that cause malaria. The disease kills more than a million people a year, 800,000 of them young children in Africa.Skip to next paragraph 

Dr. Arata Kochi, who leads the group's global malaria program, unequivocally declared at a news conference on Friday that DDT was the most effective insecticide against malaria and that it posed no health risk when sprayed in small amounts on the inner walls of people's homes. Expanding its use is essential to reviving the flagging international campaign to control the disease, he said.

Dr. Kochi has powerful allies on DDT and, more broadly, on using insecticide sprays, in Congress and the Bush administration - an odd bedfellows coalition for an agency of the United Nations, which has often been at odds with the White House.

Which countries use DDT?

"There are now 17 African countries using at least some indoor spraying of insecticides to combat malaria. Only 10 of them use DDT - Eritrea, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Swaziland, South Africa, Mauritius, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia - the W.H.O. said. Too many countries in Africa have shied away from DDT, Dr. Kochi said, because of the nasty environmental reputation it earned in an earlier era when it was widely sprayed on crops - dangers that do not apply when spraying small amounts indoors."

It's estimated that over 2,000,000 children per year mostly under the age of 5 die of malaria. Worldwide each year 200 to 500 million people get malaria.   Those numbers got the New York Times singing "What the World Needs Now is DDT" They are not alone in support of allowing developing countries to use DDT. The World Policy Forum supports it's use.

I'm not sure what company owns the DDT patent. Monsanto originally produced it and to some extent may control its production. For the most part governments control distribution. Searching the Monsanto site for information concerning DDT produced zero results.

Who is promoting DDT usage?

The Pesticide Action Network has done a decent job of listing information on both sides and has an extensive bibliography.  Here is the PAN resources list:


 Tomorrow let's look at PCBs.

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