April 21, 2004

More on DDT, the ban and Malaria

From Evan over at 101-280 comes some disturbing fact-checking and the implications regarding the USA ban on DDT and the continuing 2,000,000 deaths/year from Malaria: bq. Virginia Postrel, on last week's New York Times Magazine article, "What the World Needs Now is DDT": bq. Two million people a year, most of them little kids, are dying because of the West's anti-DDT superstition. Two...million...people...a...year. Evan's money quote: bq. This reminds me: you know how people will sometimes get into handwavy and/or inebriated debates over which book killed more people in the 20th century, The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf? On the usual, broad-brush causal assessment, considering both direct and tangential effects, and entirely ignoring authorial intention, the Manifesto typically wins with an estimate upwardly bounded at 100 million dead. That NYT story convinced me that the best answer to the question is actually neither of the above, but rather Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the major cultural force in the anti-DDT mania of the 1970s. At the rate of 2 million preventable malaria deaths per year, plus (very conservatively) another 3 million due to effects of the additional poverty caused by malaria, it would only take Spring 20 years to catch the Manifesto. And William Ruckelshaus seems to the the poster boy for this decision but it seems to fall to Tricky Dick for the actual decision: bq. Again, we're ignoring authorial intention here. But who is really to blame? An EPA hearing at the time ruled that DDT wasn't demonstrably harmful, and so the fault seems to lie in a directive by Administrator William Ruckelshaus that simply ignored the ruling. But according to this story (via Glenn Reynolds), Ruckelshaus blames Nixon: And Nixon's excuse: bq. A few older Washington DC policy experts have suggested that some of his election campaign supporters were chemical companies that produced alternatives to DDT and so stood to gain handsomely by the DDT phase out. Others say that it is more likely that senior officials in his administration pressured Nixon into the decision given the potential votes he stood to lose in his native and very green state of California. I heard some interesting things regarding the old FREON that the reason the EPA pressed for its regulation was that it's patent was due to expire soon (this is true) and that some companies stood to make major money with patented alternatives... More digging is needed in this cess pit... Posted by DaveH at April 21, 2004 11:01 PM