These Dreams Aren’t ‘Idol’: All Abuzz about DDT

If you are an “American Idol” fan, then you are probably familiar with the show’s philanthropic special “Idol Gives Back.” For the past year, the show has called in celebrities to show up and tell you to donate money.
This year, Americans weren’t the only ones contributing to the cause. The British government donated $200 million for mosquito nets in Malaria-ridden Africa. Sounds great, right?
Wrong. Half of the time, mosquito nets don’t prevent the spread of malaria during the night, when they are used.
Even if mosquito nets worked 100 percent of the time at night, people could still contract the disease during the day, when not asleep under the semi-safety of a mosquito net.
According to “Africa News,” malaria infects 300 to 500 million people each year, about 2.7 million of whom die from the disease. Most of the people who contract the condition are children under the age of five.
Considering that the disease has been all but eradicated in the developed world, one would think that there would be a more effective solution than a bunch of mosquito nets.
Less than one hundred years ago, there was a miracle cure for malaria … well, more like a miracle preventative. In 1939, Dr. Paul Muller developed Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane and found that it quickly killed flies, aphids, walking sticks, Colorado potato beetles and the all-important mosquitoes.
The pharmaceutical company Merck soon began mass-producing and distributing DDT to World War II soldiers, who used the product to kill lice. In 1948 Muller won the Nobel Prize for his work on DDT.
By 1967, the Global Malaria Eradication Campaign had eliminated malaria in developed countries through DDT. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, the miracle compound that has saved hundreds of millions of lives has been brutally and unfairly attacked by population-control advocates and the dreaded Environmental Protection League.
The demagoguery against DDT began with the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Carson’s book asserted that DDT not only caused liver and breast cancer but interfered with the reproduction of birds.
After the book became a bestseller, DDT was banned despite the fact that studies showed no link between the chemical and thinner eggshells or reduced reproductive success in birds. Additionally, none of the studies concluded that DDT caused cancer in animals or humans.
Workers who were routinely exposed to 30 times more DDT than an average person reported no incidence of cancer. In clinical trials, birds had as much or, in some cases, more reproductive success when they were exposed to DDT.
Judge Edmund Sweeney, an EPA examiner, concluded that, “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man. … DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man. … The use of DDT under the regulations involved here does not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”
The most stunning evidence for the safety of DDT comes from its creator, who used to eat spoonfuls of the substance at conferences to prove its safety.
Environmentalists were not the only ones vilifying DDT. Some supporters of population control realized its impact on malaria and repudiated the idea of saving millions of lives and promoting the growth of the human population.
An official for the Agency of International Development said of those who would die from malaria without DDT, “Rather dead than alive and riotously reproducing.”
DDT is cheap, effective and harmless to pretty much everything except mosquitoes. The witch hunt that resulted in the ban on DDT has cost millions of lives in Africa.
UC Irvine “Rocked for Rwanda,” American Idol “Gave Back,” but no one spoke out against the ban on DDT, which is responsible for more deaths than genocide, a problem much harder to solve than malaria.
Americans like to put on a good show and feel that they have helped save the starving children in Africa. But in order to start saving millions of lives, all one has to do is to lift the ban on DDT and use a fraction of Britain’s $200 million donation to rid the continent of the scourge that has been killing its people.

Katie Fitzgerald is a second-year anthropology major. She can be reached at kafitzge@uci.edu.