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Saturday, September 22, 2012
MRC Falsely Attacks Rachel Carson As A Killer of 'Millions'
Topic: Media Research Center

Liz Thatcher uses a Sept. 20 Media Research Center Business & Media Institute article to portray enviromentalist Rachel Carson as a heartless killer, complaining that a children's books about her "teach children to idolize Carson and how to become liberal activists, but without telling them the lives that could have been saved by DDT."

Thatcher laments that if Carson hadn't written her book "Silent Spring," "DDT could have been used to help prevent millions of people from dying a miserable death from malaria." Thatcher then repeats attacks on Carson from her fellow right-wingers:

Henry Miller, scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, argued in a Sept. 5 op-ed for  Forbes.com called “Rachel Carson’s Deadly Fantasies” that Carson’s real legacy lie in her disingenuous claims that stopped a useful life saver around the world.

“DDT was used with dramatic effect to shorten and prevent typhus epidemics during and after WWII when people were dusted with large amounts of it but suffered no ill effects, which is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that the chemical is harmless to humans,” Miller wrote.

Another expert, Dennis Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute, said Carson is indirectly responsible for millions of preventable deaths noting “The absence of DDT had led to the needless deaths of at least 30 million people from malaria and yellow fever in the tropics … Most of them were helpless African children.”

Just one problem with Thatcher's Carson-bashing: Carson never actually advocated banning DDT. William Souder writes at Slate:

Rachel Carson never called for the banning of pesticides. She made this clear in every public pronouncement, repeated it in an hourlong television documentary about Silent Spring, and even testified to that effect before the U.S. Senate. Carson never denied that there were beneficial uses of pesticides, notably in combatting human diseases transmitted by insects, where she said they had not only been proven effective but were morally “necessary.”

“It is not my contention,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.”

[...]

Carson did not seek to end the use of pesticides—only their heedless overuse at a time when it was all but impossible to escape exposure to them. Aerial insecticide spraying campaigns over forests, cities, and suburbs; the routine application of insecticides to crops by farmers at concentrations far above what was considered “safe;” and the residential use of insecticides in everything from shelf paper to aerosol “bombs” had contaminated the landscape in exactly the same manner as the fallout from the then-pervasive testing of nuclear weapons—a connection Carson made explicit in Silent Spring.

Thatcher's portrayal of DDT as the only possible way to eradicate malaria overlooks the facts that 1) it had been so overused that mosquitos had developed a resistance to it, reducing its effectiveness; 2) the U.S. ban on DDT didn't apply to the rest of the world, and 3) DDT is undenably destructive to the environment. Souder continues:

DDT had been effective against malaria in Europe, in Northern Africa, in parts of India and southern Asia, and even in the southern United States, where the disease was already being routed by other means. But these were mostly developed areas. Using DDT in places like sub-Saharan Africa, with its remote and hard-to-reach villages, had long been considered problematic. It was an old story and one still repeated: Africa was everybody’s lowest priority.

And in any case, the World Health Organization had begun to question its malaria-eradication program even before Silent Spring was published. One object lesson was that the heavy use of DDT in many parts of the world was producing new strains of mosquitoes resistant to the insecticide. Much as it can happen with antibiotics, the use of an environmental poison clears susceptible organisms from the ecosystem and allows those with immunity to take over. The WHO also faced declining interest in the disease among scientists and sharp reductions in funding from the international community.

When the recently created Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for most domestic uses in 1972, this ruling had no force in other parts of the world and the insecticide remained part of the international anti-malaria arsenal. The United States continued to manufacture and export DDT until the mid-1980s, and it has always been available from pesticide makers in other countries.

One result is that DDT is still with us—globally adrift in the atmosphere from spraying operations in various parts of the world, and also from its continuing volatilization from soils in which it has lain dormant for decades. The threat of DDT to wildlife—as a deadly neurotoxin in many species and a destroyer of reproductive capabilities in others—has never been in doubt. Carson’s claims in Silent Spring about DDT’s connection to human cancer and other disorders have not been completely resolved. The National Toxicology Program lists DDT as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The same holds for two of its common break-down products, DDD and DDE, which are also suspected of causing developmental problems in humans.

Funny that Thatcher doesn't blames those who indiscriminately overused DDT for causing "millions of deaths."


Posted by Terry K. at 9:30 AM EDT

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