An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia
Exhibit 63: The ConWeb's Favorite Environment-Destroying Chemical
ConWeb writers want to bring back DDT to kill mosquitoes and bedbugs, despite the fact that most mosquitoes and bedbugs are now immune to its effects.
By Terry Krepel
For years, the ConWeb has been lobbying to bring back DDT, a chemical banned by the U.S. for its effects on the environment. And they're strangely impervious to the facts.
In a November 2009 column, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah claimed that the swine flu that was then spreading rampantly killed fewer people than malaria, then asserted that "malaria could be eradicated much easier and more economically. But the most effective weapon in the arsenal against malaria, DDT, has been banned in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, even though it saved the lives of tens of millions, because of pseudo-scientific hysteria about alleged, unproven environmental effects."
Farah's wrong on both counts. The effects of DDT on the environment are indisputable, not "pseudo-scientific hysteria." It persists for an unusually long time and makes its way into the food chain, where it harms birds and fish. It's also a suspected carcinogen, causing liver cancer in animals.
And while DDT was effective in killing mosquitoes, the insects were already developing a resistance to DDT well before it was banned in the U.S. due to overuse of the pesticide. While the World Health Organization has backed the use of DDT to battle malaria -- it can be effective in limited use in African countries than other, safer treatments -- environmentalists fear that the endorsement will lead to overuse, which creates DDT-resistant insects.
Further, as the Worldwatch Institute details, bednets are currently a more effective way to stop the spread of mosquito-borne malaria than DDT is because the main malaria-spreading mosquitoes are DDT-resistant, but the nets are subject to taxes or tariffs in 28 African countries making them even less affordable for poor Africans. The institute adds: "We now have half a century of evidence that routine use of DDT simply will not prevail against the mosquitoes."
Hating Rachel Carson ... and "Avatar"
Despite the fact that the science doesn't support the return of DDT in the U.S., ConWeb writers have regularly clamored for it.
One way it has done so is attack Rachel Carson, whose book "Silent Spring" helped expose the dangers of DDT. For instance, in a December 2009 WorldNetDaily review of the film "Avatar," Ted Baehr sneered that the film was about "a group of nature-worshipping aliens triumph over the greedy, evil human corporations that want to destroy their planet. The aliens eventually send the humans back to a dying earth to die." Zahn added: "If you think this sounds as if Al Gore wrote the script for 'Avatar,' not James Cameron, you may be right. This theme of kill all the humans, especially the pro-American, capitalist humans, has long been an underlying message of the left-wing, environmentalist movement, beginning with Rachel Carson's hysterical plea to ban DDT, even though, to this day, there is no evidence that DDT is harmful to humans or the environment, and even though the use of DDT can save millions of human lives from the deadly disease of malaria."
Liz Thatcher uses a September 2012 Media Research Center Business & Media Institute article to portray 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 lamented 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."
Just one problem with Thatcher's Carson-bashing: Carson never actually advocated banning DDT. Carson biographer William Souder wrote at Slate that Carson never called for the banning of pesticides and never denied that there were beneficial uses of pesticides, notably in combatting human diseases transmitted by insects. "Carson did not seek to end the use of pesticidesonly their heedless overuse at a time when it was all but impossible to escape exposure to them," Souder wrote.
That didn't stop the Carson-bashing, of course. A 2013 column by syndicated columnist Walter Williams, published at CNSNews.com, called Carson a purveyor of "wackoism." Then, the MRC's Scott Whitlock, complaining that Google made a doodle honoring Carson, falsely claimed in a May 2014 post that Carson "lobbied for banning the chemical DDT" and that her claims about DDT's damage in the food chain "turned out to be flat-out wrong." He then whined, "Will Google do a tribute to the millions who died because of DDT bans?"
Bringing back DDT to kill (DDT-resistant) bedbugs
In a June 2012 Accuracy in Media column, Alan Caruba echoed the Carson-bashing, claiming that "Silent Spring" was responsible for "America’s unfounded fears of pesticides, especially DDT," and that Carson left a "lethal legacy." Caruba went on to claim that "The coast-to-coast plague of bedbugs that has occurred in the past decade and continues today could have been eliminated if DDT were still in use."
In fact, Newsweek reported that, as with mosquitoes, bedbugs had developed resistance to DDT by the time of the DDT ban; besides, "In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the bedbugs that had survived the onslaught of DDT were wiped out by malathion, until it, too, stopped working."
Despite that, the misinformation continues. In an unbylined Jan. 10 article about how hard it is to kill bedbugs, WND included this line:
Older Americans remember a time when the country was virtually free of the pests. DDT killed them. But then DDT was banned. No other pesticide was as effective. And, despite the environmental fears DDT raised, it was relatively safe for humans.
Whether it's "relatively safe for humans" is beside the point. And WND doesn't mention that bedbugs would be coming back regardless of whether DDT was banned because the little buggers are immune to it.
The WND article also has a misleading headline: 'Invasion of the KILLER bedbugs." But bedbugs themselves don't kill -- though, as the article notes, people have been killed in attempting to eradicate the pesky bugs.
And in a Feb. 8 WND column, Jane Orient of the fringe-right Association of American Physicians and Surgeons took a break from baselessly blaming vaccines for an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil to call for the return of DDT to eradicate the mosquitoes that are beleived to be the actual cause:
Mosquito-borne diseases, after a time when it was thought that even malaria might be wiped out, began increasing worldwide when the U.S. banned the most effective public health weapon of all time: DDT. If Zika causes rethinking of this disastrous decision, even though other deadly threats like malaria have not, it will save millions of lives and even help us win the war on bed bugs.
She, like her ConWeb cohorts, ignores the fact that most mosquitoes are immune to DDT.
A mountain of misinformation
To really peddle a mountain of misinformation about DDT, however, requires a monumentally ignorant writer. Like WND columnist Christopher Monckton. In August 2015, he dropped this rant:
This year, as I pack my bags for Sicily, professor Larry Gould of the University of Hartford has sent me a chilling documentary about the consequences of the ban on DDT. The title of the video says it all: “Three Billion and Counting.” The estimate of the number of people killed by the environmentalist left’s ban on DDT may be somewhat on the high side, but there is a statable case that the left’s ban on DDT has killed more people than any war, any pogrom, any policy ever.
And the Worldwatch Institute has a thing or two to say about Monckton's contention that DDT is so safe that "humans can eat by the tablespoonful without coming to any harm":
Like other organochlorine pesticides, DDT bioaccumulates. It's fat soluble, so when an animal ingests it-by browsing contaminated vegetation, for example-the chemical tends to concentrate in its fat, instead of being excreted. When another animal eats that animal, it is likely to absorb the prey's burden of DDT. This process leads to an increasing concentration of DDT in the higher links of the food chain. And since DDT has a high chronic toxicity -- that is, long-term exposure is likely to cause various physiological abnormalities -- this bioaccumulation has profound implications for both ecological and human health.
Monckton claimed in the headline of that column that "the left" is "wrong about everything." The only people we see being wrong here are the right-wingers who argue against science and nature that DDT is a panacea.