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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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Jay Ambrose: Let’s hear it for DDT

Warrior greenies, get out of the way. You’ve done enormous hurt in this world, you appear prepared to keep it up, and it’s time to allow people their health, their lives and a chance to fight back more effectively against mosquitoes that have been having at us from ancient times to right this minute.

Those insects are presently doing their egregious harm in a new, emphatic way in Brazil and more than 20 other Latin American countries and territories. They are biting people and infecting them with a pathogen called Zika. The virus has been around for decades but for the first time is believed to be causing a birth defect shrinking the skulls and damaging the brains of babies. It may also cause a syndrome that paralyzes people and it has even sneaked into the United States. The reported estimate is that 4 million people could be hit with Zika by the time we get to 2017.

Time to use DDT maybe? Absolutely. As the scientist Robert Zubrin has noted, here is a pesticide that was used during World War II and later to kill mosquitoes and wipe out malaria and other diseases in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia, saving hundreds of millions of lives. Mosquitoes, fighting back, managed to develop resistance to it in some areas, but then something more dramatic happened, giving them an enormous break.

Rachel Carson happened. Her factually challenged book, “Silent Spring,” happened. The book said DDT, then being widely sprayed to protect crops, would kill off birds, fish and other wildlife and that some spring morning you’d wake up without hearing a single tweet but maybe having been cursed with cancer.

That was in 1962. By 1971, Zubrin observes in a National Review article, we had the Environmental Protection Agency, a seven-month investigation and a judge ruling that DDT would not commit the alleged harms. It didn’t matter. The EPA banned its use anyway, and another agency said we wouldn’t fund foreign projects that used DDT. Other Western countries jumped in with one kind of ban or the other and it became harder and harder for malaria-plagued African countries to get the pesticide as some African scientists signed on in thinking its threats outweighed its benefits.

The cost, some contend, has not been just a few lives, but millions upon millions of lives, mostly African children, even though the spraying would be slight and inside homes and present no wildlife dangers. For empirical evidence, consider South Africa. It banned DDT in 1996 and within a matter of years malarial cases had increased by thousands, causing 460 deaths in the year 2000. It reintroduced DDT and had brought malarial deaths down to 94 by 2014.

It’s true that some other heedful countries have had less success with DDT, sometimes because of inadequate funding, and have had good success with other techniques. It’s true, too, that more potential ill effects of DDT have been noted, although there is still not the slightest hint of anything anywhere comparable to what malaria does. What’s clear is that DDT is now needed in South America. As noted in The New York Times, one person who favors such weaponry against Zika is Dr. Lyle Petersen, not exactly someone in the uninformed sector of the population. He is the director of vector-borne diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The people who have so fiercely objected to DDT are radical environmentalists who too often push the movement in awry directions. Some activists are reported by Reason Magazine to be protesting a Key West experiment in which the offspring of genetically modified male mosquitoes are born dead. Brazil is pushing ahead with a program that’s succeeding. Meanwhile, there’s another GMO program that might produce mosquitoes that no longer transport diseases.

Thank heavens for environmentalism — it has done enormous good — but also for the people who fight back against its extremists.

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