(Beyond Pesticides, April 25, 2007) Public health and environmental activists call on the world community today to respect life, protect children, stop hazardous pesticide use, including DDT, and adopt what they call “sustainable programs that attack poverty and the conditions that give rise to insect-borne diseases such as malaria.” Africa Malaria Day is commemorated on April 25, a day set aside by African governments committed to rolling back malaria and meeting the United Nations malaria-related Millennium Development Goals.
Last September, the World Health Organization came under heavy criticism from public health and environmental groups when it announced its new policy to promote the use of DDT for malaria control in developing countries. Environmental and public health advocates warn that good intentions are in this case misguided. According to the Washington, DC-based non-profit organization Beyond Pesticides, advocating a reliance on pesticides, especially DDT, as a silver bullet solution for malaria protection is extremely dangerous. When the underlying causes of pest problems are not adequately addressed, then a sustained dependence on toxic pesticides like DDT causes greater long-term problems than those that are being addressed in the short-term.
“The WHO is misleading the world on DDT, which is a known cancer causing chemical, also linked to developmental effects in children. WHO should be leading charge to adopt sound and safe pest management practices at the community level that prevent insect-borne diseases like malaria,” says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. Mr. Feldman’s group advocates strategies aimed at preventing mosquito breeding sites, repellents, bed netting, larvicides, and development efforts that address the conditions of poverty in developing countries that contribute to mosquito breeding.
Despite WHO proclamations of DDT safety, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, ratified or adopted by 144 countries but not the U.S., specifically commits governments around the world to the “goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of DDT.” (Stockholm Convention, Annex B, Restriction, Part II)
Governmental agencies in the U.S. and internationally have classified DDT as an agent that can cause cancer and nerve damage. Worse still is the fact that DDT and its metabolites have been identified as endocrine disruptors. Proponents of DDT use often argue that “the dose makes the poison” so it can be used in a way in which the benefits outweigh the risks. However, because DDT acts as an estrogen mimic, it wreaks havoc on biological systems causing severe adverse effects because of exposure to miniscule amounts during vulnerable periods of life.
The return of DDT for malaria control in South Africa has lead to women with 77 times the international limit for DDT residue and 12 times the acceptable limit in infants, even in families not living in treated dwellings.
Fifty-nine environmental, public health and international organizations signed a statement, Preventing Malaria and Promoting Health Solutions to Malaria Beyond DDT, which is being released at a Congressional briefing today. For more background information, see www.beyondpesticides.org/DDT.