Three Decades After Silent Spring, DDT Still Menacing the Environment | WWF

Three Decades After Silent Spring, DDT Still Menacing the Environment

Posted on 30 June 1998    
Montreal, June 30, 1998 -- While banned decades ago in industrialized countries, thousands of tons of the deadly pesticide DDT are still used each year, mainly to fight malaria. Citing the availability of safer and often more effective alternatives, WWF is calling for a global phaseout and eventual ban on DDT production and use by the year 2007.

A report released today by WWF, 'Resolving the DDT Dilemma,' notes that DDT is linked to irreparable harm in animals and humans such as cancer, reduced lactation, and reproductive problems. About 35,000 metric tons of DDT are produced each year in at least five countries and it is legally imported and used in dozens, including Mexico.

Because DDT can travel long distances and accumulate in the body, millions of humans and animals worldwide have buildups of the chemical in their tissue, even though it may have been produced on another continent. WWF-sponsored research, for example, has found that black-footed albatrosses on Midway Island -- 3,100 miles from Los Angeles and 2,400 miles from Tokyo -- have high levels of DDT, as well as PCBs and dioxins. Further studies have linked DDT to feminization and altered sex-ratios of gulls, and eggshell thinning in birds of prey.

"DDT is the poster child for long-range persistent chemicals because even though it was banned decades ago in many countries, it can still be found in high concentrations across the globe," said Clifton Curtis, Director, WWF-US Global Toxics Program. "As our report shows, it is possible to completely ban DDT and work to eradicate malaria in ways that protect the environment and human health."

"The dilemma is that both malaria and DDT pose a threat to human health. The pesticides used to fight malaria are also harming biodiversity," said Julia Langer, Director, Wildlife Toxicology Program, WWF-Canada. "There's no room for slippage when malaria kills four children every minute. The task ahead is to eliminate both an ultra-nasty disease like malaria and an ultra-nasty chemical like DDT in a way that protects both human health and the environment."

WWF studied a range of insect-borne disease control programs in Africa, India, the Philippines, South America and Mexico. A variety of alternative techniques proved to be effective and financially feasible, including pesticide-impregnated bednets (reducing the need for airborne interior spraying); odour-baited cloth targets to attract and destroy disease-carrying insects; lower-risk pesticides used in rotation to avoid the development of resistance; and widespread elimination of mosquito breeding grounds and introduction of natural predators and sterile insects.

The results include 34 million people in West Africa protected from river blindness; 700,000 Indians protected from malaria; a reduction of malaria incidence in certain Tanzanian villages by 60 percent; and a 50 percent reduction in malaria cases in the Philippines that also reduced malaria-fighting costs by 40 percent.

Malaria is an often deadly infection of the bloodstream characterized by chills, fever and sweating that is usually passed on by vectors such as mosquitoes. For decades, DDT was used to combat malaria and other vector-borne diseases, with striking success early on. However, malaria continues to be a global menace about 2.5 billion people in over 90 countries are currently at risk, and it is the second leading cause of illness and death in the developing world, after diarrhoeal infections.

'Resolving the DDT Dilemma' offers a framework to guide malaria control programs toward reduced reliance on all pesticides, and a *tool kit' of alternative techniques, along with the following four recommendations:

DDT should be phased out of use and ultimately banned by 2007, and in the interim should be considered a pesticide of last resort; Targeted programs emphasizing reduced reliance on pesticides and better environmental protection should be developed by the World Health Organization, World Bank, United Nations Environment Program and other multilateral an bilateral assistance agencies; Adequate financial and technical resources must be provided to undertake integrated vector management programs; Research is needed on the hazards from chronic exposure to synthetic pyrethroids being used for indoor spraying and to impregnate bednets before they can be endorsed as alternatives.

The report is being released as nations gather in Montreal to begin a two-year process designed to ban 12 of the most dangerous persistent organic pollutants, including DDT, and to develop criteria for banning other chemicals determined to pose unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.

Note: B-Roll Available. Contacts: Judi Levita, 1-416-587-2951 Someshwar Singh, 1-514-953-8295 Lee Poston, 1-514-953-8174

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