On blaming Rachel Carson

Written by Susan Mannella on .

DDT is not the answer to fighting disease

I am writing in response to the July 31 letter "Blame Rachel," which accused Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" of publishing lies about the effects of DDT and argued for using DDT to spray houses in Florida, where a mosquito-borne disease has recently been documented.

In her book, Carson repeatedly points out not just the environmental cost of dangerous pesticides like DDT, but the human cost as well. She presents many well-documented cases of human poisonings and deaths caused by contact with pesticides, including DDT.

In a chapter titled "The Human Price," she even describes one experiment performed by the British Royal Navy Physiological Laboratory concerning the effect of direct human contact with walls sprayed with paint containing merely 2 percent DDT. This exposure resulted in clear symptoms of acute DDT poisoning, including, but not limited to, aching limbs, insomnia, acute anxiety and whole body tremors. This is but one of the reasons DDT has been banned in the United States.

Additionally, using DDT to fight malaria is problematic for many other reasons -- including mosquitoes rapidly developing resistance to the pesticide. There exist many different variations of natural pesticides and preventive measures that people can use to fight malaria without further hurting the environment and themselves in the process.

Upper St. Clair


Weakens defenses

In his July 31 letter "Blame Rachel," Don Adler repeated the popular urban legend that Rachel Carson is responsible for millions of deaths. Mr. Adler seems to believe that the "lies and misinformation" in Carson's book "Silent Spring" have led to the banning of DDT, which in turn has led to millions of deaths from malaria.

Maybe if Mr. Adler had actually read "Silent Spring" he would know how Carson argued that the widespread and indiscriminate overuse of DDT, and other insecticides, has weakened our defense against all insect-borne diseases by creating "super races" of insects immune to insecticides.

"No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story -- the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting" -- Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring," Chapter 16.

Furthermore, Mr. Adler should know that DDT has never been banned anywhere, including the United States, for antimalarial use. DDT has been banned only for agricultural use and is still used in parts of the world where mosquitoes have not evolved a resistance to the chemical.



DDT ignorance

Regarding "Blame Rachel" (July 31): I know the economy's tough, but if I pay my subscription on time, could the PG afford a fact-checker so right-wing nonsense like Don Adler's letter scapegoating Rachel Carson for a million malaria deaths a year doesn't find its way into print?

As with most conservative disinformation campaigns, the Blame Rachel Brigade makes assertions without bothering to back them up, is laughably wrong and ignores the big picture. Mr. Adler hits the trifecta.

While he neglects to specify exactly what "lies and misinformation" are the reason why children die each year from malaria in underdeveloped countries in Africa, he also fails to note that the World Health Organization, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense all actively support exactly what he claims is needed -- spraying of small amounts of DDT on dwelling walls to kill or repel disease-bearing mosquitoes in areas where it is most prevalent (yes, Africa). Reading his letter, you'd almost think that isn't happening. Trouble is, that's not the whole story, but when have we expected balance from the right?

Malaria is a complicated disease involving a parasite, which can be killed with some medication, so the most effective programs are balanced, involving multiple points of control, including medicine, treated bed-nets, agricultural development to reduce standing water and encouragement of natural predators such as bats and certain fish. These programs may include but cannot be reliant upon an insecticide, because the mosquitoes evolve resistance. Some countries such as Mexico have recognized this and eliminated DDT altogether -- and have seen their malaria rates plummet.

In the long run, DDT doesn't work, and as Carson correctly predicted, kills plenty of things up the food chain, including us.



DDT is not safe

Letter writer Don Adler misrepresents the environmental accomplishments of Rachel Carson and misinforms readers about the spread of malaria ("Blame Rachel," July 31). DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, is a neurotoxin that has been shown to kill animals and disrupt the food chain (thereby potentially increasing insect populations). It is still in use today but has failed to eradicate malaria in Africa.

One reason is that those who succumb to its effects are often poor and live in small shacks or huts near pools of stagnant water and lack access to sanitation and clean drinking water. The World Health Organization has also linked the malarial spread to "rapidly spreading resistance to antimalarial drugs, climatic changes and population movements."

The "DDT is safe" chorus has unfortunately found its way into some media outlets that choose to rehash the rantings of a few lone bloggers.

To control malaria, policies are needed to lift people out of poverty, provide immunizations and proper childhood nutrition, limit the effects of climate change and provide clean water sources to people regardless of their economic status. These are all causes of the modern environmental movement championed by Rachel Carson.

Thanks, Rachel!


Forest Hills

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