Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Unending Quest

By Rich Kozlovich

Over these many years I have noticed a pattern of activity that I find sort of fascinating. Scares will ebb and flow, but never really go away. Even after an issue has been raised and dealt with it is clear that the activists keep these issues on the back burner for future reference as if everyone will forget what the facts actually were. And to some extent they are right because there will always be a new crop of young misinformed and uninformed potential acolytes that they can gull into the green movement; young people in search of some sense of worth; searching for something in which they can believe. Since environmentalism has become today’s secular religion they are susceptible to the Kyrie Eleison of environmentalism. Drinking the Kool Aid they soon become sickened in the fever swamps of that movement; they become filled with arrogance and a sense of self-righteous indignation at the rest of the world that no amount of valid scientific information or rational observation can cure.

I keep hearing all sorts of claims by activists and government grant chasing “scientists” that chemicals (especially pesticides) cause cancer, autism, low sperm count and a host of other unproven scares. This has been particularly true of DDT. More outrageous claims have been made against DDT than almost any product that has ever been developed, with the possible exception of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. Do chemicals really cause a drop in sperm count? Finally we can answer with a resounding NO!

In one of this week’s Daily Dispatches the American Council on Science and Health cited a study that clearly demonstrated that “the 1992 study by a group of Danish researchers that claimed sperm counts declined by 50 percent worldwide from 1938 to 1991”, was wrong! They point out that the study was “heavily criticized for its many flaws, methodological problems, and biases” at the time. “We know that the so-called decline in sperm count is just another myth promulgated by the ‘our stolen future’ crowd who say that environmental chemicals lead to infertility in men,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “But now we have proof that’s simply not true.”

This leads us to DDT, which was banned by the first administrator of the EPA, Bill Ruckelshaus in 1972. And yes….it was a ban. It is true that there were exceptions written into the ban, and yes, it is true that this ban in the U.S. was not incumbent on other nations, and yes it is true that it was not a worldwide ban…..on paper. However, so much economic pressure was placed on countries that didn’t ban it outright that it became a de facto ban in all but a few nations.

Lower sperm count was one of the claims, and yet the generation of parents who were most heavily exposed to DDT were the parents of the baby boomers. Even if there was a valid study that could show this today (which there isn’t), that study wasn’t available when the ban was imposed.

Most studies are filled with weasel word and phrases. Then there are the “conclusions in search of data” studies, much like the Hungarian studies of Trajan and Kemeny published in 1969. Using only 3 ppm in the food per day this dose was fed to five generations of inbred Balb/c mice. They claimed a higher incidence of leukemia in the test subjects over the control animals. They also claimed they started with a leukemia free strain, yet there were incidents of leukemia in the controls.

So what was disturbing about this study? Other researchers working with comparable dosages with animals of any species or strain showed no incidences of cancer of any type. The skepticism warranted an investigation into this puzzle. Although everyone agreed something went wrong in their study they couldn’t definitely point out what went wrong.  However it was shown that there were design problems in the study and there was a possibility of aflatoxin (an absolutely known carcinogen) contaminated food.

Modern studies seem to have much the same problem. Conclusions in search of data! The question I keep asking is this. If DDT was banned for scientific reasons that were obvious, factual and could be replicated; then why have they been studying it since 1972 to prove that it does________(fill in the blank). Millions have been spent on studies that have been conclusions in search of data. The mere fact that so much has been spent after the ban to prove that the ban was proper is a good indicator that everyone….and I mean everyone, on both sides of this issue, know that the science was weak or invalid, and the decision to ban DDT was a political one.

The real problem with the ban on DDT isn't the fact that we lost DDT. Why? Technically it didn’t matter (at least in the developed world) because we had a large arsenal of products to defend society’s health, food and property. Philosophically it was devastating because it became the basis for all that has come into being since then. All those tools have come under attack, and as a result we have lost important chemistry. First it was the chlorinated hydrocarbons, then it was the organophosphates and carbamates and now the pyrethroids and rodenticides are under attack. All of this goes back to the ban on DDT. That ban laid the foundation for the financial and legislative power of the environmental movement. The ban on DDT needs to be overturned for that reason alone.



petem130 said...

Thanks for such an interesting article.

I've followed many articles and debates on DDT and it's safety or not. I'm also of the persuasion that providing DDT to Africa would greatly reduce malaria deaths.

Form what you say there are other chemicals which can be used instead of DDT. If that is the case, and I've no reason to believe that it isn't, then which would be best for malaria reduction? What about DDTs use for bed bug infestations in the USA?

Rich Kozlovich said...

Dear petem130,

While it is true that most pesticides will kill mosquitoes, DDT still remains the best hope for a number of reasons, not the least of which is expense. Furthermore DDT will last much longer than the other products, which the activists are working to get rid of also. It also works in three ways. It kills, although there is a high level of resistance to DDT in mosquitoes, it disorientates and it repels. DDT along with bed nets are an important component to malaria control, but without viable pesticides bed nets alone has been shown to be a failure. Better medical treatment is desperately needed also, and I am sure will come into being at some point. It is irrational to think otherwise.
When costs, residual viability and mode of action are taken into consideration, DDT still remains the best hope.

As for bed bugs; it won't work. They are extremely resistant to DDT, which generates the same kind of immune response as do the pyrethroids. It is called cross resistance and it works both ways. As resistance increases to pyrethroids it increases to DDT.