By Harry L Katz, Board Certified Entomologist
Column for CVE Reporter for Sept 09
(Harry Katz is in his 90's now and is still a legendary defender of the pest control industry. Harry is probably the last of the old guard; those who were in leadership roles when all of this came into being. I would like to thank Harry for giving me permission to post his articles and for the interesting conversations about those days and the people involved. Harry and his peers were the giants of our industry whose shoulders we stand on today. RK)
Fear of pesticides is evident in the calls that I get for help with pest control problems. There is a good reason. Some fifty years ago, toxic materials were used indiscriminately by exterminators and the public. I recall a tragic even in the 1940’s in Pittsburgh, PA. A chef in the Salvation Army soup kitchen mistook white sodium fluoride roach powder for baking soda. Several men died. Congress then passed the first pesticide regulatory bill making sodium fluoride colored blue.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was enacted after Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” in 1962. EPA regulated the labeling and sale of all pesticides, providing an exaggerated margin of safety for the public. With elegant language, she painted a bleak future for the environment, citing disastrous examples of pesticide poisoning. One case that she cited was how a Penn State researcher lost the sight of one eye after testing the first batch of chlordane that was made. She neglected to report that the Velsicol Corp was able to remove the offending contaminant before marketing the product.
Clearly, Rachel Carson wrote the book to alert the public and to save lives. Unwittingly, her book may have contributed to the deaths of millions in the third world. In 1948, one country, Ceylon, had 2, 800, 000 cases of malaria. In 1962, after DDT was used, only 31 cases were reported. When DDT was banned in 1968, the number jumped to 1, 000.000, and in 1969 jumped to 2,500,000 (p69, “Toxic Terror” by Dr Elizabeth Whelan).
In 1969, my friend in Pittsburgh, PA, Carroll Weil, was appointed to the MRAK commission to investigate Rachel Carson’s demand to outlaw DDT. Carroll was the President of the Toxicological Society of America and a Fellow at the prestigious Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, PA. After reviewing all the data submitted on the procedures that were used to test DDT as a carcinogen, he found them to be faulty and refused to make the committee decision to ban DDT unanimous. After arguing late into the night, the committee promised to publish his addendum in a minority report. He then agreed to make it unanimous and that proved to be the death knell for millions in third world countries. Only 3 ounces of DDT solution sprayed on the interior walls of the huts would have greatly reduced malaria deaths.
Shortly after “Silent Spring” was published, a California exterminator, R.B. Loibl, pulled a publicity stunt. Fully aware of the possible hazards of DDT, he got his physician to measure out 10 ml of DDT solution which he and his wife voluntarily ingested for 90 days. He was monitored closely and there were no apparent repercussions. A year later, I met him at a convention of the National Pest Control Association. He was dancing with his wife after dinner on the closing day, even with impaired leg…a condition he had had for many years.
The Century Village caller had asked me if he should clean up the area where the pest management serviceman had sprayed. I told him that there could be immature cockroaches emerging from a hidden egg capsule. The film of dried-up toxicant could kill them , along with any new invasion of ants or other crawling insects.
Bottom line: There should be no fear from the use of pesticides, if the directions on the label are carefully followed.