The Malthusian War Against DDT

Marjorie Hecht | 24 Aug 2010
21st Century Science
The Excellent Powder is a mythdestroying book that needs to be widely read, and to be put in every library, especially school libraries, as a reference work. In fact, this political and scientific history of DDT should be required reading in environmental science courses, to make sure that new green recruits know the extent of the death toll that will result from the continuing hysteria against DDT.

Readers of 21st Century will be familiar with much of the history that authors Roberts and Tren cover in the book's 432 pages and 800 footnotes. But there is much that will be new, even to longtime supporters of the use of DDT for malaria control. Here I will review just a few of the highlights:

The most surprising myth is the persistent assumption that DDT works so effectively because it kills mosquitoes; even the World Health Organization continues in this belief. The reality is that yes, DDT kills mosquitoes on contact, if the insects rest on a sprayed surface for a sufficient time. But the effectiveness of DDT, as documented in studies from around the world since the 1940s, is based on its characteristic as a spatial repellent and irritant. Mosquitoes will avoid a house whose inside walls have been sprayed with DDT, and even those mosquitoes that venture inside a sprayed house, will be irritated by the spray and leave the area.

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