It is not often I read a book that summarizes a lot of issues that I have really wanted summarized. In fact, I think ‘Science and Public Policy – The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science’ by Professor Aynsley Kellow is the first.
I particularly appreciated and enjoyed chapter 2 – the political ecology of conservation biology. But I am going to start tonight with an extract from chapter 5 – sound science and political science.
On page 139 of that chapter Professor Kellow writes,
“The thesis of this book is that noble cause corruption gives as much cause for concern about the reliability of science as the pernicious influence of money …”
And then on page 152, with respect to DDT he writes,
“Multinational chemical companies were enthusiastic supporters of a phase-out of DDT in developing countries during the negotiation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, because it was out of patent and there was benefit in a policy that advantaged their more expensive patented alternatives…
“The banning of DDT is regarded by some as a case of scientific fraud, because many of the effects attributed to the chemical are supported by weak evidence at best. For example, the most notorious putative effect of DDT was it causing the near extinction of bald eagles and peregrine falcons by thinning their eggshells as a result of biomagnification up through the food chain.
“Yet bald eagles were threatened with extinction in the lower 48 US states as early as the 1920s, and peregrine falcons were reduced to 170 breeding pairs in the Eastern USA by 1940. DDT was not manufactured anywhere until 1943 and while a paper by Bitman et al (1970) published in Science reported thinning of shells with DDT exposure and reduced levels of dietary calcium, Science refused to publish the subsequent findings that shells were not thinned by DDT exposure when there was adequate calcium…
“DDT was not banned because of any environmental effects, but because it was judged by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator William Ruckelshaus to be a human carcinogen. An extensive review by the EPA in 1972 concluded that DDT was not a carcinogenic hazard for man yet Ruckelshaus banned it two months later …”
““The banning of DDT is regarded by some as a case of scientific fraud, because many of the effects attributed to the chemical are supported by weak evidence at best.”
Ohmigod the DDT ban zombie rises from the dead!!!!
Run for your lives people ……
Paul Biggs says
Unfortunately, the millions who died, and continue to die from Malaria, won’t be rising from the dead.
Sid Reynolds says
Well said Paul.
DDT again – but what no Rachel Carson – the greenie equivalent of Pol Pot. Is there anything new here – nope. Is it an objective review – nope. Over to Deltoid’s archive for those who would like a few inconvenient truths.
But there so much been written on all this now that all we’re doing is feeding our confirmation biases.
Luke – I think this would be a suitable time for a game of DDT Ban Myth bingo – don’t you???
Paul has already crossed a square with the myth of millions of people dying because of the ban. I am well on my way to completing a line.
Paul before you retract your incredibly false statement please refer me to the place where it says that DDT has been banned for malaria control.
As it does not exist you will have to retract your bingo square filling statement. Perhaps you should do it now and save embarrasment.
Let’s stick to the blog topic for a moment! Let’s discuss:
1. The issue of the bald eagles and the peregrine
2. The decision by Administrator William Ruckelshaus to ban the chemical in 1972.
And in the discussion/your posts please provide relevant information in your own words so we can better understand the issues raised.
Let’s stick to the blog topic for a moment!
No hope Jennifer it is all slagging off and bluster when Luke and his fellow travellers get going.
They are just so SUPERIOR to all the others who deign to express an opinion.
OK – http://www.someareboojums.org/blog/?p=62
Huge political pressure on ruckelshaus to make a decision banning the chemical. Shows the potential power of the populous in a democracy. Carson didn’t actually know anything about chemicals. She was a marine biologist.
Luke – I just got another one – going well here
“Huge political pressure on ruckelshaus to make a decision banning the chemical.”
Luke in your own words what did ruckelshaus get right. Why was his decision the right one?
Ed Darrell says
That’s really atrocious. The author gets almost every fact wrong.
Ruckelshaus’s order banning DDT was virtually required by two federal courts, after significant testimony had been presented in two other cases to the extremely destructive nature of DDT in the wild, made worse because it is so long-lived. The ban was not arbitrary in any way, but was instead based on 20 years of studies that demonstrated that the chemical seriously hammered wildlife, and posed significant dangers to humans, too. It is simply incorrect to say the ban was based on carcinogenicity — that was not a criterion for the ban. On the other hand, DDT is a well-known animal carcinogen, and it is listed as a probable human carcinogen by every cancer-fighting agency on Earth. The evidence is stronger for carcinogenicity now than it was in 1972 — it appears that the chemical gets the second generation; in 1972 there was no study that followed the offspring of people who were exposed. Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney’s nine months of hearings also provided the evidence of carcinogenicity, contrary to the author’s claims. Sweeney, however, had interpreted the law to mean he could not act against DDT since the manufacturers had already changed the labels to prohibit almost all DDT use; the courts instructed Ruckelshaus that DDT was considered dangerous, and action was required. Ruckelshaus acted. I can’t imagine how the author missed the federal courts’ instructions.
Discover Magazine reported recently that there are now more than 1,000 studies that verify Rachel Carson’s warnings against DDT overuse. The author pretends the evidence is weak, when in reality is overwhelmingly strong.
The evidence for eggshell thinning is simply irrefutable. There is no study published anywhere that offers contrary evidence. If adding calcium would have saved the eagles, there was no way to get it to them anyway. Moreover, DDT is known to kill the chicks in the shell even when the shells survive; in several famous studies, chicks of birds fed DDT hatched on time, but 100% of them died within a few days. DDT killed through a variety of paths. The best evidence is the simple fact that since the ban on broadcast use of DDT, as DDT levels in the tissues of birds has declined, the eggs have once again become viable. The correlation is not minor in any fashion.
And while it is true that eagles were threatened prior to the advent of DDT, laws were passed to protect the eagles in 1918 and 1940. After hunting was stopped, eagle populations took a nosedive. Within five years after DDT spraying become common, it was noted that young eagles had simply disappeared. Eagle reproduction was stopped — DDT had frustrated two federal laws designed to bring the eagle back.
Eagle predation is critical to the survival of several ecosystems — we were lucky to end the broadcast spraying in time. Eagles could not have recovered without the DDT “ban;” the DDT ban was also necessary for the recovery of the brown pelican and peregrine falcon. Even non-insect eating songbirds were affected by DDT. Nor does the author mention the massive fishkills that DDT caused. In water, DDT multiplies as it rises up the trophic levels of the ecosystem, becoming several million times more concentrated when it hit the predators at the top.
The author limits his discussion to a very small part of the destruction DDT caused, and then he gets the facts wrong on that small part. Amazing.
I think I’ve got at least one post on every point the author makes, with links to the original sources, at my blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. You’ll find good data also at Some Are Boojums, Deltoid, and Bug Girl’s Blog. Check out the real story on DDT.
Mr T says
Ed, you’ve come to wrong blog if you expect the author to get it “right”.
Still it’s good for a laugh!
It would also help to post a link or two to some of the “orignal sources” you refer to.
Perhaps a link to your own blog too:-)
Lawrie – it ain’t that hard – go to Deltoid blog and look up the DDT archive – goes on and on. Or Google Bug Girl blog. I have posted the original decision and the Boojums review above. I think it speaks for itself. The DDT issue has been substantially vented – to do a post that does not deal with comprehensive past rebuttals and merely opening up old arguments cold is hardly scholarly or conduicive to useful debate.
You may notice Ed’s name tag is underlined – click it – his blog is there.
Paul – “Unfortunately, the millions who died, and continue to die from Malaria, won’t be rising from the dead.”
So found the reference or are you going to retract this complete piece of bullshit?
No retraction and I haven’t read anything from you or anyone else above to suggest that Kellow got it right or wrong.
As regards Deltoid, he’s a computer scientist with an axe to grind who rarely makes much sense.
Now, on what specific basis was DDT banned in the US in 1972?
I don’t want links or quotes, I would like some explaination of the data.
Well Jen why ask us – why not read the actual 1972 decision tabled above. We’re only going to give you our confirmation bias back. Like with most of these checklist issues do you seriously we’ll tell you anything that will change your mind. I mean I just think it’s a greenie-bashing checklist item and a total crock but that’s not very helpful to your needs for us to transcribe the actual decision. Your comment on Deltoid is totally outrageous – you just don’t like him putting you guys on toast so you’ll summarily ignore anything he’s come up with.
Yep I’m gone.
Luke, tell me in your own words what the decision was about. Quoting/linking to Deltoid/the judgement indicates that you are a cheer squad rather than someone who understands ths issue. Just explain the most compelling of the evidence for us … in your own words. please.
Ender, Deltoid and Luke, are usually big on qualifications.
Aynsley Kellow is Professor and Head of the School of Government at the University of Tasmania.
He has made a career out of studying public policy in the environmental area.
His few paragraphs on this issue in his long book are perhaps damaging to the cause?
And Ed Darrell,
Made a very emotive plea, but was short on specifics. On what specific basis was DDT banned and can he provide some specific references and explain the complelling data in those references.
And we understand that DDT is a persistent chemical that bioaccumulates.
Ed Darrell says
You can get to my blog by clicking on my name at the end of the post, or try this: http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com.
Here’s one post detailing some of the errors on the bird studies, a case of academic fraud against Ruckelshaus and Rachel Carson:
Here’s another post, on the omission of the facts about the courts’ involvement:
C’mon over and do a search for “Ruckelshaus,” or a search for DDT. I expect your spam filters are already taxed at three links, so I’ll make another post with another key link.
Ed Darrell says
Jim Easter at Some Are Boojums posted the Sweeney decision; this post links to that blog, and notes that the ban on DDT may have saved millions of lives:
Louis Hissink says
Things of substance don’t vaporise when pricked. Overinflated foofaraws do, as Luke’s lack of reply here suggests.
And thank heavens we are spared the “never-Endering-Story” as well. At least for the short term until, as a goldfish, they circumnavigate their small virtual worlds to insult us anew elsewhere.
Isn’t progressive edumication grand!
Ed Darrell says
The Seattle Times published a special section on the fight against malaria last week. There are dozens of articles, great photos, interactive features, etc.:
Notice that DDT is not noted for being a panacea; note that officials are not calling for a “return” of DDT.
Malaria can be beaten, but it takes pharmaceuticals, aggressive health care, and screens and nets to keep mosquitoes out. Substituting DDT for any part of that equation makes things worse, not better.
Ed Darrell says
When I said “author,” I meant Dr. Kellow.
Louis Hissink says
So why isn’t it? Malaria that is.
DDT’s principal efficacy is to be sprayed lightly on the internal walls of dwellings, and that is sufficient to repel the mosquitoes from human sleeping areas.
That it was misused in the past is obvious, but as we are not omniscient, we could hardly be criticised for ignorance.
But I find arguments that rely on “Malaria can be beaten but..” to be specious.
In the meantime millions continue to die from malaria while Ed Darrell and others was lyrically over yet to be implemented solutions.
Louis Hissink says
error = wax lyrically.
(finger foo foo since s and x are next to each other on the keyboard)
Paul Biggs says
WHO backs DDT for malaria control
15 September 2006
Thanks for the link to the Seattle Times feature. Did you actually read it yourself? Specifically this part?
Ed, still no specific references to data posted at this blog in your own words.
Professor Kellow’s book lists at $110.00!! That’s One-hundred and ten U.S. dollars! Paul, may we borrow your book and pass it around?
“Ed, still no specific references to data posted at this blog in your own words”
Jennifer: As with most other arguments here I google the locals first since I need to (and do) trust home grown.
Try DDT + 2008, milk, APVMA and so on (google AU)
Jennifer – “No retraction and I haven’t read anything from you or anyone else above to suggest that Kellow got it right or wrong.”
No Jennifer you do not get off that lightly. Paul is repeating the lie with this statement that millions died from Malaria because of the 1972 ban on DDT.
As DDT was only banned for agricultural use and has alway been available for Malaria control. I asked Paul to provide the material to substantiate his continuation of this lie.
As he can clearly not do this and now here you are trying to defend a lie with deflection I would like to see a retraction of this statement unless you or Paul can provide a reference to where DDT was specifically banned for malaria control.
This particular statement that Paul made is a complete fabrication and is considered very offensive to the people that worked to prevent the widespread and indiscriminent use of a potentially harmful chemical.
Unless this blog is here to perpetuate unsubstantiated lies and innuendo then this statement should be retracted.
After going out and looking for the source of some loud screeching somewhere in the trees above me I have to say again there is always another angle to every quest. By studding their individual wing flapping and other antics I reckoned we had a group of King parrots feeding over grown youngsters.
Back to Kellow: At risk of joining a sales push (books) I can’t help noticing Aynsley’s output on various subjects, toxicology, saline solutions, electricity etc and wondering about his practical expertise in such fields as engineering or science as I go on reading between the lines here.
Q: Is the focus here on malaria and mosquitos justified in regards to DDT and its use?
(This blog pops up over n over in any google on DDT)
Q2: What about termite control in our building industry?
Q3: What’s our obligation to manufacturers (all sorts)?
Q4: Why interfere with those tasked to protect us?
Helen Mahar says
Ed, You make some pretty sweeping claims:
“The evidence for eggshell thinning [DDT caused] is simply irrefutable. There is no study published anywhere that offers contrary evidence.”
I have a reference to the Bitman et al 1970 study titled “DDT Induces a Decrease in Eggshell Calcium” published in Nature 224, pp 44-46.
The birds’ diets were deliberately held down to 0.5% calcium when the researchers knew the birds needed at least 3% calcium for normal egg [shell] formation.
In 1966 Fish and Wildlife researchers fed elevated levels of DDT to captive eagles for 112 days. They found no ill effects to either birds or eggs. Stickel, “Bald Eagle Pesticide Relationships” Transcript of the 31st North American Wildlife Conference 1966 pp 199 – 200.
Mr T says
Yet again this blog astonishes all with the amazing lack of research of the subject by the authors of the blog. Paul and Jennifer seem incapable of using Google Scholar.
And statements like this:
“Ed, still no specific references to data posted at this blog in your own words”
are amazingly pointless.
Why would he have to describe it in his own words? Surely the words used by the people who made the ban would be appropriate.
Ed Darrell says
Helen, that study doesn’t deny that DDT causes the thinning. I’m not sure why you think the methodology suggests that eggs don’t thin, but as I noted, there are about a thousand studies verifying that DDT causes thinning. You have one study that says it causes thinning also when calcium is held down. Still no studies contrary: DDT causes eggshell thinning.
Someone said DDT can be sprayed indoors? Yes, and that is what Rachel Carson suggested. That is what has been legal under the “bans” for 40 years. That is what WHO kept in its arsenal constantly from 1972 to today. WHO decided to re-emphasize such spraying a couple of years ago — a continuation of policy.
So, understanding that DDT has always been available for an integrated pest management program with residual indoor spraying, and still is, what is the “more DDT” that these people are calling for? The only thing “more” would be spraying it outdoors where it’s deadly to humans, pets, fish, predators of mosquitoes and predatory birds and mammals, and ineffective against malaria.
You tell me, Helen, what is it you want to change?
Ed Darrell says
Jennifer, do you want me to just cut and paste the posts from my blog? I don’t understand why the references there are not sufficient for you.
In the meantime, is there a single study from a juried journal that seriously argues for bringing back outdoor broadcast spraying? I can’t find one.
Helen Mahar says
Ed, I am taking issue with your sweeping claims.
“The evidence of eggshell weakness is simply irrefutable.” The Bitman study, titled “DDT induces a decrease in eggshell thickness”, is refutable, as any birds severely deprived of sufficient calcium will have soft shells. Ask anyone who has kept chooks.
Your second sentence quoted: “There is no study published anywhere that offers contrary evidence.” Studies do not have to offer contrary evidence – they only have to offer evidence that does not support the premise to put the premise in doubt. As does the Fish and wildlife study quoted above, which fed captive eagles increased levels of DDT in their normal diets, and found no evidence of impact on birds or eggs.
You are quite influential you know. You have persuaded me to buy Ainsley Kellow’s book.
Paul Biggs says
Junkscience.com has a referenced perspective on DDT:
100 things you should know about DDT
3 billion and counting:
DDT : Myths And Realities:
More on eggshell thinning studies downunder.
Re: The Peregrine Falcon –
Paul – You are absolutely unbelievable. Not content with not substantiating your false claim about deaths from malaria you post completely false and misleading web sites that are nothing more than an extreme right wing front group.
How about you post the reference that shows DDT was banned for malaria control.
As bug girl explains the malaria controls have to be rotated to avoid resistance or don’t you believe in that either.
Now post the reference or retract the statement or prove to the readers of this blog how loose with the truth you really are. At least you will be revealed in your true colors.
For the other people that read this blog Paul will now prove whether he is worth listening to or just another blowhard that is not big enough to admit the truth.
Paul Biggs says
Where did I say DDT was banned?
Aynsley Kellow says
I was interested to find this discussion. I thank participants for their engagement with the issues. I thank also ‘Ender’ and ‘Ed Darrell’ for demonstrating so amply one of the themes of my book: the swarming of the guardians of particular ‘truths’ whenever some infectious idea emerges that might threaten the orthodoxy. The alliteration of ‘virtuous’ and ‘virtue’ in the subtitle (rather than ‘Noble Cause Corruption’) reflects themes of reliance upon modelling as a substitute for observational science (and the scope for subjective factors to obtrude in assumptions and parameterisations), and the effect of modern communications technology on the conduct of science. In a nutshell, the increasing specialisation of knowledge has reduced the number of those expert in any one area, while the internet (and cheap travel) has made it more likely that they know and even collaborate with each other.
While it has caught Jennifer’s eye, my coverage of DDT is abrief example of the early virtuous corruption of science, with the main point being the differential treatment meted out to the Bitman et al paper showing thinning when dietary calcium was restricted and the subsequent paper showing no thinning when dietary calcium was not constrained.
The problem is that Web Warriors like Ender (who, like Tim Lambert seems to be a computer scientist prepared to advance themselves a a polymath, with unbounded expertise) and Ed traverse cyberspace looking for heretics like me and Jennifer, relying principally on their own and each others’ blogs as a source of authority, and then making sweeping statements like ‘That’s really atrocious. The author gets almost every fact wrong.’
Let’s look at the basis for that statement, using some more reputable sources.
Let me say from the outset, that I have no problem with using other, less persistent chemicals than DDT, especially in the affluent ‘North’. But it does appear that the very persistence of DDT makes it hard to beat sprayed on walls in the tropical developing world, where it is unlikely to find its way into soils (where its poor solubility in water causes the persistence problem). It has long been out of patent, and manufactured by the generic producers in India and elsewhere, so it is also cheap. (Given that the environmental – not human carcinogenicity – problem was that is was accumulating globally, with press releases in the 1960s titled ‘Pesticide Residues Found in Animals Throughout World’, it is apposite to note that global tonnages applied are considered to have remained pretty much unchanged after 1972, so either the problem for birds was overstated or the global spread was overstated, since ‘recovery’ has occurred during this period).
Let’s turn to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ‘Common Myths About Rachel Carson and DDT (http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/Info/DDT.cfm#4) for some information about Rachael Carson and the ‘ban’. Caveat: this is Carson’s old employer. But note the nature of the ‘ban’:
1. DDT Has Been Banned in United States.
Only the GENERAL use of the pesticide has been banned in the United States. The EPA’s order did not affect public health and quarantine uses, or exports of DDT. In addition, the EPA maintains the ability to allow any Federal or State agency to use DDT if emergency conditions exist, including economic emergencies.
It’s just that there has been no emergency warranting its use, since most diseases spread by insect vectors have long been controlled. Unfortunately, the effects of the ‘ban’ has been spread through US AID funding conditions, fear of import restrictions by the US and EU if residues were detected in agricultural exports from Developing Countries, and of adoption of US risk assessments in different contexts, just as Peru following USEPA risk assessments for chlorinated drinking water lead to the a cholera pandemic and 3,000 deaths in year one, and 10,000 in total. (See: Anderson, Christopher (1991) ‘Cholera epidemic traced to risk miscalculation’ Nature 354: 255). The same has occurred with DDT use in South Africa, where the (majority rule) government banned DDT use in the 1990s and malarial infection increased dramatically.
This was reinforced by the WHO, until its reversed its position recommending against DDT until 2006, after the exemption for DCs was provided in the Stockholm Convention (with the acceptance of WWF).
2. DDT was Banned Because it was Harmful to Wildlife.
Concerns about impacts to wildlife were not the only justification for the general ban on DDT. According to the EPA, the Agency banned the use of DDT because the widely-used pesticide was found to be “…accumulating in the food chain, posing a risk to public health and the environment.”
Here is where we get into interesting territory, with the guardians of the public’s health reporting no basis in human health risks. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Fact Sheet on DDT, DDE and DDD says of DDT: ‘Its use in the U.S. was banned in 1972 because of damage to wildlife, but is still used in some countries.’
3. Rachel Carson Called for the Elimination of All Pesticides.
True – she wanted an end to indiscriminate use. But this was not was demanded by the emerging environmental movement. ‘Ed Darrell’ provides a particular reading of the litigation over DDT, and places heavy reliance on what the judicial process found. He ignores much about the context of that case, including the fact that it precedes the enunciation by thhe US Supreme Court of the standards of proof deemed appropriate for exercising judgments in scientific controversies (Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 US 579, 113 S.Ct, 2786, 125 L.ed. 2d 469 (1993). On remand 43 F.3d 1311 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied____US____, 116 S.Ct. 132 L.ed.2d 126 (1995).) The Court found it necessary to to apply some rigour after a coupe of decades of judgments similar to that in the DDT case, in ‘toxic tort’ cases and the impossibility of applying the so-called Delaney Amendment to the Food and Drug Act. This banned the sale of any food containing a carcinogen; problem was, most do — not through pesticide contamination, but because foods are full of carcinogens. Plants produce many of them as a defence against insect attack, which is a problem for the organics movement, because if pesticides are not used and attack occurs, they produce more.
The leading authority in this area is Bruce Ames, the scientist who developed the standard test for carcinogenicity, and who has done most to undermine the belief that ‘synthetic’ is bad and ‘natural’ is good.
This is what he and a co-author say about DDT:
‘DDT is remarkably nontoxic to mammals, and has saved millions of human lives; it caused no demonstrable harm to people. As the first major synthetic insecticide, DDT replaced lead arsenate, which before the modern era was a major pesticide, and is carcinogenic and even more persistent in the environment.’
Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold ‘Environmental Pollution and Cancer.’ in Foster, Bernstein and Huber Phantom Risk: Scientific Inference and the Law (MIT Press, 1999). p175.
Here is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry summary
‘Studies in DDT-exposed workers did not show increases in cancer. Studies in animals given DDT with the food have shown that DDT can cause liver cancer. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determined that DDT may reasonable be anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that DDT may possibly cause cancer in humans. The EPA determined that DDT, DDE, and DDD are probable human carcinogens.’
Ames and Gold (pp166-67) provide some context for considering the hazardous nature of DDT and other substances, by providing a HERP (Human Exposure/Rodent Potency) index that scales for body mass differences and uses data from the most sensitive rodent (sensitivity varies inconsistently between, mice, rats, and hamsters). The HERP is an estimate of relative hazard. An assessment of risk requires consideration of benefits and other social factors
The HERP for possible carcinogenicity hazard for DDT is 0.002%, and DDE 0.0008%. To put this in context, consoder the following estimates: Beer 2.8%, Lettuce 0.3%, Conventional Home Air 0.4%, Mobile Home Air 1.4%, coffee 0.04%, plum 0.03%.
It is not that substances such as DDT and TCCD Dioxin cannot be shown to produce cancer or birth defects, but what counts is the relative hazard they represent. Ames has a nice way to put dioxin in context by pointing out that dioxin produces teratogenicity, just as does alcohol, but the USEPA regulates dioxin at the equivalent of 1 beer per 8,000 years.
Another detail the Web Warriors overlook is the recent acceptance of hormesis – that small doses of many carcinogenic chemicals seem to reduce the incidence of cancer, seemingly because small amounts stimulate the body’s defences, but larger ones overwhelm them. (see Edward J. Calabrese and Linda A. Baldwin (2003) ’Toxicology rethinks its central belief: Hormesis demands a reappraisal of the way risks are assessed.’ Nature 421: 691-92). Unfortunately, this suggests the relentless regulatory quest for zero contamination has been not only expensive, but possibly counterproductive.
For those who flow the facile belief that corporate science is necessarily corrupt, note that the carcinogenic effects of TCDD dioxin were found by a team of scientists employed by Dow chemical, hardly a result in the interests of the corporation. The same paper first reported observations of hormesis with dioxins.
Let me conclude by quoting perhaps the leading scholar on the use of science on legal processes, Sheila Jasanoff from Harvard, on the litigation of DDT in her book Science at the Bar (Harvard University Press, 1995), p97-98:
‘in Environmental Defense Fund v Ruckelshaus the plaintiff environmental group challenged the EPS administrator’s refusal to suspend the registration of the pesticide DDT. EDF argued that the agency had paid insufficient heed to evidence that DDT caused cancer in laboratory animals and might present a serious risk to human health. The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit responded favourably to EDF’s plea, holding that EPA had to provide better reasons for not treating DDT as an ‘imminent hazard.’ In this instance, the court seemed perfectly prepared to overrule an expert agency’s presumably well-considered regulatory priorities on the basis of contrary scientific assertions by environmentalists. (p98) . . . In the DDT lawsuit, a newly organized environmental movement was looking for judicial support in breaking down traditional bureaucratic barriers to regulation. EPA, the target agency, was a newcomer to government and lacked a credible track record in assessing and managing risk. Perhaps more important, Congress had expressed special concern about cancer in the well-known Delaney clause of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.’
In other words, this was driven by political context, the virtuous cause of emergent environmentalism — and Richard Nixon’s ‘War on Cancer’ that was based on a complete misunderstanding in popular culture and politics of findings that most cancers were ‘environmental’ in origin, ignoring that ‘environmental’ means ‘not genetic’ and includes all the natural carcinogens Ames discusses.
I’ll leave it to the readers to decide whether Ed is justified in stating ‘That’s really atrocious. The author gets almost every fact wrong.’
Paul Biggs says
Thanks Aynsley for providing sound evidence and reason amongst a swarm of guardian blog trolls.
Ed Darrell says
While it has caught Jennifer’s eye, my coverage of DDT is abrief example of the early virtuous corruption of science, with the main point being the differential treatment meted out to the Bitman et al paper showing thinning when dietary calcium was restricted and the subsequent paper showing no thinning when dietary calcium was not constrained
As I demonstrated in one post, this is a tiny part of the issue. The research demonstrated that DDT kills the chicks through various paths, including eggshell thinning. One of the reasons that I think the anti-Rachel Carson crowd is so dishonest is the way it deals with shell thinning at all. Carson cited one of her colleagues who fed DDT to grain-eating birds, which are less affected by DDT than raptors partly because they tend to get much lower doses. In the study, the chicks all died. But the anti-Rachel Carson crowd claims this research as proof DDT is harmless. How?
They cut the researcher’s statement of conclusions. The researcher noted that ‘there was a normal hatch rate,’ and Gordon Edwards, Steven Milloy and everyone at Junk Science Practiced Labs says Rachel Carson was a liar. But the research findings were deeper — the sentence is cited incompletely. The research found, ‘there was a normal hatch rate, but the chicks all died within days of hatching.’ If DDT is harmless, why do DDT advocates almost always lie about the DeWitt study? (see here:
DDT affects chick viability, in almost all birds tested, and always negatively. Because DDT levels multiply as we rise up the tropic levels in an ecosystem — up to 14 million times according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, from the primary producers to the osprey and eagles at the top of the food chain — those with the greatest doses get hammered the most.
I’m curious at how anyone can dismiss the thousands of studies showing DDT kills bird chicks, and focus on one or two studies that really don’t show anything contrary.
It’s crank science. There are dozens of books on the damage of DDT. Helen could purchase Rachel Carson’s book for $14.95 (full price, new!), and get to a library to check out for herself the 53 pages of citations to scientific literature, to see whether Carson was right. Or she can spend $100 to by Kellow’s publication and stay ill-informed. When Adam Smith assumed a rational consumer, he assumed incorrectly, it seems to me.
What we need is a study that shows DDT fed to birds doesn’t harm them or their offspring. We can cherry pick, and find a study here that shows the chicks all hatch (before they die), or that feeding massive doses of DDT to birds doesn’t seem to affect them much (except they can’t produce offspring), or that birds with massive residual doses of DDT didn’t seem affected as they left on their migratory journeys (except they never return).
When we stopped putting DDT into the wild, birds recovered their populations much more easily. Osprey eggs returned to viability. Eagle eggs returned to viability. Brown pelican eggs returned to viability. Osprey chicks hatched. Eagle chicks hatched. Brown pelican chicks hatched. Osprey young fledged, migrated, returned and raised families of their own. Same for eagles and pelicans.
Nothing else was changed so substantially, in order to produce those results. Notably, the osprey recovery is often attributed to the captive breeding program. The captive breeding program had early failures, however, because the captives had too much DDT-related stuff in them. Only as DDT residual rates came down did success follow.
There is no serious study done that claims DDT doesn’t damage birds. I was intrigued that when I posted on Milloy’s false claim about the DeWitt study, people claimed Carson quoted DeWitt incorrectly. But the guy who published a history of DeWitt’s work contacted me to say Carson was right, according to DeWitt.
There is too much academic fraud in the anti-Carson crowd for me. I think it’s a sign of rotten science, and as I have tracked down a few hundred footnotes in Carson’s and Gordon Edwards’ work already, my findings are that Carson’s quotes check out 100%, while Edwards frequently got things exactly wrong, generally with an ethically-suspect cutting of the quotes from the researchers.
Go see for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Edwards says eagles actually increased when they were poisoned by DDT, and he refers to publications from the Audubon Society. I’ve found that those sources either do not exist or say the opposite of what Edwards claims.
But Helen, if you don’t mind gambling your money on junk science, by all means buy Kellow’s book. I’ll wager it won’t survive a footnote test, either. There’s only one way for you to discover it’s a waste of money. Experience keeps a harsh school, Franklin observed.
It seems to me Helen, there has not been anywhere near the same amount of effort spent on say raptor eggshell research as there was on the promotion of DDT since the ban on its use for agricultural.
The internet despite its limitations is a cheap source of info provided we keep away from self promotion. Let’s continue to use it to our advantage hey
Ed Darrell says
3. Rachel Carson Called for the Elimination of All Pesticides.
True – she wanted an end to indiscriminate use.
Dr. Kellow, that’s false, not true. Carson called for wise use, not a ban. She did not call for elimination of all pesticides, not by any stretch. I think we need to be more careful in noting what Carson called for. Every scientific review of Carson’s work has verified her findings, by the way — including the 1963 review by President Kennedy’s science advisors. Let’s not forget that no scientific body has ever challenged her findings in any serious way.
But this was not was demanded by the emerging environmental movement. ‘Ed Darrell’ provides a particular reading of the litigation over DDT, and places heavy reliance on what the judicial process found. He ignores much about the context of that case, including the fact that it precedes the enunciation by the US Supreme Court of the standards of proof deemed appropriate for exercising judgments in scientific controversies (Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 US 579, 113 S.Ct, 2786, 125 L.ed. 2d 469 (1993). On remand 43 F.3d 1311 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied____US____, 116 S.Ct. 132 L.ed.2d 126 (1995).)
It is true that these cases preceded Daubert. However, in subsequent litigation, especially on DDT, there has been no problem meeting the high standard for scientific rigor that Daubert requires. Dr. Kellow appears not to know that USEPA still has DDT sites on the Superfund list, and that litigation over the dangers of these residues in the environment continues. The scientific case against DDT meets current scientific standards for rigor and especially accuracy.
The Court found it necessary to to apply some rigour after a coupe of decades of judgments similar to that in the DDT case, in ‘toxic tort’ cases and the impossibility of applying the so-called Delaney Amendment to the Food and Drug Act. This banned the sale of any food containing a carcinogen; problem was, most do — not through pesticide contamination, but because foods are full of carcinogens. Plants produce many of them as a defence against insect attack, which is a problem for the organics movement, because if pesticides are not used and attack occurs, they produce more.
Actually, the Delaney Clause bans the sale of foods to which carcinogens have been added. The Delaney Clause does not regulate DDT residues in foods, for example — that is done by the Department of Agriculture on separate criteria, not by FDA which administers Delaney Clause issues.
Dr. Kellow fogs the issues by focusing on carcinogenicity. There was a massive case against DDT in by 1965, including suspected carcinogenicity. The case for carcinogenicity is stronger after last year’s studies showing it causes breast cancer in the children of women exposed. DDT and its fellow chemicals also act as endocrine disruptors. The health effects are visited on the children, not those exposed (if those exposed aren’t killed by the neurological damage). This is consistent with what we found in birds, that DDT disrupted the life-cycles of the chicks, but didn’t kill the parents — where the parents were not killed.
I’d be interested to see your book sometime, Dr. Kellow. I’m curious how you can assemble such a case in the face of literally hundreds of scientific studies to the contrary of your claims. It may be that there are one or two studies that really do puncture all the other studies that show DDT is harmful. But my experience is that such studies are rare. In my investigations of claims against Rachel Carson and environmentalists on the issues of DDT, I’ve found such studies to be non-existent.
The Delaney Clause was passed in 1958, by the way, and was not a part of Nixon’s War on Cancer. It poses some unique problems with the increasing sensitivity of our measuring abilities. We know now that potatoes have carcinogens in them (are potatoes added to canned stews illegal under the Delaney Clause? No, so far . . .). I think that an analysis of DDT is not helped by reference to the Delaney Clause and the separate mechanisms (in the U.S.) for dealing with food contamination. That’s not EPA’s bailiwick, and it played a vanishingly small role in Ruckelshaus’s ban, if it played any role at all.
Part of the legal dispute involved EPA’s authority to delist a substance once the label of the substance had been changed to reflect new findings on the stuff. Consequently, much of the record of the Sweeney hearings at EPA, for example, goes to the issue of whether DDT is dangerous if used very sparingly — exactly as Carson suggested. Sweeney’s findings were probably correct on that score. His ruling that, since the manufacturers had changed the labels EPA could not delist it, was overruled. There is plenty of evidence on the record from the Sweeney hearings to the dangers of DDT in the wild, and even to humans.
In the end, one of the greatest problems of the chemical is that it seems to survive almost forever in the wild. Studies since 1972 show that DDT is soaked up by any living thing, like a sponge. We don’t find DDT loose in the ocean, for example. We find it embedded in the tissues of living things. Predators and long-lived creatures get more of it. Studies feeding birds for short periods cannot begin to get at the pathologies of the substance.
DDT kills wildlife. When used against malaria vectors, it generally kills the predators of the malaria vectors with greater efficiency, leaving a path for expansion of malaria available. When in the wild, it screws up the reproductive tracts of all animals we know of. It’s not as effective as bed nets with other, less harmful pesticides, and it cannot substitute for medical care for malaria victims.
Why bother with DDT? The risks outweigh all benefits.
Ed Darrell says
Here’s a link to the ATSDR stuff, by the way. I don’t get the feeling the toxic substance experts in Atlanta are unhappy with current regulations on DDT:
So looks like political science trumps computer science and Google Scholar. Do we have any real toxicologists, medical entomologists or ornithologists in the house?
Tim Lambert says
I find it interesting that Dr Kellow, who is a political scientist, dismisses me as a mere computer scientist, and then proceeds to take an on the biologists who work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Why does Kellow think he knows more about egg shell thinning than the experts who, based on experiments on caged birds and observations of wild birds, concluded that DDE causes egg shell thinning?
Aynsley – “I was interested to find this discussion. I thank participants for their engagement with the issues. I thank also ‘Ender’ and ‘Ed Darrell’ for demonstrating so amply one of the themes of my book: the swarming of the guardians of particular ‘truths’ whenever some infectious idea emerges that might threaten the orthodoxy.”
Actually I was protecting the real truth. You know the one – the one that is borne out by the facts not manufactured like the ‘truths’ that you seem to favour.
Your influence can be seen in your disciple Paul who seems to worship every word you say to the point that he can lie like this:
“Unfortunately, the millions who died, and continue to die from Malaria, won’t be rising from the dead.”
And not even have the grace to say where the lie is wrong even when you say:
“Only the GENERAL use of the pesticide has been banned in the United States.”
The real truth, borne out by actual facts, is that for malaria ANY pesticide will reduce in effectiveness due to resistance. DDT was withdrawn from use because of reduced effectiveness and the rise of other more effective chemicals that also had less effect on the environment.
Really to simply restate hackneyed old accusations when there is a significant body of refutation existing on the web and a considerable literature on the egg shell issue alone is hardly a progression of the “debate”. One would expect significant in-depth review, with some compare, contrast and analysis not just a rehash of old anti-regulation, free market at all costs, greenie bashing mantra.
At least the Boojums site is quoting at source on original documents.
A serious entomologist might ponder the level of insect resistance on how many species if indiscriminate use of DDT had continued. In many species, resistance mechanisms linger in the genetic code of insect populations to the current day. And some of that selection has also prejudiced the lifetime of new compounds (which are now very expensive to develop and bring to market) – such as the synthetic pyrethroids. A medical issue could have quite easily morphed into a food security issue.
“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow”
wiki “Silent Spring”
In 1964 I worked a the Dow group in a large industrial petro chemical complex. Some of us moved plant to plant day to day. Much of it is gone today.
TRUTH, (scientific or otherwise toxicology studies) in that post war period was very hard to find but I made it my business to survive close up with all that lot.
We all owe Rachel. Carson.
Helen Mahar says
Gavin, to analyse that quote:
Drop facts into the proverbial to promote emotions and impressions, and call the harvest wisdom.
Thank you Gavin … and Rachel.
“Huge political pressure on ruckelshaus to make a decision banning the chemical. Shows the potential power of the populous in a democracy. Carson didn’t actually know anything about chemicals. She was a marine biologist.”
Doesn’t stop biologists lecturing people on climate.
Ed Darrell says
Carson didn’t actually know anything about chemicals. She was a marine biologist.
Some of the most serious damage was done to estuaries, marine environments in which eagles or ospreys are the top predators. Yes, she was a marine biologist — and that’s where DDT did its damage. It’s in her area of expertise.
However, every claim Carson made against DDT was backed by scientists, either in published research or extensively-backed correspondence and other writings.
Those who wish to malign Ms. Carson appear not to be tethered by the facts, good taste, science convention, or ethics. Don’t trust them, don’t follow their tactics, please.
Helen Mahar says
Oh, but Ed, I always try to be polite. Much as Gavin’s revealing quote, attributed to Carson via Wiki, horrified me, I clarified it politely. Others would have been blunter.
Helen: “Drop facts into the proverbial to promote emotions and impressions, and call the harvest wisdom”
You may ponder for a mo why TIME puts Carson in the same league as Einstein, Freud, Goddard, Hubble, Salk, Turing, the Wrights and others in their “100”.
A fair review of our harvest hey
“Drop facts into the proverbial to promote emotions and impressions, and call the harvest wisdom.”
That wasn’t what she said at all.
What she was saying was that without facts, we are just emotions and impressions. You sow facts in there, and something new appears, knowledge and wisdom. It’s the human condition of ignorance that we always have to start with.
Helen Mahar says
Time magazine? Appeal to authority, Gavin. But I acknowledge Carson’s persisting influence. She could make it onto several lists. In genocide tally, her influence on the views and conduct of others, is right up there with the 20th Century’s best. 30 million and rising – dead from malaria. Some wisdom.
The title of her book, “Silent Spring” says exactly what she was about – her assertion that pesticides (DDT) would, or were causing, bird extinctions. Research data purporting to support this claim has been easy to publish in peer reviewed scientific magazines, in comparison to research data questioning it. Which is mainly what this thread is about.
But what about Ainsley Kellow’s claim “Multinational chemical companies were enthusiastic supporters of a phase-out of DDT in developing countries during the negotiation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, because it was out of patent and there was benefit in a policy that advantaged their more expensive patented alternatives…”?
No author with a care for his skin would publish such a claim without credible references.
This book is going to be an interesting read.
A couple of interesting links for the true believers
“DDT: What We Know; What Do We Need to Know?”
“Chaos and Climate Change”
Helen Mahar says
Oh yes, Gavin, the above quote can be read as you state. But it is the sort of sentiment that I would naturally be very wary of.
This has to be my last contribution for several weeks. Other duties call. Cheers, all.
Good lord – “Multinational chemical companies were enthusiastic supporters of a phase-out of DDT in developing countries during the negotiation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, because it was out of patent and there was benefit in a policy that advantaged their more expensive patented alternatives…”?
and who would be to blame for that? Do you actually read what you’ve written?
And now a conspiracy which nobody can come back from “Research data purporting to support this claim has been easy to publish in peer reviewed scientific magazines, in comparison to research data questioning it.” ROTFL. As yes the conspiracy by “them”.
I think we need to differentiate between those practicing medical entomology and ornithology versus political scientists.
As ususual the debate takes on the eerie glow of “free market anti-regulation” weirdness.
30 million – I heard was least a billion !
Helen Mahar says
Do you actually read what I have written, Luke, or do you only read to interpret to attack? I took some time over wording the comment on Carson’s persistent influence on the views and conduct of others.
The “conduct” side includes political entrepreneurs who exploit political views as profitable business opportunities. Like the chemical companies quoted by Professor Kellow.
As far as malaria deaths go, 30 million is conservative. Some sources estmate about 3 billion have been infected. A small percentage, mostly children under 5, die from it.
Now I do have to go, as I have heavy committments for the next few weeks. And Jen has gone and put up a post referring to Hayek. Damn.
Thailand has malaria under control, although not eradicated, (Burma and other countries are a problem), using a wide range of strategies. DDT is not some magic bullet, nor the only means of controlling malaria.
Aynsley Kellow says
My apologies, but (as should have been apparent for the context and what followed) I failed to paste the two paragraphs that followed Myth 3, leading Ed to leap in thinking that I thought the myth was true. I was, in fact stating that the two paragraphs provided were true:
3. Rachel Carson Called for the Elimination of All Pesticides.
“It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of person largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.”
“Carson encouraged the responsible use of pesticide with an awareness of the chemicals’ impact on all living things, not the all-out banning of pesticides. In fact, in the context of malaria control, she argued that DDT users should “spray as little as you possibly can” rather than “spray to the limit of your capacity.”
Again, apologies, but keystrokes can slip, as they doubtless did with Ed, who I am sure would not be ‘intemperate’ enough to mean to write ‘tropic levels in an ecosystem’.
I’m not going to spend any more time after today responding to Ed on any of this. He has made his mind up, and citing some useful research published since the ban doesn’t change the fact that it was as thin as a peregrines eggshell at the time. Attempting to argue with a closed mind is like a battle of wits with an unarmed man: not much of any use is likely to result.
Nothing Ed has posted shows any error in the very brief and marginal extract from my book.
For example, some DO consider it to be a case of scientific fraud. I make no such claim, and do not go into the case sufficiently as to even investigate it (unlike the case of the synergistic effect of endocrine disrupting chemicals that was found to constitute fraud and resulted in a ban on federal funding for the scientists involved – after Congress had acted).
The Bitman et al papers DID receive differential treatment. There was a string political context surrounding not just the Environmental Defense campaign for a ban, but the publication of Silent Spring. Let’s recall that Carson first published an article in New Yorker magazine at the invitation of the editor, AFTER a campaign by those later to form Environmental Defence beginning in the 1950s.
But I actually agree with Carson’s prescription of reducing use (of ANY pesticide) as much as possible, and would never countenance the kind of broadscale spraying once used for DDT, especially in cotton which, we must remember, is where most of the tonnages were applied. Nowadays, whole tropical countries use less DDT than a few cotton farmers once did, and apply it on walls. But I do think DDT was an advance over lead arsenate, just as synthetic pyrethroids and allethroids are an advance over DDT and the others that followed DDT in cotton growing (and posed their own hazards).
Ed makes the common mistake of wanting to regulate on the basis of toxicity. Let’s leave aside the fundamental adage that the dose makes the poison, and the need to be careful about the results of feeding DDT to birds – which is not the kind of exposure we are likely to find in the wild. Risk assessment requires more than just evidence of toxicity: we need hazard characterization, including consideration of dose-response evidence (which might include hormesis); consideration of kinds of use; consideration of costs and benefits; consideration of alternatives (including the consequences of withdrawing the product).
The reckless use of DDT in the early days does not mean that there is no case for using it in more careful applications and locations for more important purposes than killing boll weevils. Most of the environmental evidence of harm results from the early, reckless days, and almost everyone was happy for those uses to be discontinued, including those in industry who were perfectly content because it was out of patent, and could be manufactured cheaply by generic manufacturers in India and elsewhere, and the ‘safer’ product were covered by patent. The ban was limited, but nobody dared use it for approved purposes, such was the fear created, and this was imposed in various way on the developing world – where the uses and benefactors were completely different.
By Ed’s reasoning, we would continue the ban on Thalidomide, which is finding new uses, solely on the basis of its teratogenicity.
Let me just comment on some of Ed’s other statements, some of which do not appear to be examples of thhe ‘real truth’ Ender is so keen to defend, but he lets these go through to the keeper:
‘When we stopped putting DDT into the wild, birds recovered their populations much more easily’
But we didn’t stop! We changed the location and methods of application – from the North to the developing world, and from broadcast spraying to residual spraying. There was just as much being used, but it was being applied much more discriminately.
As the ATSDR Fact Sheet states:
‘DDT entered the environment when it was used as a pesticide; it still enters the environment due to current use in other countries.’
If the substance really caused a global problem when applied wisely, we would still have problems. In fact, the problems arose because of widespread, indiscriminate use. We’ve all seen the footage of the trucks driving down streets spraying whole neighbourhoods. It was cheap and it was remarkably non-toxic to humans, and that led us to believe it did not constitute a hazard. As Aaron Wildavksy once put it, ‘The secret of safety lies in danger.’
‘Nothing else was changed so substantially, in order to produce those results.’
Not true. The Endangered Species Act was adopted and was part of substantial conservation effort, for example. And DDT was not the only cause, because the decline preceded its introduction.
‘The case for carcinogenicity is stronger after last year’s studies showing it causes breast cancer in the children of women exposed. DDT and its fellow chemicals also act as endocrine disruptors’
Let’s wait for the body of evidence to emerge, rather than take the latest study as definitive evidence. Science is littered with ‘latest research’ that doesn’t hold up – see Hwang et on stem cells or the . ATSDR
‘The Delaney Clause was passed in 1958, by the way, and was not a part of Nixon’s War on Cancer.’
What a strange, deracinated view of history you have, Ed! Sheila Jasanoff thinks it was an important part of the context, but she probably got her PhD and her post at Harvard before they were able to check your website and see that she had it all wrong. Delaney had its heyday during the misconceived War on Cancer.
‘In the end, one of the greatest problems of the chemical is that it seems to survive almost forever in the wild.’
Let’s not exaggerate:
‘DDT, DDE, and DDD in air are rapidly broken down by sunlight. Half of what’s in air breaks down within 2 days.’
‘They stick strongly to soil; most DDT in soil is broken down slowly to DDE and DDD by microorganisms; half the DDT in soil will break down in 2-15 years, depending on the type of soil.’
‘We don’t find DDT loose in the ocean, for example. We find it embedded in the tissues of living things.’
This statement betrays a poor grasp of the science. DDT has extremely poor solubility in water; that’s why we find it in the fatty tissues of living things.
‘When used against malaria vectors, it generally kills the predators of the malaria vectors with greater efficiency, leaving a path for expansion of malaria available. When in the wild, it screws up the reproductive tracts of all animals we know of. It’s not as effective as bed nets with other, less harmful pesticides, and it cannot substitute for medical care for malaria victims.’
‘Why bother with DDT? The risks outweigh all benefits.’
I guess the WHO begs to differ – but then that organization has to consider the benefits to malaria victims in the tropical Third World. But I guess they forgot to check with Ed.
In closing, let me respond to this from Tim:
‘I find it interesting that Dr Kellow, who is a political scientist, dismisses me as a mere computer scientist, and then proceeds to take an on the biologists who work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Why does Kellow think he knows more about egg shell thinning than the experts who, based on experiments on caged birds and observations of wild birds, concluded that DDE causes egg shell thinning?’
Let’s stick to reason and evidence, Tim, however hard that might be for you. I have provided references to relevant literature; Ed has provided references to his weblog. I ‘take on’ the biologists when they presume that they are the ones who should decide (as Ed presumes also) whether the risks of DDT too the birds near and dear to them are not worth the lives of children in tropical Africa. I note that the WHO has made such an assessment; I do not presume to make it myself. As Snow put it, ‘scientists should be on tap, not on top.’ We political scientists do know somethings about democracy and attempts to undermine it. (And some even have eclectic educational backgrounds that include things like chemistry, zoology, physics, biochemistry, physiology, histology, stinking smut infections in wheat and the post-natal changes in the ductus arteriosis in rabbits – but that does not excuse us from focusing on the reason and evidence they produce).
But the Web Warriors exempt themselves from the usual rules of scientific debate, which might inhibit them from rubbishing books they haven’t read.
Ed Darrell says
Dr. Kellow, tests show that DDT hangs on much longer than 15 years; from Mother Earth News:
[quote]Items range from produce, meats and milk to tacos, tuna casserole and commercial chocolate chip cookies. Not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables rank first as the most chemically treated commodities. Perhaps more unexpected is the fact that DDT is the most frequently detected poison-found in a whopping 22% of the foods tested in 1999 – despite a 25-year ban on its use in the U.S. While this notorious organochlorine is still used by some foreign nations, mainly for mosquito control, FDA and EPA officials attribute the prevalence of DDT and its metabolites in our food largely to the pesticide’s resilience. Today’s crops continue to absorb the remains of the 1,350,000,000 pounds of DDT dumped on U.S. soil during the past 30 years.[end quote]
I have not read Prof. Kellow’s book (though I’ve flagged it in
Amazon), and so could not rubbish it if I wanted to.
But the excerpts given raise some questions.
For example, Prof. Kellow is quoted as saying that “[T]he most
notorious putative effect of DDT was it causing the near extinction of
bald eagles and peregrine falcons by thinning their eggshells as a
result of biomagnification up through the food chain.” and going on to
assert that this is not true — moreover, that researchers knew it
was not true at the time. This is contrary to
everything I have been able to find out regarding the DDT decision.
For example, even Judge Edmund Sweeney’s opinion, while it was
generally favorable to the petitioners in the DDT case, did not find
that DDT was harmless to peregrine falcons. Rather, Sweeney
acknowledged (and quoted extensively, pp. 67-69) research concluding that DDT was
devastating to bird species including the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle,
Osprey, Pelican, Peregrine Falcon and others. He listed
counter-arguments, such as other environmental factors or selection
bias in museum eggs, that might undercut the case against DDT. He
then refused to decide this point, saying (pp 70-71) that even if the
falcon were to go extinct, it would not be the end of the world:
I am of the impression that, in answer to my question in that regard,
Dr. Hickey stated that insofar as the Peregrine Falcon is concerned,
man could get along without it even though it would be a sentimental
and esthetic loss that would be very great; but as a predator it would
be replaced more or less through a readjustment by nature itself. In
other words, I think he was telling me that some other predator would
take over the work that was being done by the Peregrine Falcon.
Now, I don’t hold it against Edmund Sweeney, who seems on the evidence
to be a pretty decent guy, that he applied a cold profit-and-loss
analysis to the potential extinction of the peregrine falcon. It was
his job, after all. But it is very important to throw a flag on the
field when someone claims, as Aynsley Kellow seems to, that there was
no evidence of DDT’s harm to birds in 1972. There was abundant and
rock-solid evidence of DDT’s harmfulness to birds at the time
Ruckelshaus issued his order, and that evidence has only become
stronger in the years since then. A report issued by EPA in 1975
cited 179 studies in support of the case that DDT and its metabolites
were a causative factor in eggshell thinning. I found 50 abstracts on
Medline with a cursory search, overwhelmingly supporting the case
against DDT. For the journal Science, a
search for “DDT” and “bird” turns up 297 articles. How many of them reject the
hypothesis that DDT does not harm bird reproduction? None that I’ve
found. How many support it? Basically, all of them. Here are
the first ten titles:
Residues of DDT in Brains and Bodies of Birds That Died on Dosage and in Survivors
Bird Mortality after Spraying for Dutch Elm Disease with DDT
DDT contamination at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
DDT Residues and Declining Reproduction in the Bermuda Petrel
Estrogenic Activity of o, p’-DDT in the Mammalian Uterus and Avian Oviduct
DDT Spray and Bird Mortality
Avian Thyroid: Effect of p,p’-DDT on Size and Activity
Decline of DDT Residues in Migratory Songbirds
DDT Residues in an East Coast Estuary: A Case of Biological Concentration of a Persistent Insecticide
Degradation and Disappearance of ortho, para Isomer of Technical DDT in Living and Dead Avian Tissues
That is a listing of the very first ten titles to come up in the
search. Had I wanted to cherry-pick, I could have gone on to list
DDT-induced feminization of gull embryos
or number 15:
Ban of DDT and subsequent recovery of Reproduction in bald eagles
… but what’s the point? It is clear to anyone who has researched
it that this is not a controversial subject, and has not been for several decades.
DDT is bad for birds. Period.
The consensus among wildlife biologists that DDT adversely affects
bird reproduction is so strong that Prof. Kellow’s apparent
rejection of it is startling. Let’s take a break first. Here’s a
It’s the EPA’s
central site for DDT-related documents.
No blockquotes? No line breaks, or bulleted lists, or even hyperlinks? Youre really making it tough on a commenter.
Tim Lambert says
Dr Kellow, I find it interesting that you accuse me of advancing myself as a “polymath”, and then go on to boast your expertise in “chemistry, zoology, physics, biochemistry, physiology, histology, stinking smut infections in wheat and the post-natal changes in the ductus arteriosis in rabbits”.
The evidence that DDT harms bird reproduction is overwhelming (jre has provided the references if you are unfamiliar with it). But you insist that this evidence is “weak”. All you have offered in support of your claim is that Bitman found that DDT didn’t thin eggshells of Japanese quail and some cherry picked stats on peregine falcons and bald eagles. If the Bitman paper in Science was the only one supporting egg shell thinning then you’d have a case but it isn’t — there are hundreds of such papers.
Now perhaps Dr Marohasy’s quote from your book takes you out of context. So here’s my question for you: is Bitman’s study on egg shell thinning the only one mentioned in your book?
J F Beck says
Does DDT (or DDE) “harm bird reproduction” in general or is it thought to adversely affect raptor reproduction?
Regardless, the results of an Alaskan study of peregrine falcon eggshell thickness, described as “one of the most thorough ever, even for a species as well studied as the peregrine falcon”, are interesting:
“Analysis of eggs collected during these three periods showed a clear downward trend of DDE concentrations in eggs. In the late 1960s, DDE residues in the range of 20-40 ppm (parts per million) and eggshell thinning in excess of 20 percent were observed for peregrine falcons in Alaska (Peakall et. al 1975). Peakall (1976) reported that DDE residues in eggs in the range of 15 to 20 ppm would likely result in a declining peregrine falcon population. By 1995, DDE levels had declined to 2 to 3 ppm. Eggshell thickness also increased following the 1972 restrictions on DDT, although this increase appears to have leveled off at about 10 to 12 percent thinner than pre-DDT levels. Although current egg shells are still thinner than pre-DDT levels, reproductive success has been good. We are unsure why, with continuing declines in DDE, egg shell thickness has not continued to improve. We will continue to investigate other possible causes, including other contaminants.”
The verdict on eggshell thinning won’t be in until the mechanism is fully understood.
By the way, your DDT ban myth bingo (recommended in an earlier comment) is, like damn near everything you’ve written on DDT, a load of crap.