July 13, 1998
Group Calls for Banning DDT Worldwide
All production and use of DDT should be banned worldwide by
2007 -- and it should only be used as a pesticide of last
resort until then -- according to a new report by the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF). The report, "Resolving the DDT Dilemma,"
states that there are safer and equally effective
alternatives to DDT in disease vector-control, DDT's only
remaining official use throughout the world.
In particular, the report emphasizes that there are
alternatives for controlling malaria, one of the leading
causes of illness and death in developing countries. Because
DDT is regarded as relatively inexpensive and less acutely
hazardous to human health than other pesticides, the UN World
Health Organization (WHO) recommends its use in indoor anti-
malaria spraying programs. Approximately 39,000 tons of DDT
are produced each year in at least five countries, and it is
imported legally into dozens more.
"The dilemma is that both malaria and DDT pose a threat to
human health. The pesticides used to fight malaria are also
harming biodiversity," said Julia Langer, Director of WWF's
Wildlife Toxicology Program in Canada. "ThereUs no room for
slippage when malaria kills four children every minute. The
task ahead is to eliminate both an ultra-nasty disease like
malaria and an ultra-nasty chemical like DDT in a way that
protects both human health and the environment."
Because DDT can travel long distances and accumulate in the
body, millions of humans and animals worldwide have residues
of the chemical in their tissue, even though it may have been
produced and used on another continent. WWF-sponsored
research, for example, has found that black-footed
albatrosses on Midway Island -- 3,100 miles from Los Angeles
and 2,400 miles from Tokyo -- have high levels of DDT.
Further studies have linked DDT to feminization and altered
sex-ratios of gulls, and eggshell thinning in birds of prey.
The report examined a range of insect-borne disease control
programs in West Africa, Tanzania, India, the Philippines,
South America and Mexico. A variety of alternative techniques
proved to be effective and financially feasible, including
odor-baited cloth targets to attract and destroy disease-
carrying insects; lower-risk pesticides used in rotation to
avoid the development of resistance; pesticide-impregnated
bednets (reducing the need for airborne interior spraying);
introduction of natural predators and sterile insects; and
widespread elimination of mosquito breeding grounds.
These alternative control strategies have resulted in
protecting 700,000 people in Kheda District, Gujurat, India
from malaria and 34 million people in West Africa from river
blindness. In Tanzania, alternative strategies helped reduce
malaria incidence in some villages by 60%, and malaria cases
in the Philippines were reduced 50%.
Malaria is an often deadly infection of the bloodstream
characterized by chills, fever and sweating that is usually
passed on by vectors such as mosquitoes. For decades, DDT was
used to combat malaria and other vector-borne diseases, with
striking success early on. However, malaria continues to be a
global menace -- about 2.5 billion people in over 90
countries are currently at risk, and it is the second leading
cause of illness and death in the developing world, after
The report recommends that targeted programs emphasizing
reduced reliance on pesticides and better environmental
protection should be developed by the World Health
Organization, World Bank, United Nations Environment Program
and other multilateral and bilateral assistance agencies. WWF
stated that adequate financial and technical resources must
be provided to undertake integrated vector management
programs. In addition, the report calls for more research on
the hazards of chronic exposure to synthetic pyrethroids,
which are used for indoor spraying and to impregnate bednets,
before they are endorsed as alternatives to DDT.
"Resolving the DDT Dilemma: Protecting Biodiversity and Human
Health," 1998, can be ordered from WWF Canada or WWF US for
$10 (U.S. or Canadian currency). The report is also online:
Source/contacts: WWF Canada, 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite
504, Toronto, ON, M4P 2Z7; WWF US, 1250 24th Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20037; web site www.wwf.org.
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
49 Powell St., Suite 500, San Francisco, California 94102
Phone (415) 981-1771
Fax (415) 981-1991
web site www.panna.org/panna/
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