Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, is a
colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline chemical
compound, an organochlorine, originally developed as an insecticide,
and ultimately becoming infamous for its environmental impacts. First
synthesized in 1874, DDT's insecticidal action was discovered by the
Paul Hermann Müller
Paul Hermann Müller in 1939.
DDT was used in the second
World War II
World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and
troops. Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
"for his discovery of the high efficiency of
DDT as a contact poison
against several arthropods" in 1948.
By October 1945,
DDT was available for public sale in the United
States. Although it was promoted by government and industry for use as
an agricultural and household pesticide, there were also concerns
about its use from the beginning. Opposition to
DDT was focused by
the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. It
cataloged environmental impacts that coincided with widespread use of
DDT in agriculture in the United States, and it questioned the logic
of broadcasting potentially dangerous chemicals into the environment
with little prior investigation of their environment and health
effects. The book claimed that
DDT and other pesticides had been shown
to cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to
wildlife, particularly birds. Its publication was a seminal event for
the environmental movement and resulted in a large public outcry that
eventually led, in 1972, to a ban on DDT's agricultural use in the
United States. A worldwide ban on agricultural use was formalized
under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, but
its limited and still-controversial use in disease vector control
continues, because of its effectiveness in reducing malarial
infections, balanced by environmental and other health concerns.
Along with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the United
States ban on
DDT is a major factor in the comeback of the bald eagle
(the national bird of the United States) and the peregrine falcon from
near-extinction in the contiguous United States.
1 Properties and chemistry
1.1 Isomers and related compounds
1.2 Production and use
1.3 Mechanism of insecticide action
2.1 Use in the 1940s and 1950s
2.2 United States ban
2.3 International usage restrictions
3 Environmental impact
3.1 Eggshell thinning
4 Human health
4.1 Acute toxicity
4.2 Chronic toxicity
4.3.1 Breast cancer
5.1 Initial effectiveness
5.2 Mosquito resistance
5.3 Residents' concerns
5.4 Human exposure
5.5 Criticism of restrictions on
5.6.2 Non-chemical vector control
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Properties and chemistry
DDT is similar in structure to the insecticide methoxychlor and the
acaricide dicofol. It is highly hydrophobic and nearly insoluble in
water but has good solubility in most organic solvents, fats and oils.
DDT does not occur naturally and is synthesised by a Friedel–Crafts
hydroxyalkylation reaction between chloral (CCl
3CHO) and chlorobenzene (C
5Cl), in the presence of an acidic catalyst.
DDT has been marketed
under trade names including Anofex, Cezarex, Chlorophenothane,
Clofenotane, Dicophane, Dinocide, Gesarol, Guesapon, Guesarol, Gyron,
Ixodex, Neocid, Neocidol and Zerdane.
Isomers and related compounds
o,p' -DDT, a minor component in commercial DDT.
DDT is a mixture of several closely–related compounds.
The major component (77%) is the p,p' isomer (pictured above). The
o,p' isomer (pictured to the right) is also present in significant
Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and
dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (DDD) make up the balance. DDE and DDD
are the major metabolites and environmental breakdown products.
Production and use
DDT has been formulated in multiple forms, including solutions in
xylene or petroleum distillates, emulsifiable concentrates,
water-wettable powders, granules, aerosols, smoke candles and charges
for vaporizers and lotions.
From 1950 to 1980,
DDT was extensively used in agriculture –
more than 40,000 tonnes each year worldwide – and it has
been estimated that a total of 1.8 million tonnes have been produced
globally since the 1940s. In the United States, it was manufactured
by some 15 companies, including Monsanto, Ciba, Montrose
Chemical Company, Pennwalt and Velsicol Chemical Corporation.
Production peaked in 1963 at 82,000 tonnes per year. More than
600,000 tonnes (1.35 billion pounds) were applied in the US before the
1972 ban. Usage peaked in 1959 at about 36,000 tonnes.
In 2009, 3,314 tonnes were produced for malaria control and visceral
India is the only country still manufacturing
is the largest consumer. China ceased production in 2007.
Mechanism of insecticide action
DDT opens sodium ion channels in neurons, causing them to
fire spontaneously, which leads to spasms and eventual death.
Insects with certain mutations in their sodium channel gene are
DDT and similar insecticides.
DDT resistance is also
conferred by up-regulation of genes expressing cytochrome P450 in some
insect species, as greater quantities of some enzymes of this
group accelerate the toxin's metabolism into inactive metabolites.
(The same enzyme family is up-regulated in mammals too, e.g., in
response to ethanol consumption.) Genomic studies in the model genetic
Drosophila melanogaster revealed that high level DDT
resistance is polygenic, involving multiple resistance mechanisms.
Commercial product concentrate containing 50% DDT, circa 1960s
Commercial product (Powder box, 50 g) containing 10% DDT; Néocide.
Geigy DDT; "Destroys parasites such as fleas, lice, ants,
bedbugs, cockroaches, flies, etc.. Néocide Sprinkle caches of vermin
and the places where there are insects and their places of passage.
Leave the powder in place as long as possible." "Destroy the parasites
of man and his dwelling". "Death is not instantaneous, it follows
inevitably sooner or later." "French manufacturing"; "harmless to
humans and warm-blooded animals" "sure and lasting effect. Odorless."
"Episode 207: DDT", Science History Institute
DDT was first synthesized in 1874 by
Othmar Zeidler under the
supervision of Adolf von Baeyer. It was further described in
1929 in a dissertation by W. Bausch and in two subsequent publications
in 1930. The insecticide properties of "multiple chlorinated
aliphatic or fat-aromatic alcohols with at least one trichloromethane
group" were described in a patent in 1934 by Wolfgang von
Leuthold. DDT's insecticidal properties were not, however,
discovered until 1939 by the Swiss scientist Paul Hermann Müller, who
was awarded the 1948
Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his
Use in the 1940s and 1950s
An airplane spraying
Baker County, Oregon
Baker County, Oregon as part of a spruce
budworm control project, 1955
DDT spray log in
DDT is the best-known of several chlorine-containing pesticides used
in the 1940s and 1950s. With pyrethrum in short supply,
DDT was used
World War II
World War II by the Allies to control the insect
vectors of typhus – nearly eliminating the disease in many parts of
Europe. In the South Pacific, it was sprayed aerially for malaria and
dengue fever control with spectacular effects. While DDT's chemical
and insecticidal properties were important factors in these victories,
advances in application equipment coupled with competent organization
and sufficient manpower were also crucial to the success of these
DDT was made available to farmers as an agricultural
insecticide and played a role in the final (for a time)
elimination of malaria in
Europe and North America.
In 1955, the
World Health Organization
World Health Organization commenced a program to
eradicate malaria in countries with low to moderate transmission rates
worldwide, relying largely on
DDT for mosquito control and rapid
diagnosis and treatment to reduce transmission. The program
eliminated the disease in "Taiwan, much of the Caribbean, the Balkans,
parts of northern Africa, the northern region of Australia, and a
large swath of the South Pacific" and dramatically reduced
Sri Lanka and India.
However, failure to sustain the program, increasing mosquito tolerance
to DDT, and increasing parasite tolerance led to a resurgence. In many
areas early successes partially or completely reversed, and in some
cases rates of transmission increased. The program succeeded in
eliminating malaria only in areas with "high socio-economic status,
well-organized healthcare systems, and relatively less intensive or
seasonal malaria transmission".
DDT was less effective in tropical regions due to the continuous life
cycle of mosquitoes and poor infrastructure. It was not applied at all
in sub-Saharan Africa due to these perceived difficulties. Mortality
rates in that area never declined to the same dramatic extent, and now
constitute the bulk of malarial deaths worldwide, especially following
the disease's resurgence as a result of resistance to drug treatments
and the spread of the deadly malarial variant caused by Plasmodium
falciparum. Eradication was abandoned in 1969 and attention instead
focused on controlling and treating the disease. Spraying programs
(especially using DDT) were curtailed due to concerns over safety and
environmental effects, as well as problems in administrative,
managerial and financial implementation. Efforts shifted from
spraying to the use of bednets impregnated with insecticides and other
United States ban
By October 1945,
DDT was available for public sale in the United
States, used both as an agricultural pesticide and as a household
insecticide. Although its use was promoted by government and the
agricultural industry, US scientists such as FDA pharmacologist
Herbert O. Calvery expressed concern over possible hazards associated
DDT as early as 1944. In 1947, Dr. Bradbury Robinson,
a physician and nutritionist practicing in St. Louis, Michigan, warned
of the dangers of using the pesticide
DDT in agriculture.
DDT had been
researched and manufactured in St. Louis by the Michigan Chemical
Corporation, later purchased by Velsicol Chemical Corporation, and
had become an important part of the local economy. Citing research
performed by Michigan State University in 1946, Robinson, a past
president of the local Conservation Club, opined that:
... perhaps the greatest danger from D.D.T. is that its extensive use
in farm areas is most likely to upset the natural balances, not only
killing beneficial insects in great number but by bringing about the
death of fish, birds, and other forms of wild life either by their
feeding on insects killed by D.D.T. or directly by ingesting the
As its production and use increased, public response was mixed. At the
same time that
DDT was hailed as part of the "world of tomorrow,"
concerns were expressed about its potential to kill harmless and
beneficial insects (particularly pollinators), birds, fish, and
eventually humans. The issue of toxicity was complicated, partly
because DDT's effects varied from species to species, and partly
because consecutive exposures could accumulate, causing damage
comparable to large doses. A number of states attempted to regulate
DDT. In the 1950s the federal government began tightening
regulations governing its use. These events received little
attention. Women like Dorothy Colson and Mamie Ella Plyler of Claxton,
Georgia gathered evidence about DDT's effects and wrote to the Georgia
Department of Public Health, the National Health Council in New York
City, and other organizations.
In 1957 the
New York Times
New York Times reported an unsuccessful struggle to
DDT use in Nassau County, New York, and the issue came to the
attention of the popular naturalist-author Rachel Carson. William
Shawn, editor of The New Yorker, urged her to write a piece on the
subject, which developed into her 1962 book Silent Spring. The book
argued that pesticides, including DDT, were poisoning both wildlife
and the environment and were endangering human health. Silent
Spring was a best seller, and public reaction to it launched the
modern environmental movement in the United States. The year after it
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy ordered his Science Advisory
Committee to investigate Carson's claims. The committee's report
"add[ed] up to a fairly thorough-going vindication of Rachel
Silent Spring thesis," in the words of the journal
Science, and recommended a phaseout of "persistent toxic
DDT became a prime target of the growing anti-chemical and
anti-pesticide movements, and in 1967 a group of scientists and
lawyers founded the
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) with the specific
goal of enacting a ban on DDT. Victor Yannacone, Charles Wurster, Art
Cooley and others in the group had all witnessed bird kills or
declines in bird populations and suspected that
DDT was the cause. In
their campaign against the chemical, EDF petitioned the government for
a ban and filed lawsuits. Around this time, toxicologist David
Peakall was measuring DDE levels in the eggs of peregrine falcons and
California condors and finding that increased levels corresponded with
In response to an EDF suit, the U.S. District Court of Appeals in 1971
ordered the EPA to begin the de-registration procedure for DDT. After
an initial six-month review process, William Ruckelshaus, the Agency's
first Administrator rejected an immediate suspension of DDT's
registration, citing studies from the EPA's internal staff stating
DDT was not an imminent danger. However, these findings were
criticized, as they were performed mostly by economic entomologists
inherited from the United States Department of Agriculture, who many
environmentalists felt were biased towards agribusiness and
understated concerns about human health and wildlife. The decision
thus created controversy.
The EPA held seven months of hearings in 1971–1972, with scientists
giving evidence for and against DDT. In the summer of 1972,
Ruckelshaus announced the cancellation of most uses of
exempting public health uses under some conditions. Immediately
after the announcement, both EDF and the
DDT manufacturers filed suit
against EPA. Industry sought to overturn the ban, while EDF wanted a
comprehensive ban. The cases were consolidated, and in 1973 the United
States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled
that the EPA had acted properly in banning DDT.
Some uses of
DDT continued under the public health exemption. For
example, in June 1979, the California Department of Health Services
was permitted to use
DDT to suppress flea vectors of bubonic
DDT continued to be produced in the United States for
foreign markets until 1985, when over 300 tons were exported.
International usage restrictions
In the 1970s and 1980s, agricultural use was banned in most developed
countries, beginning with Hungary in 1968 followed by
Sweden in 1970,
West Germany and the US in 1972, but not in the United
Kingdom until 1984. By 1991 total bans, including for disease control,
were in place in at least 26 countries; for example Cuba in 1970, the
US in the 1980s, Singapore in 1984, Chile in 1985 and the Republic of
Korea in 1986.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which took
effect in 2004, put a global ban on several persistent organic
pollutants, and restricted
DDT use to vector control. The Convention
was ratified by more than 170 countries. Recognizing that total
elimination in many malaria-prone countries is currently unfeasible
absent affordable/effective alternatives, the convention exempts
public health use within
World Health Organization
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines
from the ban. Resolution 60.18 of the World Health Assembly
commits WHO to the Stockholm Convention's aim of reducing and
ultimately eliminating DDT.
Malaria Foundation International
states, "The outcome of the treaty is arguably better than the status
quo going into the negotiations. For the first time, there is now an
insecticide which is restricted to vector control only, meaning that
the selection of resistant mosquitoes will be slower than before."
Despite the worldwide ban, agricultural use continued in India,
North Korea, and possibly elsewhere. As of 2013 an estimated 3,000
to 4,000 tons of
DDT were produced for disease vector control,
including 2786 tons in India.
DDT is applied to the inside walls
of homes to kill or repel mosquitoes. This intervention, called indoor
residual spraying (IRS), greatly reduces environmental damage. It also
reduces the incidence of
DDT resistance. For comparison, treating
40 hectares (99 acres) of cotton during a typical U.S. growing season
requires the same amount of chemical as roughly 1,700 homes.
DDT to form DDE (by elimination of HCl, left) and DDD
(by reductive dechlorination, right)
DDT is a persistent organic pollutant that is readily adsorbed to
soils and sediments, which can act both as sinks and as long-term
sources of exposure affecting organisms. Depending on conditions,
its soil half-life can range from 22 days to 30 years. Routes of loss
and degradation include runoff, volatilization, photolysis and aerobic
and anaerobic biodegradation. Due to hydrophobic properties, in
DDT and its metabolites are absorbed by aquatic
organisms and adsorbed on suspended particles, leaving little DDT
dissolved in the water. Its breakdown products and metabolites, DDE
and DDD, are also persistent and have similar chemical and physical
DDT and its breakdown products are transported from
warmer areas to the
Arctic by the phenomenon of global distillation,
where they then accumulate in the region's food web.
Because of its lipophilic properties,
DDT can bioaccumulate,
especially in predatory birds.
DDT is toxic to a wide range of
living organisms, including marine animals such as crayfish, daphnids,
sea shrimp and many species of fish. DDT, DDE and DDD magnify through
the food chain, with apex predators such as raptor birds concentrating
more chemicals than other animals in the same environment. They are
stored mainly in body fat.
DDT and DDE are resistant to metabolism; in
humans, their half-lives are 6 and up to 10 years, respectively. In
the United States, these chemicals were detected in almost all human
blood samples tested by the
Centers for Disease Control
Centers for Disease Control in 2005,
though their levels have sharply declined since most uses were
banned. Estimated dietary intake has declined, although FDA
food tests commonly detect it.
The chemical and its breakdown products DDE and DDD caused eggshell
thinning and population declines in multiple North American and
European bird of prey species. DDE-related
eggshell thinning is considered a major reason for the decline of the
bald eagle, brown pelican, peregrine falcon and osprey.
However, birds vary in their sensitivity to these chemicals, with
birds of prey, waterfowl and song birds being more susceptible than
chickens and related species. Even in 2010, California condors
that feed on sea lions at
Big Sur that in turn feed in the Palos
Verdes Shelf area of the Montrose Chemical
Superfund site exhibited
continued thin-shell problems, though DDT's role in the
decline of the
California condor is disputed.
The biological thinning mechanism is not entirely understood, but DDE
appears to be more potent than DDT, and strong evidence indicates
that p,p'-DDE inhibits calcium ATPase in the membrane of the shell
gland and reduces the transport of calcium carbonate from blood into
the eggshell gland. This results in a dose-dependent thickness
reduction. Other evidence indicates that o,p'-DDT
disrupts female reproductive tract development, later impairing
eggshell quality. Multiple mechanisms may be at work, or different
mechanisms may operate in different species.
A U.S. soldier is demonstrating
DDT hand-spraying equipment.
used to control the spread of typhus-carrying lice.
Spraying hospital beds with DDT,
PAIGC hospital of Ziguinchor, 1973
DDT is an endocrine disruptor. It is considered likely to be a
human carcinogen although the majority of studies suggest it is not
directly genotoxic. DDE acts as a weak androgen receptor
antagonist, but not as an estrogen. p,p'-DDT, DDT's main
component, has little or no androgenic or estrogenic activity. The
minor component o,p'-
DDT has weak estrogenic activity.
DDT is classified as "moderately toxic" by the US National Toxicology
Program (NTP) and "moderately hazardous" by WHO, based on the rat
oral LD50 of 113 mg/kg. Indirect exposure is considered
relatively non-toxic for humans.
Primarily through the tendency for
DDT to buildup in areas of the body
with high lipid content, chronic exposure can affect reproductive
capabilities and the embryo or fetus.
A review article in
The Lancet states, "research has shown that
DDT at amounts that would be needed in malaria control
might cause preterm birth and early weaning ... toxicological
evidence shows endocrine-disrupting properties; human data also
indicate possible disruption in semen quality, menstruation,
gestational length, and duration of lactation."
Other studies document decreases in semen quality among men with high
exposures (generally from IRS).
Studies are inconsistent on whether high blood
DDT or DDE levels
increase time to pregnancy. In mothers with high DDE blood serum
levels, daughters may have up to a 32% increase in the probability of
conceiving, but increased
DDT levels have been associated with a 16%
decrease in one study.
Indirect exposure of mothers through workers directly in contact with
DDT is associated with an increase in spontaneous abortions
Other studies found that
DDT or DDE interfere with proper thyroid
function in pregnancy and childhood.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on
DDT as Group 2A "probably carcinogenic to humans". Previous
assessments by the U.S.
National Toxicology Program
National Toxicology Program classified it as
"reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen" and by the EPA classified
DDT, DDE and DDD as class B2 "probable" carcinogens; these evaluations
were based mainly on animal studies.
A 2005 Lancet review stated that occupational
DDT exposure was
associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk in 2 case control
studies, but another study showed no DDE dose-effect association.
Results regarding a possible association with liver cancer and biliary
tract cancer are conflicting: workers who did not have direct
DDT contact showed increased risk. White men had an
increased risk, but not white women or black men. Results about an
association with multiple myeloma, prostate and testicular cancer,
endometrial cancer and colorectal cancer have been inconclusive or
generally do not support an association. A 2017 review of liver
cancer studies concluded that "organochlorine pesticides, including
DDT, may increase hepatocellular carcinoma risk."
A 2009 review, whose co-authors included persons engaged in
DDT-related litigation, reached broadly similar conclusions, with an
equivocal association with testicular cancer. Case–control studies
did not support an association with leukemia or lymphoma.
The question of whether
DDT or DDE are risk factors in breast cancer
has not been conclusively answered. Several meta analyses of
observational studies have concluded that there is no overall
DDT exposure and breast cancer risk. The
United States Institute of Medicine reviewed data on the association
of breast cancer with
DDT exposure in 2012 and concluded that a
causative relationship could neither be proven nor disproven.
A 2007 case control study using archived blood samples found that
breast cancer risk was increased 5-fold among women who were born
prior to 1931 and who had high serum
DDT levels in 1963. Reasoning
DDT use became widespread in 1945 and peaked around 1950, they
concluded that the ages of 14–20 were a critical period in which DDT
exposure leads to increased risk. This study, which suggests a
DDT exposure and breast cancer that would not be
picked up by most studies, has received variable commentary in third
party reviews. One review suggested that "previous studies that
measured exposure in older women may have missed the critical
National Toxicology Program
National Toxicology Program notes that while the
majority of studies have not found a relationship between
and breast cancer that positive associations have been seen in a "few
studies among women with higher levels of exposure and among certain
subgroups of women"
A 2015 case control study identified a link (odds ratio 3.4) between
in-utero exposure (as estimated from archived maternal blood samples)
and breast cancer diagnosis in daughters. The findings "support
DDT as an endocrine disruptor, a predictor of breast
cancer, and a marker of high risk".
Malaria remains the primary public health challenge in many countries.
In 2015, there were 214 million cases of malaria worldwide resulting
in an estimated 438,000 deaths, 90% of which occurred in Africa.
DDT is one of many tools to fight the disease. Its use in this context
has been called everything from a "miracle weapon [that is] like
Kryptonite to the mosquitoes," to "toxic colonialism".
Before DDT, eliminating mosquito breeding grounds by drainage or
Paris green or pyrethrum was sometimes successful. In
parts of the world with rising living standards, the elimination of
malaria was often a collateral benefit of the introduction of window
screens and improved sanitation. A variety of usually simultaneous
interventions represents best practice. These include antimalarial
drugs to prevent or treat infection; improvements in public health
infrastructure to diagnose, sequester and treat infected individuals;
bednets and other methods intended to keep mosquitoes from biting
humans; and vector control strategies such as larvaciding with
insecticides, ecological controls such as draining mosquito breeding
grounds or introducing fish to eat larvae and indoor residual spraying
(IRS) with insecticides, possibly including DDT. IRS involves the
treatment of interior walls and ceilings with insecticides. It is
particularly effective against mosquitoes, since many species rest on
an indoor wall before or after feeding.
DDT is one of 12
WHO–approved IRS insecticides.
WHO's anti-malaria campaign of the 1950s and 1960s relied heavily on
DDT and the results were promising, though temporary in developing
countries. Experts tie malarial resurgence to multiple factors,
including poor leadership, management and funding of malaria control
programs; poverty; civil unrest; and increased irrigation. The
evolution of resistance to first-generation drugs (e.g. chloroquine)
and to insecticides exacerbated the situation. Resistance was
largely fueled by unrestricted agricultural use. Resistance and the
harm both to humans and the environment led many governments to
DDT use in vector control and agriculture. In 2006 WHO
reversed a longstanding policy against
DDT by recommending that it be
used as an indoor pesticide in regions where malaria is a major
Once the mainstay of anti-malaria campaigns, as of 2008 only 12
countries used DDT, including
India and some southern African
states, though the number was expected to rise.
When it was introduced in World War II,
DDT was effective in reducing
malaria morbidity and mortality. WHO's anti-malaria campaign,
which consisted mostly of spraying
DDT and rapid treatment and
diagnosis to break the transmission cycle, was initially successful as
well. For example, in Sri Lanka, the program reduced cases from about
one million per year before spraying to just 18 in 1963 and
29 in 1964. Thereafter the program was halted to save money and
malaria rebounded to 600,000 cases in 1968 and the first quarter of
1969. The country resumed
DDT vector control but the mosquitoes had
evolved resistance in the interim, presumably because of continued
agricultural use. The program switched to malathion, but despite
initial successes, malaria continued its resurgence into the
DDT remains on WHO's list of insecticides recommended for IRS. After
the appointment of
Arata Kochi as head of its anti-malaria division,
WHO's policy shifted from recommending IRS only in areas of seasonal
or episodic transmission of malaria, to advocating it in areas of
continuous, intense transmission. WHO reaffirmed its commitment
to phasing out DDT, aiming "to achieve a 30% cut in the application of
DDT world-wide by 2014 and its total phase-out by the early 2020s if
not sooner" while simultaneously combating malaria. WHO plans to
implement alternatives to
DDT to achieve this goal.
South Africa continues to use
DDT under WHO guidelines. In 1996, the
country switched to alternative insecticides and malaria incidence
increased dramatically. Returning to
DDT and introducing new drugs
brought malaria back under control.
Malaria cases increased in
South America after countries in that continent stopped using DDT.
Research data showed a strong negative relationship between DDT
residual house sprayings and malaria. In a research from 1993 to 1995,
Ecuador increased its use of
DDT and achieved a 61% reduction in
malaria rates, while each of the other countries that gradually
DDT use had large increases.
In some areas resistance reduced DDT's effectiveness. WHO guidelines
require that absence of resistance must be confirmed before using the
chemical. Resistance is largely due to agricultural use, in much
greater quantities than required for disease prevention.
Resistance was noted early in spray campaigns. Paul Russell, former
head of the Allied Anti-
Malaria campaign, observed in 1956 that
"resistance has appeared after six or seven years." Resistance has
been detected in Sri Lanka, Pakistan,
Central America and
it has largely been replaced by organophosphate or carbamate
insecticides, e.g. malathion or bendiocarb.
In many parts of India,
DDT is ineffective. Agricultural uses
were banned in 1989 and its anti-malarial use has been declining.
Urban use ended. One study concluded that "
DDT is still a viable
insecticide in indoor residual spraying owing to its effectivity in
well supervised spray operation and high excito-repellency
Studies of malaria-vector mosquitoes in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South
Africa found susceptibility to 4%
DDT (WHO's susceptibility standard),
in 63% of the samples, compared to the average of 87% in the same
species caught in the open. The authors concluded that "Finding DDT
resistance in the vector An. arabiensis, close to the area where we
previously reported pyrethroid-resistance in the vector An. funestus
Giles, indicates an urgent need to develop a strategy of insecticide
resistance management for the malaria control programmes of southern
DDT can still be effective against resistant mosquitoes and the
avoidance of DDT-sprayed walls by mosquitoes is an additional benefit
of the chemical. For example, a 2007 study reported that
resistant mosquitoes avoided treated huts. The researchers argued that
DDT was the best pesticide for use in IRS (even though it did not
afford the most protection from mosquitoes out of the three test
chemicals) because the others pesticides worked primarily by killing
or irritating mosquitoes – encouraging the development of
resistance. Others argue that the avoidance behavior slows
eradication. Unlike other insecticides such as pyrethroids, DDT
requires long exposure to accumulate a lethal dose; however its
irritant property shortens contact periods. "For these reasons, when
comparisons have been made, better malaria control has generally been
achieved with pyrethroids than with DDT." In
sleeping and night duties are common, implying that "the
excito-repellent effect of DDT, often reported useful in other
countries, actually promotes outdoor transmission."
Indoor residual spraying
Indoor residual spraying § Residents' opposition
IRS is effective if at least 80% of homes and barns in a residential
area are sprayed. Lower coverage rates can jeopardize program
effectiveness. Many residents resist
DDT spraying, objecting to the
lingering smell, stains on walls, and the potential exacerbation of
problems with other insect pests. Pyrethroid
insecticides (e.g. deltamethrin and lambda-cyhalothrin) can overcome
some of these issues, increasing participation.
A 1994 study found that South Africans living in sprayed homes have
levels that are several orders of magnitude greater than others.
Breast milk from South African mothers contains high levels of
DDE. It is unclear to what extent these levels arise from home
spraying vs food residues. Evidence indicates that these levels are
associated with infant neurological abnormalities.
Most studies of DDT's human health effects have been conducted in
developed countries where
DDT is not used and exposure is relatively
Illegal diversion to agriculture is also a concern as it is difficult
to prevent and its subsequent use on crops is uncontrolled. For
DDT use is widespread in Indian agriculture,
particularly mango production and is reportedly used by
librarians to protect books. Other examples include Ethiopia,
DDT intended for malaria control is reportedly used in coffee
production, and Ghana where it is used for fishing."
The residues in crops at levels unacceptable for export have been an
important factor in bans in several tropical countries. Adding to
this problem is a lack of skilled personnel and management.
Criticism of restrictions on
A few people and groups have argued that limitations on
DDT use for
public health purposes have caused unnecessary morbidity and mortality
from vector-borne diseases, with some claims of malaria deaths ranging
as high as the hundreds of thousands and millions. Robert
Gwadz of the US
National Institutes of Health
National Institutes of Health said in 2007, "The ban
DDT may have killed 20 million children." These arguments were
rejected as "outrageous" by former WHO scientist Socrates Litsios.
University of Illinois
University of Illinois entomologist, says, "to blame
environmentalists who oppose
DDT for more deaths than Hitler is worse
The question that ... malaria control experts must ask is not “Which
is worse, malaria or DDT?” but rather “What are the best tools to
deploy for malaria control in a given situation, taking into account
the on-the-ground challenges and needs, efficacy, cost, and collateral
effects—both positive and negative—to human health and the
environment, as well as the uncertainties associated with all these
Hans Herren & Charles Mbogo
Criticisms of a
DDT "ban" often specifically reference the 1972 United
States ban (with the erroneous implication that this constituted a
worldwide ban and prohibited use of
DDT in vector control). Reference
is often made to Silent Spring, even though Carson never pushed for a
John Quiggin and Tim Lambert wrote, "the most striking
feature of the claim against Carson is the ease with which it can be
Investigative journalist Adam Sarvana and others characterize these
notions as "myths" promoted principally by
Roger Bate of the pro-DDT
advocacy group Africa Fighting
Main article: Indoor residual spraying
Organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, e.g. malathion and
bendiocarb, respectively, are more expensive than
DDT per kilogram and
are applied at roughly the same dosage. Pyrethroids such as
deltamethrin are also more expensive than DDT, but are applied more
sparingly (0.02–0.3 g/m2 vs 1–2 g/m2), so the net cost
per house is about the same.
Non-chemical vector control
Before DDT, malaria was successfully eliminated or curtailed in
several tropical areas by removing or poisoning mosquito breeding
grounds and larva habitats, for example by eliminating standing water.
These methods have seen little application in Africa for more than
half a century. According to CDC, such methods are not practical
in Africa because "Anopheles gambiae, one of the primary vectors of
malaria in Africa, breeds in numerous small pools of water that form
due to rainfall ... It is difficult, if not impossible, to
predict when and where the breeding sites will form, and to find and
treat them before the adults emerge."
The relative effectiveness of IRS versus other malaria control
techniques (e.g. bednets or prompt access to anti-malarial drugs)
varies and is dependent on local conditions.
A WHO study released in January 2008 found that mass distribution of
insecticide-treated mosquito nets and artemisinin–based drugs cut
malaria deaths in half in malaria-burdened Rwanda and Ethiopia. IRS
DDT did not play an important role in mortality reduction in
Vietnam has enjoyed declining malaria cases and a 97% mortality
reduction after switching in 1991 from a poorly funded DDT-based
campaign to a program based on prompt treatment, bednets and
pyrethroid group insecticides.
In Mexico, effective and affordable chemical and non-chemical
strategies were so successful that the Mexican
DDT manufacturing plant
ceased production due to lack of demand.
A review of fourteen studies in sub-Saharan Africa, covering
insecticide-treated nets, residual spraying, chemoprophylaxis for
children, chemoprophylaxis or intermittent treatment for pregnant
women, a hypothetical vaccine and changing front–line drug
treatment, found decision making limited by the lack of information on
the costs and effects of many interventions, the small number of
cost-effectiveness analyses, the lack of evidence on the costs and
effects of packages of measures and the problems in generalizing or
comparing studies that relate to specific settings and use different
methodologies and outcome measures. The two cost-effectiveness
DDT residual spraying examined were not found to provide
an accurate estimate of the cost-effectiveness of
DDT spraying; the
resulting estimates may not be good predictors of cost-effectiveness
in current programs.
However, a study in Thailand found the cost per malaria case prevented
DDT spraying (US$1.87) to be 21% greater than the cost per case
prevented of lambda-cyhalothrin–treated nets (US$1.54), casting
some doubt on the assumption that
DDT was the most cost-effective
measure. The director of Mexico's malaria control program found
similar results, declaring that it was 25% cheaper for Mexico to spray
a house with synthetic pyrethroids than with DDT. However,
another study in
South Africa found generally lower costs for DDT
spraying than for impregnated nets.
A more comprehensive approach to measuring cost-effectiveness or
efficacy of malarial control would not only measure the cost in
dollars, as well as the number of people saved, but would also
consider ecological damage and negative human health impacts. One
preliminary study found that it is likely that the detriment to human
health approaches or exceeds the beneficial reductions in malarial
cases, except perhaps in epidemics. It is similar to the earlier study
regarding estimated theoretical infant mortality caused by
subject to the criticism also mentioned earlier.
A study in the
Solomon Islands found that "although impregnated bed
nets cannot entirely replace
DDT spraying without substantial increase
in incidence, their use permits reduced
A comparison of four successful programs against malaria in Brazil,
India, Eritrea and
Vietnam does not endorse any single strategy but
instead states, "Common success factors included conducive country
conditions, a targeted technical approach using a package of effective
tools, data-driven decision-making, active leadership at all levels of
government, involvement of communities, decentralized implementation
and control of finances, skilled technical and managerial capacity at
national and sub-national levels, hands-on technical and programmatic
support from partner agencies, and sufficient and flexible
DDT resistant mosquitoes have generally proved susceptible to
pyrethroids. Thus far, pyrethroid resistance in Anopheles has not been
a major problem.
DDT in Australia
DDT in New Zealand
DDT in the United States
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Pesticide That Changed the World
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to DDT.
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Pesticide Information Profiles. EXTOXNET.
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Interview with Barbara Cohn, PhD about
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Malaria and uses of
video provided by the Vega Science Trust
"Ugandan farmers push for
DDT ban". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting
Commission. 31 May 2008.
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