TTHE pesticide DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s
and its export was banned in the 1980s, but it and others made with
similar chemicals continue to be the most widely used pesticides
throughout the developing countries.
Why are DDT and its related pesticides still being used when
there is so much well-documented evidence against them?
One reason is that the World Health Organization continues to
recommend DDT for use in eliminating malaria-carrying pests.
The United Nations Environment Program, however, has been
warning for decades that DDT contributes to the resistance of
malaria-carrying insects. In one study conducted by the UN
Environment Program and the Central American Research Institute for
Industry, resistance of malaria-carrying pests to DDT was found to
have increased from 58 percent to 86 percent over a two-year period
in Guatemala's cotton-growing areas. As a result, Guatemala had to
spend $1.6 million more on malaria control the following year.
Moreover, studies by international agencies and academic and
nonprofit groups have shown that the soil and food chain are
heavily contaminated with DDT residues throughout Africa, Asia,
Central and South America, and the South Pacific, with alarming
levels of DDT residues showing up in mothers' milk.
A recent study by the Punjab Agricultural University in India
found that babies in the cotton-growing region of the Punjab were
consuming 24 times as much DDT residue as is considered safe.
Similar studies by the Pesticides Action Network and Greenpeace
have shown extensive contamination of the food chain in the South
Pacific where, in addition to its use as a pesticide, DDT is often
used to kill fish.
The contamination of mothers' milk in many developing countries
has prompted the United Nations Environment Program to take the
unusual initiative of recommending the use of infant formula in
these regions, even if that means risking that the infant formula
will not be prepared as safely as it should be.
The soil and ground water are also heavily contaminated in
regions where DDT is still being used. Persistent use of DDT and
its related chemicals can thoroughly undermine the productivity of
the soil over time by destroying the microorganisms and nutrients
that nourish crops. This not only decreases agricultural
productivity, but, by weakening the land, makes it vulnerable to