DDT Use Threatens Sustainable Agriculture the Pesticide's `Low Cost' Hides the Long-Term Problems It Causes in Developing Countries by Contaminating Soil, Water, and Mothers' Milk

By Kathleen Agena. Kathleen Agena served on the Us Steering Committee Nations. She is president of Environmental Policy Resources Inc. in Valatie, N. Y. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 1994 | Go to article overview

DDT Use Threatens Sustainable Agriculture the Pesticide's `Low Cost' Hides the Long-Term Problems It Causes in Developing Countries by Contaminating Soil, Water, and Mothers' Milk


Kathleen Agena. Kathleen Agena served on the Us Steering Committee Nations. She is president of Environmental Policy Resources Inc. in Valatie, N. Y., The Christian Science Monitor


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 desertification. …

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