Suppose that over the next year the entire population of the Memphis metropolitan area were to die: 2,700-plus people gone each and every day, over a million in a year. And further imagine that another 200 million-plus, more than half the population of the entire U.S., were made chronically ill and, in a majority of those cases, unable to work.
Then consider that it was all caused by a disease that could have been eliminated through use of a common, cheap chemical, but the government refused to allow it, even though no scientific evidence had ever shown it to have caused harm to humans.
Imagine the outcry.
Such a scenario is being played out over much of the globe: One million to three million people dead annually, 200 million to 300 chronically ill from malaria, because governments won't allow the use of the pesticide DDT to kill mosquitoes that carry the disease.
That DDT was ever banned in the first place is yet another farce of the Nixon era, when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Ruckelshaus arbitrarily decreed that it be removed from use — despite extensive hearings that concluded it posed no danger to human health and a judge's ruling that it shouldn't be banned. Ruckleshaus, it is reported, refused to attend the hearings or to read one word of the more than 9,000 pages of testimony from more than 125 witnesses.
The ban on DDT, widely used on crops, was a direct outgrowth of the public hysteria regarding all things chemical that followed publication of Rachel Carson's book, “Silent Spring,” in which she painted lurid pictures of landscapes devoid of bird songs and a human population rife with cancers from exposure to pesticides and chemicals.
Although there was some questionable evidence that DDT, in large quantities, caused thinning of the shells of the eggs of some bird species (this is still being debated in the scientific community), there was not then — nor now — one scintilla of scientific proof that DDT had caused a single human death or a single human cancer.
But DDT became a cause celèbre for environmental organizations, and their relentless campaigns have been a major influence in it being banned in the U.S. and many other countries.
They could afford to be holier-than-thou; malaria had been eliminated in the U.S. prior to DDT being outlawed. But for much of the rest of the world — especially Third World nations — the loss of DDT saw the number of malaria cases begin skyrocketing. And deaths.
Efforts are now afoot to ban DDT worldwide, a move that would condemn millions more to needless suffering and death. Organizations and governments are playing politics with people's lives, denying the use of an effective, safe, cheap pesticide that has stood the test of time as the absolute best material in malaria control programs.
One small step: Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has succeeded in pressuring the U.S. Agency for International Development to reform its inefficient, wasteful malaria programs. Another is Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates' $250 million-plus contributions to malaria research.
But now, and for the foreseeable future, DDT is a much-needed lifesaver.