Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane MAG

March 30, 2008
By Tehreem Rehman, Huntington, NY

Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane – by itself, this chemical compound means nothing to the average person. However, when you realize that its abbreviation is DDT, you may recall the controversy surrounding this pesticide a couple of decades ago, which led to a ban in the United States. Concern over the detrimental ­effects of DDT on the environment and people’s health was the main reason for the ban. Yet, for some reason, historically reputable organizations like the World Health Organization are now ­endorsing its use in developing countries.

After World War II, DDT became a household item for most Americans. It was used on lawns – an area where children and pets spend much of their time. It was also used on crops to control insects. However, DDT is far from selective. In fact, it killed not only insects, but also birds and fish. These animals often suffered seizures and blindness before they died. DDT was later associated with a significant decrease in the bald eagle population, causing America’s ­national symbol to become endangered.

Initially, Americans failed to realize that DDT was harmful. Several years after it became prevalent, ­people began to notice it was adversely affecting wildlife, even beyond immediate deaths. They observed that the remaining birds had difficulty reproducing. Their eggs would not hatch, or if they did, the chicks died almost immediately. Scientists realized the problem was a result of extremely thin and fragile shells. They soon discovered a strong inverse correlation between the level of DDE (the breakdown product of DDT) in the eggs and shell thickness. This proved that DDT was now not only responsible for the direct deaths of many birds, but was also indirectly driving species to extinction by interfering with reproduction.

Recent studies have suggested that DDT could be affecting humans in a similar way. DDT and DDE have been found to act as endocrine-mimicking compounds. In other words, DDT and DDE are so chemically similar to the hormone estrogen that they can trigger hormonal responses in the body, wreaking havoc by upsetting the body’s delicate balance. This disruption in the body’s hormones has been linked to breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers. Research suggests that exposure to DDT can make it difficult for women to give birth and can cause reproductive difficulties for men as well.

Yet, in spite of all this knowledge, many still advocate the use of DDT in developing nations, especially Africa. They claim that DDT will help fight malaria by killing disease-carrying mosquitos. History has clearly proved, however, that DDT harms everything in its path – including humans. In addition, it has been shown many times that a target species often ­becomes resistant to the chemical and its population can experience a strong rebound. Thus, not only would DDT harm other plants and animals, but it could still fail to eradicate malaria in Africa in the long run.

What is even more distressing is that DDT bio­degrades very slowly, with a half-life as long as 15 years. Traces of DDT can still be found in our bodies, and there is every reason to suspect that there are many other undiscovered ways in which DDT is ­adversely affecting us. Therefore, it makes no sense to continue polluting our planet with a chemical that has been responsible for many species becoming ­endangered or downright extinct. What’s to say that the same thing couldn’t eventually happen to us?

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This article has 3 comments.

Trem said...
on Aug. 17 2010 at 11:49 pm
An excellent well written article, congrats! Clearly well thought out and researched, I really enjoyed reading it. But although DDT will not suffice in the long run in the battle against Malaria, I disagree, and believe the use of it should be continued, though more sparingly, and just in areas where it really is required to halt the progress of malaria. For until modern medicine can evolve enough to truly stop this terrible disease, we should try and save as many as we can! Because it's all fine and dandy to speak of saving birds and such, until you lose a loved one to Malaria, due to bans on DDT in the area. Do you care about humans or birds more?

Clara said...
on Apr. 7 2010 at 7:33 pm
I'm pretty impressed, for a year I studied DDT and the environmental movement, but this is pretty neat. If this is important to you, I think you should check out Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (if you haven't already read it). It's amazing how dependent, yet unaware of DDT's impact we were. I've read and it's not necessarily DDT, but Parkinson's Disease is often caused by being exposed to it. (And PD is growing more and more common) I think you could've even included how crazy they became about using for pointless tasks.

StellaRose said...
on Jan. 21 2010 at 5:48 pm
Quite an interesting article, I'm glad to have learned something new today. Keep it up, you're awesome.


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