DDT Follow-up
February 21, 2006 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Whatever became of the people who ate DDT in the early Seventies?

In the early seventies, some people decided to eat quantities of DDT to prove that digesting this banned pesticide had to negative side effects on the human body. These people received a lot of publicity at the time. Has there been any follow-ups to this story?

I had been thinking about this over the week and out of the blue someone asked me the same question.
posted by goalyeehah to Science & Nature (12 answers total)
Best answer: This probably doesn't quite answer your question, but I found this:

In one study involving humans, 17 people ate 35 mg/man daily (about 0.5 mg/kg daily) for 18 months suffering no ill-effect(25). In another study volunteers ate 0.31 to 0.61 mg/kg daily without any noticeable effects(26).
posted by Alison at 7:27 AM on February 21, 2006

Nothing happened, it thinned the shells of birds
posted by Napierzaza at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2006

I don't know; except to say that according some some estimates, that over a billion people have had direct exposure to DDT with no demonstrable negative consequences. When the stuff was first invented in the 40s they used to spray it on people directly by the thousands in places like Italy -- no problems that we know of. A few years back, Johns Hopkins just concluded the seventh study that failed to connect DDT to breast cancer. And contrary to Rachel Carson, it's not nearly as bad for birds as previously thought.

That said, I can't imagine using it in the volumes that we once did is necessarily healthy. But not allowing to be sprayed on the exteriors of hospitals in Africa only makes me conclude that the U.N. really does hate brown people and want them to get malaria. Because there's no effective subsitute and the health and environmental impacts of DDT are practically inconsequential compared to other chemicals they're perfectly okay with.
posted by Heminator at 8:01 AM on February 21, 2006

Why is DDT a hot topic all of a sudden? In the most recent Forbes, there are a couple of articles in regards to DDT and Malaria, and I find it curious that there is publicity surrounding it now.
posted by Todd Lokken at 8:02 AM on February 21, 2006

Because efforts to ban DDT have caused lots of people to get malaria. My guess is that anti-malariaists have been trying to get the ban overturned lately.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 AM on February 21, 2006

To answer a question within a question here (trying not to hijack the thread), I think it actually started a about 5 years ago when Clinton, on his way out of office signed on to a treaty that reaffirmed the ban on DDT that angered the junk science crowd as well as the Africa issues activists. There was a New Yorker article and a few others in some other significant pubs (including one written by moi) within a year or so.

And lately the profile of Africa issues is also being raised thanks to Bono and Gates and other high profile people. And DDT is a major issue for Africa. I think Jeffrey Sachs did a study and concluded that if it wasn't for malaria Africa's economic productivity would be about a third higher. So fixing the malaria problem is a huge deal. If used judiciously, we could possibly eradicate malria in Africa as we have done just about everywhere else.
posted by Heminator at 8:14 AM on February 21, 2006

Best answer: And contrary to Rachel Carson, it's not nearly as bad for birds as previously thought.

utter bullshit. My own father did eggshell studies in the 1970s with DDT, and guess what? It thinned eggshells. He went to museums across the U.S. and measured eggshells collected before DDT was used and guess what? They were thicker. He dosed Barn Owls with DDT-laced meat. One of the females in the study would lay eggs, sit on them to incubate, the eggs would break and she'd try again. This continued until the owl lost all of its feathers from the energy expended and eventually died. Grisly.

Want further proof? Ask a Bald Eagle. They were on the brink of extinction in the last days of DDT, and now they are the poster child for species recovery as a direct result of environmental regulation.

There are pretty well-documented cases of neurological problems due to prolonged direct exposure in humans. This type of reaction is typically limited to agricultural workers spraying without protection. Not a smart practice, but it's possible to mess yourself up via DDT.

That said, DDT is an extremely effective mosquito control agent, and absolutely should be used in malaria-infested areas of the world. If it's used in the right way (for example, spraying the exteriors of buildings as posted previously), it can be an effective malaria control agent without making much or any of an impact on wild animal populations. The U.S.'s trouble with DDT was due to agricultural use, not urban use. I'd take low-level DDT exposure over malaria any day. Definitely the lesser of two evils in that context.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:21 AM on February 21, 2006

DDT Ban Myth Bingo
posted by hilker at 8:34 AM on February 21, 2006

I have no idea about the original question.

But another reason many people might have DDT on the brain lately is the recent bedbug problem I know we've been having in New York and I'm sure in other places as well over the past few years.

When you're waking up every morning with itchy welts, and you have to move all your furniture and throw out half your stuff just to pay an exterminator a fortune to spread some powder that may or may not even work....or move....I can imagine it would be frustrating to know there's an illegal but apparently safe for humans chemical that would just whisk them away....
posted by lampoil at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2006

mcstayinskool, just I don't doubt your father's studies -- I should have made the connection more clear. DDT isn't as bad for birds as previously thought because it can be effective is much lower amounts are used than were previously -- as you stated. Dumping barrels of the stuff (or any chemical) into agricultural fields is probably not good for birds or other wildlife obviously.
posted by Heminator at 9:51 AM on February 21, 2006

Why is DDT a hot topic all of a sudden?

One reason is that anti-evironmentalist point to the DDT ban as "proof" that all environmental regulations are nonsense. Anti-environmentalist are very much on the upswing in the US, so you're going to hear this argument more.
posted by teece at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2006

Why is DDT a hot topic all of a sudden?

Despite the fact that the US and most Western and non-tropical countries banned DDT in the 1970s, it has continued to be used in malaria-prone areas. In 2001, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was ratified, with implementation beginning in 2004. Under the Convention, DDT manufacture is to be phased out, with specific exemptions for states needing it for malaria control under WHO guidelines. We are presently in a period of submission of National Implementation Plans for this phase-out.

In other words, we are right in the middle of a period where DDT manufacturers are desperately trying to keep the gravy train going by any means necessary.

Note that the United States, despite its own ban, has signed but not ratified. Without the latter step, the treaty does not have the status of law in the US. And there are interests which would like to keep it that way.
posted by dhartung at 9:43 PM on February 21, 2006

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