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Daily Newscasts

Bring Back DDT? Bedbug – and Malaria – Fighting Pesticide Debated

September 23, 2010

NEW YORK - It gets credit for helping eliminate most bedbugs in the U.S. by the middle of the 20th century, but DDT was banned as a possible carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972. It also was prohibited for agricultural use by most nations in the 1970s and '80s because of its detrimental effect on bald eagles and other birds of prey. The synthetic pesticide is now mainly used to fight the mosquitoes that carry malaria in South Africa.

Filmmaker and physician D. Rutledge Taylor claims that millions of lives could be saved across the African continent if governments and donor nations would relax their opposition to DDT.

"I've looked at all the studies, and I have no doubt whatsoever that DDT is safe to humans, animals and the environment."

However, some experts say mosquitoes develop resistance to DDT - in many areas where it was used, victories against malaria were reversed, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The World Health Organization recommends limited use against malaria, but advocates that alternatives be found in order to phase DDT out.

Elizabeth Gore of the United Nations Foundation and the malaria-fighting group Nothing But Nets, says another problem is that DDT is not 100-percent effective against mosquitoes.

"We are fighting a very tricky mosquito, who has really gotten strong and is resistant to it. So right now, our greatest tools are long-lasting bed nets, and treatment, and education."

Taylor's documentary film, "3 Billion and Counting," points out that while mosquitoes may build resistance to DDT, the pesticide is still effective in repelling them.

"I'm not against bed nets. Use bed nets. I think they should be second in the lineup, for sure. If you have a bed net in your home and you don't use it, you don't have coverage. If your house has been sprayed with DDT, you have coverage for a year and it's absolutely non-toxic."

Contrary to Taylor's "non-toxic" claim, DDT is classified as "moderately toxic" by the United States National Toxicology Program. Taylor's film maintains that shortsighted governmental and environmental policies are causing the deaths of millions and the suffering of billions.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY