December 8, 2010

3 Billion & Counting: The Cost of Banning DDT

By Dennis T. Avery

3 Billion and Counting is a new documentary film on the awful human cost of banning DDT. The film’s producer, medical doctor Rutledge Taylor, circled the tropical world, finding that malaria has claimed some three billion human lives throughout history—and the toll of needless deaths is continuing to mount by perhaps 1.5 million per year. Moreover, it permanently debilitates millions more. Taylor says malaria treatment is a “tangle of red tape, misguided prevention policies and treatment that is ineffective in the face of continual re-infection.” Above all, he found “willful deafness to the pleas of local populations to help them eradicate the mosquitoes that deliver the deadly cargo.”

Steve Milloy at has called DDT “a weapon of mass survival.”

Rachel Carson ignited the environmental movement when her book Silent Spring warned the world in 1962 that “DDT would be proven to be a [human] carcinogen.” In fact, no peer-reviewed evidence ever indicted DDT as a carcinogen—or a human health risk of any sort.

What about DDT thinning the eggshells of raptor birds? Audubon counted virtually no eagles in its annual “lower-48 states” Christmas bird counts from 1900 until after 1940. The birds were shot and poisoned for “stealing” fish, lambs, and poultry. The public thought eagles were just big, aggressive predators. Finally, in 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act. The eagles began a long, initially-slow comeback. Today, Audubon typically records more than 15,000 eagles every Christmas—and the DDT ban had no role in their comeback.

But Rachel Carson struck a public nerve. DDT and window screens had eradicated malaria in America and Europe. Well and good. But then DDT started radically reducing the death rates of the brown, black, and yellow people in the tropics. Paul Ehrlich wrote his incendiary screed The Population Bomb in 1968, and the American public recoiled in horror at “overpopulation.”

Rutledge Taylor traces the horrific DDT mistake back to one man: William Ruckelshaus, the Nixon-appointed lawyer who headed the EPA in 1972. An EPA judge heard more than 100 expert witnesses, and ruled that DDT was not a carcinogen, nor did it pose a threat to mammals, fish or birds. Ruckelshaus overruled his own judge, and banned DDT. He had attended none of the hearing, and admitted later he’d never read any of the transcript. Dr. Taylor concludes he did it to please his friends in the Environmental Defense Fund.

The American DDT ban triggered similar bans across the First World—and with it, their refusal to fund its use in poor countries. Malaria re-surged all over the tropics. Rachel Carson, and Ruckelshaus were the indirect cause of more deaths than Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Genghis Khan combined. You can even throw in the Black Plague and still not match the numbers.

DDT is not only the most cost-effective mosquito killer, it is also a powerful mosquito repellent. If tropic homes get a mild interior DDT whitewash, the insects don’t come in, bite somebody, and then die two hours later. They just don’t come in! DDT is, by itself, capable of reducing a malaria outbreak by 80 percent—quickly.

Global population is now rapidly stabilizing, and will trend slowly down after 2050. Is it time to renounce the “overpopulation” panic and use the best chemistry to suppress the awful malaria scourge? Remember, each case of malaria causes not only the victim’s near-constant suffering, but the need for much nursing care from his family. Malaria may be enough, by destroying the vigorous health of its citizens, to explain the poverty of so many tropical countries

Meanwhile, Ohio’s governor is trying for an EPA waiver for malathion, another persistent pesticide, to control the bedbugs that were once eradicated by DDT and are making a vigorous comeback. We wish him good luck.

Conflict of interest note: I was proud to be interviewed in this film, and received no remuneration. My deepest thanks go to Dr. Taylor for his constructive dedication to correcting our society’s massive, tragic malaria mistake.

Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer of "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years". Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 24421 or email to