Ensuring Life, Health and Prosperity for Future Generations

> DDT Promoters’ myth: “DDT is the best tool to fight malaria.”

[Reprinted from PANNA]

Fact: The World Health Organization (WHO) tried to eradicate malaria worldwide with a massive DDT spray program in the 1950s and 60s. While the program helped to control malaria in many places, wiping out malaria with DDT was an unrealistic goal that could not be met. One of the many reasons for the failure of this ambitious effort was resistance to DDT among malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Resistance was identified in Africa as early as 1955, and by 1972 nineteen species of mosquito worldwide were resistant to DDT. [10] Often DDT intended for public health use is diverted to illegal agricultural use, hastening the development of resistant mosquito populations. More effective and safer approaches to malaria control are now being used in many countries. For example, Mexico uses an integrated approach that combines: a) early detection of malaria cases and prompt medical treatment, b) community participation in notification of malaria cases and cleaning of streams and other sites where mosquitoes breed; and c) low-volume chemical control with pyrethroid pesticides. [11]

DDT Promoters’ myth: “DDT use for malaria control is completely harmless.”

Fact: When DDT is used for malaria control, it is usually sprayed on the walls inside homes, so risk of exposure is very high. Researchers in Mexico and South Africa found elevated levels of DDT in the blood of those living where DDT was used to control malaria, and breast-fed children in those areas received more DDT than the amount considered “safe” by WHO and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). [12] Evidence also shows that long-lasting residues from DDT house spraying seep into nearby waterways, creating additional pathways of exposure. For example, elevated DDT levels have been found in cow’s milk in indoor DDT treatment areas. [13] In many countries, this adds to exposure from old stockpiles of DDT that are not properly contained or controlled. FAO estimates there are more than 100,000 tons of obsolete pesticide stockpiles in Africa, mostly older chemicals such as DDT. [14]

DDT Promoters’ myth: “All countries with malaria need DDT.”

Fact: Many countries are controlling malaria with effective alternative approaches. Vietnam reduced malaria deaths by 97% and malaria cases by 59% when they switched in 1991 from trying to eradicate malaria using DDT to a DDT-free malaria control program involving distribution of drugs and mosquito nets along with widespread health education organized with village leaders.[15] A program in the central region of Kenya is focusing on reducing malaria by working with the rice growing community to improve water management, use livestock as bait, introduce biological controls and distribute mosquito nets in affected areas. [16]The World Wildlife Fund has documented success in the Kheda district in India, where non-chemical approaches were demonstrated to be cost-effective. [17] In the Philippines, the successful national program has relied on treated bed nets and spraying of alternative chemicals. [18] What countries fighting malaria need is strong support for effective solutions, not increased reliance on DDT.

DDT Promoters’ myth: “DDT is being denied to those who need it most.”

Fact: The few countries that still do need to use DDT to control malaria are able to obtain it. Eighteen of the fifty-four countries in Africa have requested an exemption under the Stockholm Convention for DDT use for malaria control, and an estimated eleven of these are currently using DDT. [19] [20] The Stockholm Convention calls for the ultimate elimination of DDT as soon as these countries are satisfied that alternatives are workable for their specific needs. [21] This approach is supported by public health experts and governments around the world, together with those in the environmental, development and public interest communities in virtually all countries.

DDT Promoters’ myth: “Millions of people will die without DDT.”

Fact: Millions of people are dying now and will continue to die without effective malaria control. In a handful of countries, this may still include spraying with DDT in the short term, until more effective controls are in place. The public health community learned long ago not to rely on any single solution in fighting this deadly disease, with failed reliance on DDT providing the original lesson. Fortunately, experiences in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Mexico, the Philippines and other countries show that effective malaria control is possible, and that it requires a real commitment of resources, integrated strategies and community participation.

Clearly, what the world needs now is not more DDT. If we’re serious about fighting malaria, what we need is realistic long-term funding for community-based control strategies combined with improved housing, basic sanitation and effective policies to fight poverty. It’s true that this more genuine solution is more complicated than spraying a “quick, cheap and dirty” silver-bullet chemical from a by-gone era. But it will also save more lives and provide long term malaria control, which DDT cannot.


1. Rosenberg, T. April 11, 2004. “What the World Needs Now is DDT,” New York Times. See

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 2004. The History of Malaria, an Ancient Disease.

3. The New Deal Network. 2003. The Tennessee Valley Authority: Electricity for All. See

4. Shah, S. April 2006. Don’t Blame Environmentalists for Malaria. The Nation.

5. DDT is classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. January 2001. Ninth Report on Carcinogens. Available at;

DDT falls into Group 2B (“possibly carcinogenic to humans”) under the IARC Carcinogenicity Classification scheme in Overall Evaluations of Carcinogenicity to Humans, compiled from IARC Monographs Vol. 1-79, available online at

6. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. September 2000. Toxicological Profile for DDT, DDE, DDD: Draft for Public Comment. Atlanta, GA. Also

Orris, P. et. al. May 2000. Persistent Organic Pollutants and Human Health. World Federation of Public Health Associations, USA.

7. Gladen, B.C. and Rogan, W.J. 1995. DDE and Shortened Duration of Lactation in a Northern Mexican Town. Am J Public Health, vol 85: 504-08

8. Longnecker, M.P. 2001. Association between maternal serum concentration of the DDT metabolite DDE and preterm and small-for-gestational-age babies at birth. The Lancet, vol. 358: 110-114.

See also Rogan 2005. Health Risks and Benefits of bi (4-chlorphenyl) 1,1,1-trichloroethane (DDT). Lancet, 366: 763-73.

9. For a comprehensive overview of studies finding DDT in breastmilk, see

See also Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2005. Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. See

10. Berenbaum, M. June 5, 2005. If Malaria’s the Problem, DDT’s Not the Only Answer. Washington Post.

11. Bejarano, F.G. 2001. The Phasing Out of DDT in Mexico. Pesticide Safety News, vol. 5, no. 2:5. International Center for Pesticide Safety, Milan, Italy.

and Centro Nacional de Salud Ambiental. Diciembre 2000. Situacion actual de la malaria y uso del DDT in Mexico. Centro de Vigilancia Epidemiologica. Secreteria de Salud;

and RAPAM. World Wildlife Fund. Julio 1998. Participación ciudadana y alternativas al DDT para el control del la malaria. Memorias. Texcoco, México.

12. Waliszewski S.M., 1996. Organochlorine pesticide residues in human breast milk from tropical areas in Mexico, Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 57:22-28

13. ibid

14. UN Food and Agriculture Organization. 2001.Baseline Study on the Problem of Obsolete Pesticide Stocks. FAO Pesticide Disposal Series, No.9. See

15. World Health Organization. 2000. A Story to be Shared: The Successful Fight Against Malaria in Vietnam. See

16. International Development Research Center. 2003. Malaria and Agriculture in Kenya : A New Perspective with Links between Health and Ecosystems. Case Study: Health and Ecosystem Approach. See

17. World Wildlife Fund. 1998. Resolving the DDT Dilemma: Protecting Biodiversity and Human Health. See

18. Government of India. National Malaria Control Program 1999: Country Scenario.

and P.C. Matteson, The Philippine National Malaria Control Program, in P.C. Matteson. 1998. (ed). Disease Vector Management for Public Health and Conservation. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC.

19. Daniel K. May 22, 2006. Uganda : Traders’ Chief Warns on DDT Use. East Africa Business Week.

20. UNEP, “Revised List of Requests for Specific Exemptions in Annex A and Annex B and Acceptable Purposes in Annex B Received by the Secretariat Prior to the Commencement of the Conference of the Plenipotentiaries on 22 May 2001,” UNEP/POPS/CONF/INF/1/Rev.3. See

21. Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Annex B (Restriction), Part II, para. 1-7. Treaty text available online at

Side Bar References

1. June 2006. Profiles- Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

2. Wikipedia. Green Revolution strategies promoted heavy pesticide use.

3. CORE home page

4. Wikipedia

5. Center for Media and Democracy

6. Interview, CNN May 30, 1993

7. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting “Terrorists Attack Ski Lodges, Not Doctors” Update December 1998. See



10. Ibid

11. Center for Media & Democracy

12. Miller, Henry. “While the Government Blunders, West Nile Virus Thrives: How Misguided Bureaucrats and Environmentalists Let a Mosquito-borne Disease Spread.” Hoover Digest, No. 4, Fall 2003. See


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