What comes after a big flood?

The tsunami and Katrina both left behind pools of stagnant water in which things have swarmed and multiplied and emerged to infect humanity. I’m referring, of cause, to clueless articles extolling the virtues of DDT.

The latest is by Henry Miller in the National Review Online.

The six-year old U.S. outbreak of West Nile virus is a significant threat to public health and shows no signs of abating. … As of September 6, Louisiana ranked fourth in the nation in human West Nile virus infections; but with most of New Orleans still under water and a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, there are likely to be far more cases. …

The regulators who banned DDT also failed to take into consideration the inadequacy of alternatives. Because it persists after spraying, DDT works far better than many pesticides now in use, some of which are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Also, the need to spray other insecticides repeatedly — especially in marshlands and forests, where mosquito-breeding areas are large — drives up costs and depletes public coffers. … Pyrethroid pesticides, the most common alternative to DDT, are inactivated within an hour or two.

You can tell the deeply ignorant pro-DDT articles because the authors don’t mention or even seem aware that mosquitoes evolve resistance to insecticides. DDT’s persistence is only an advantage when it sprayed indoors and it stays where it is sprayed. Persistence is a big disadvantage when spraying outdoors because the insecticide is rapidly diluted and the mosquitoes get exposed to sublethal doses. This is perhaps the best method know for breeding insecticide resistant mosquitoes. That is why DDT is only used for indoor residual spraying. these days.

regulators should make DDT available immediately for mosquito control in the United States.

That would be pointless since malathion and pyrethroids are more effective without the disadvantage of resistance.

Second, the United States should oppose international strictures on DDT. This includes retracting American support for the heinous United Nations Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention, which severely stigmatizes DDT and makes it exceedingly difficult for developing countries — many of which are plagued by malaria — to use the chemical.

No it doesn’t. Malaria Foundation International was quite pleased with the Stockholm Convention writing:

The outcome of the treaty is arguably better than the status quo going into the negotiations over two years ago. For the first time, there is now an insecticide which is restricted to vector control only, meaning that the selection of resistant mosquitoes will be slower than before.

Also, there is a clear procedure that endemic countries may follow to use DDT, and having done so, they have the RIGHT at international law to use DDT, without pressure from the developed countries or international institutions who have in the past threatened them against doing so.

Miller also claims

The website of the Centers for Disease Control suggests several measures to avoid West Nile virus infection: “avoid mosquito bites,” by wearing clothes that expose little skin, using insect repellent, and staying indoors during peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn); “mosquito-proof your home,” by removing standing water, and installing and maintaining screens; and “help your community,” by reporting dead birds.

Conspicuously absent from its list of suggestions is any mention of insecticides or widespread spraying. Anyone curious about the role of pesticides in battling mosquitoes and West Nile is directed to a maze of other Web sites.

Perhaps the Atlanta-based CDC officials don’t get out much. You don’t have to be a Rocket Entomologist to know that emptying birdbaths and the saucers under flower pots is not going to get rid of a zillion hungry mosquitoes.

IF you look at the CDC page that Miller refers to you can see the links that somehow escaped his attention. The second item under “Help Your Community” is “Mosquito Control Programs” which links to this page on the CDC’s web site which discusses spraying. There is also a prominent link to the CDC’s Guidelines for Surveillance, Prevention, & Control, which has much about insecticides and spraying. Maybe the CDC didn’t give spraying the emphasis that Miller would have liked, but that’s because it isn’t the magic bullet that Miller imagines it to be.

Hat tip: John Fleck.

Comments

  1. #1 Eli Rabett
    September 13, 2005

    Actually, the one time you might seriously consider broadcast spraying of DDT is right after a huge flood. Provided you do it one time, and the standing water disappears in one or two breeding cycles, it should be ok.

  2. #2 Dano
    September 13, 2005

    Tim, if you mention DDT resistance in your argument, what do you have left? Come, come.

    D

  3. #3 Glen Raphael
    September 13, 2005

    Is there anything wrong with using DDT as recommended, as an indoor spray, as part of an overall risk abatement program? That doesn’t seem pointless to me. The article also refers to
    “applying it carefully and sparingly”, which seems like a pretty good idea.

  4. #4 Dano
    September 13, 2005

    This is Henry Miller, Glen.

    D

  5. #5 jre
    September 13, 2005

    Yes, the same Henry Miller who
    wrote a review of Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science,
    saying that

    [Mooney] seems to have experienced an overnight epiphany about the importance of defensible science policy, and this raises doubt about his sincerity.

    Mooney takes the trouble to offer a serious response to this charge, which I think is more than Miller deserves. I’d just ask “on which of my earlier words do you base this statement, Mr. Miller — or did you just pull it out of your ass?” Which is why Chris Mooney gets invited to nicer parties than I do.

  6. #6 joe c
    September 14, 2005

    From what I have read, they are going to spray the area but not with DDT. It’s a done deal. I don’t know why you neglected to mention that. So other than having some fun trying to bang a right winger for the day, what’s your point?
    At least the US is wealthy enough to afford a more expensive insecticide than DDT, which is banned from use in the US like it is here. Oh, let me correct that….. “a controlled substance”.

  7. #7 joe c
    September 14, 2005

    Tim:
    I have been giving it some thought to the whole DDT thing and this is what I come up with.
    You argue
    1. DDT is not banned
    2. Overuse of DDT in the open air causes resistance in mosquitoes
    3. There are many substitutes available
    I believe this is a pretty good summary of your arguments. However I see a few fatal flaws here.

    I have already demonstrated that DDT is banned in Australia; or rather it is a “controlled substance” that has not been produced or imported since the late 70’s. I simply rang my local government and asked if I could use DDT to spray the garden and house- was told I couldn’t and went to the Fed Dept. of agriculture for the complete picture. I presume the same applies in the US. Therefore it is a good bet that DDT is banned throughout the OECD. I also assume that it is just as difficult to obtain DDT in the third world. If you can’t buy it because it is a “controlled substance” I would guess it is banned.
    The Dictionary definition of the word banned is:
    To prohibit by official decree.
    To deprive the free movement of people (people could be exchanged for “controlled substance”.
    Censure, condemnation, or disapproval expressed especially by public opinion.

    As I see it DDT falls into all these categories: across the OECD and the rest of the world.

    I accept that overuse could cause resistance (as you has demonstrated in certain parts of the world). However I cannot understand this. As there are substitutes why would there be so much concern whether DDT was used and mozies developed resistance. In other words if super-mozies grew as a result of DDT resistance why not then use substitutes to zap the little bastards?
    I am reaching the conclusion that the resistance thing is just a red herring.
    On these terms therefore DDT is banned.

  8. #8 Dano
    September 14, 2005

    In other words if super-mozies grew as a result of DDT resistance why not then use substitutes to zap the little bastards?

    I’m continually amazed. Sheesh.

    Unintended consequences.

    How hard is it? Really?

    D

  9. #9 joe c
    September 14, 2005

    Dano:
    The only thing you seem to be able to well is give a good old lefty sneer.
    Let’s just assume that you will sneer at pretty much what anyone ever says disagreeing with T Lambert. That will save you the trouble of having to say anything in the future, or sneer that is.

    Of course we all know you are of superior intellect, otherwise why would you be a lefty. You couldn’t sneer!

    It reminds me of the Union’s civil war general. He had superior forces and materiel but was always looking for excuses as to why he couldn’t attack.

  10. #10 Tony D
    September 14, 2005

    How many substitutes are there joe c? How long will it take the mozzies to develop resistance to the one you use after DDT? How long will it take the mozzies to develop resistance to the one you use after that? And the one after that?

    Basically your argument requires that the pace of technological development of alternatives to DDT proceed at the same or faster rate than the mozzies can build resistance. You gonna pay this continual (and probably exponentially increasing) investment?

    And of course there is the issue of unintended consequences as Dano mentioned. Cane Toads anyone?

  11. #11 z
    September 15, 2005

    “The concept that anything which is unobtainable in Australia is therefore banned worldwide might be a fairly weak argument”, I said as I opened the door of my left-hand-drive automobile. Perhaps you weren’t around earlier when TL posted the link to the company listing their DDT sales worldwide.

  12. #12 joe c
    September 15, 2005

    Z.

    “The concept that anything which is unobtainable in Australia is therefore banned worldwide might be a fairly weak argument”,

    I used Australia because it was easy to check. The US would be just the same , and so is the rest of the OECD. Prove the rest of the world isn’t like that. If you can’t prove it I will take it that my point is correct, DDT is “banned” as the word is defined by the dictionary.

    “TL posted the link to the company listing their DDT sales worldwide”.

    Yea right, try importing it where you need or want and let’s see how far you go. That’s just a red herring.

    Dano:

    Why are you always sneer at people. It really is a bad trait. Try to refute arguments without sneering in future.

    If there are substitutes then what is the big deal about using DDT? The Civil War general analogy still applies.

  13. #13 Tim Lambert
    September 15, 2005

    Joe, DDT is a big deal because people like Miller keep writing clueless articles about how it would solve the world’s problems if it weren’t for those evil greenies banning it.

  14. #14 joe c
    September 15, 2005

    Tim:
    Would you include NGO’s in the same category as greenies? Why? Because that’s where most of the pressure came from to ban DDT.

  15. #15 Eli Rabett
    September 15, 2005

    Post first think at leisure. Looking at my original post, saying that a one time broadcast use of DDT might be OK, I thought again because of the persistence of the stuff. It would probably last long enough that several generations of mosquitos would be able to breed resistance and then take a real long time to breed out that trait. Meanwhile, indoor DDT spraying would be ineffective.

  16. #16 Thomas Palm
    September 15, 2005

    Joe, it makes perfect sense that you aren’t allowed to use DDT. Not only would it cause lots of environmental damage if everyone used it at will, but it would be guaranteed to produce resistant bugs. DDT should be reserved for fighting infectious diseases, and that is best done in government controlled programs that can check for buildup of resistance. As it happens few malaria control programs use DDT because it isn’t quite as good as advertised.

  17. #17 Ian Gould
    September 15, 2005

    >I have already demonstrated that DDT is banned in Australia; or rather it is a “controlled substance”…

    So’s penicillin.

  18. #18 ÐanØ
    September 15, 2005

    joe c:

    Maybe I’m hoping the sneering breaks through the noise you make when you stick your fingers in your ears and say lalalalalaIcan’thearyoulalala.

    I have more than one character, but certain ones come out reflexively upon seeing certain behaviors. What can I say?

    BTW, your hand-wave to the NGOs doesn’t distract from the fact that DDT resistance, or DDE’ toxicities are an issue.

    Remember: DDT resistance, or DDE’ toxicities are an issue.

    That is, DDT resistance, or DDE’ toxicities are an issue.

    So, DDT resistance, or DDE’ toxicities are an issue.

    There! How’s that? that’s the big deal about using DDT, as so many in this thread have said. That is, folks have said DDT resistance, or DDE’ toxicities are an issue.

    HTH,

    an

  19. #19 Ian Gould
    September 15, 2005

    >Yea right, try importing it where you need or want and let’s see how far you go. That’s just a red herring.

    So I presume the list on that company’s website of all the countries which are importing DDT for mosquito control is another red herring, as are the twenty or so countries which are currently using DDT in mosquito control programs with the approval and assistance of the WHO and funding for western donors?

    As for your “if it’s banned in the OECD I assume its banned in the third world argument” the agreement to phase out DDT use in the developed world explicitly excluded the developing world and manufacture and sale of DDT in those countries continued.

    Agricultural use in developing countries was phased out over about a decade as countries found suitable alternatives.

    As I’ve noted before, it makes sense to ban DDT from agricultural use and from broad-acre anti-mosquito programs in order to prevent the emergence of resistant mosquitoes and preserve its effectiveness for in-house spraying and on nets.

  20. #20 joe c
    September 15, 2005

    Ian:

    I want to buy a 44 gal barrel of DDT. Can you please arrange to send it to me after you have got it through customs.

    Thanks

    Oh, I also want to send the same quantity over to Sri Lanka.

    Please arrange it and I will send you the money after it has cleared customs.

    Thanks a lot and appreciate your help.

  21. #21 Tony D
    September 16, 2005

    Joe c,

    I want to buy 44 tonne of uranium. Can you please arrange to send it to me after you have got it through customs.

    Thanks

    Oh, I also want to send the same quantity over to Sri Lanka.

    Please arrange it and I will send you the money after it has cleared customs.

    Thanks a lot and appreciate your help.

    Uranium: not banned, but certainly a controlled substance.

  22. #22 joe c
    September 16, 2005

    Tony D

    What about cane toads?

    You’re he guys arguing DDT isn’t banned. The uranium point is absurd.

    I suggest you take a look at the Dept. of Agric where you will see DDT is banned since he late 70’s.

  23. #23 Tony D
    September 16, 2005

    Joe c,

    “What about cane toads?” re Dano’s comment about unintended consequences, research cane beetles & cane toads and why they were introduced to Australia and what the results were, and the compare to the desired results.

    “The uranium point is absurd”, Not really. Uranium has nothing to do with DDT except that it is restricted and controlled as to who can/cannot buy it. My point was that your analogy was incredibly simplistic, as was my reply about uranium – you over-simplified, so I returned the favour.

    “I suggest you take a look at the Dept. of Agric where you will see DDT is banned since he late 70’s.” In return I would suggest that you appear to be being deliberately dense joe c, stop it – you’re smarter than that.

  24. #24 Tony D
    September 16, 2005

    Oh, and I forgot:

    “You’re the guys arguing DDT isn’t banned.” Ahhh… semantic games now… great, what fun.

  25. #25 Ian gould
    September 16, 2005

    A more appropriate analogy than uranium is dynamite.

    Why don;t you ring your local council joe and ask if you can buy a ton of TNT or dynamite?

    Have fun explaining yourself to the police and then come back here and post about the ban on explosives.

  26. #26 cytochrome sea
    September 16, 2005

    I’m not sure I’d characterize the Malaria Foundation’s statement as being pleased, I’d say relieved would be a better word.

    Anyway, [another](http://www.malaria.org.za/lsdi/Progress/entomological_aspects_of_vecto.html) quote regarding resistance might interest some:

    “From the outset, pyrethroids were identified as the insecticide to be used in the spraying component of the LSDI. However, with the discovery of high levels of pyrethroid resistance in An. funestus, meetings were held with the RMCC, national and international experts to recommend an alternative to the use of this family of insecticides. Based on scientific data, it was unanimously agreed the best course of action would be to use DDT. In the light of Mozambique not agreeing to the use of DDT, an alternative recommendation was that a carbamate such as Bendiocarb be used. Ongoing research indicates levels of carbamate resistance outside the Zone 1 area and collections within the study area have been completed towards evaluating selection in this regard following spraying with a carbamate.

    Increasing levels of insecticide resistance and the limited number of available insecticides, restricts what can be used in the residual house spraying programme in southern Mozambique. Given the discovery of pyrethroid and possibly carbamate resistance in the LSDI area the only remaining group of insecticides are the organophosphates which have a high mammalian toxicity. Since the use of DDT alone has not been approved by Ministry of Health in Mozambique, a rotational method of spraying is proposed, using different insecticides, as the way forward. DDT would need to be one of the insecticides used during such a rotational insecticide spraying programme.”

    (sorry for the length)

  27. #27 cytochrome sea
    September 16, 2005

    (oops, I should have worded that better, I didn’t mean to imply the quote I pasted was from the Malaria Foundation)

  28. #28 PeterW
    September 18, 2005

    Hey why not add DDT to the mix, we’ve almost got every manmade chemical in the soup of New Orleans, why not add another? Everybody knows there is no such thing as synergy. The EPA never tests for it.

    By the way, this will make Love Canal look like Eden.

  29. #29 cytochrome sea
    September 18, 2005

    PeterW: I don’t see any point in your comment.

  30. #30 PeterW
    September 18, 2005

    cytochrome sea Says:
    PeterW: I don’t see any point in your comment.

    What exactly don’t you understand?

    Here we have probably the worse toxic mess in history and people are talking about adding DDT and other insecticides to the mix. They have no idea how it will react with all these other chemicals. Most animal testing is done on a single chemical, it is almost never done in combination. The synergistic effects are completely unknown.

    The concept of dumping more chemicals into this area seems just a tad STUPID.

  31. #31 cytochrome sea
    September 19, 2005

    PeterW: “What exactly don’t you understand?”

    I guess it’s (what I would consider) the chemophobia in your post. The topic seems to be about human health, infectious disease and vector control. Perhaps you could answer me this: How many of the deaths in this case can be attributed to this “soup” of synthetic chemicals? Contrast that with; how many of the deaths can be attributed to dihydrogen monoxide, the more prevalent ‘natural’ chemical?

    Previously Eli put forward an idea about widescale spraying of DDT, then after consideration retracted it. Personally I really doubt it’d be necessary, wouldn’t advocate it, and am not thinking there is any large risk for mosquito borne disease in the area. DDT would be a last resort anyway as money would be a very minor issue.

    The standing water isn’t very safe at all to be sure, but any synthetic chemical species in it are going to be the least of your worries; from a public health perspective.

  32. #32 cytochrome sea
    September 19, 2005

    PeterW:
    (lifting a quote from a recent CNN article)

    “It is contaminated with human and animal waste. But there isn’t this sort of toxic soup out there,” said Dr. Tom Clark, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC.”

    Sounds about right. ‘Pathogenic soup’ might be more apt, but the quantity of water is so great the dangers should (hopefully) still be pretty diluted. Seems like good conditions for algae to thrive though.

  33. #33 Tim Lambert
    September 19, 2005

    They are actually spraying [Naled](http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5936,16572943%255E1702,00.html) to control mosquitoes after the flood. Unlike DDT, it is not persistent, so it is a much better choice.

  34. #34 cytochrome sea
    September 19, 2005

    Tim: I kinda doubt either choice would really be necessary. Naled is certainly more ‘toxic’ to humans than DDT, but in the small (comparatively) quantities there shouldn’t be any harm at all. Especially since the Naled should be gone rather quickly, like you said. (depending on the pH of the water and the amount of sunlight mostly)

  35. #35 PeterW
    September 20, 2005

    cytochrome sea Says:
    “the chemophobia in your post.”
    “dihydrogen monoxide”

    Really clever.

    cytochrome sea Says:
    “It is contaminated with human and animal waste. But there isn’t this sort of toxic soup out there,” said Dr. Tom Clark, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC.”

    Actually there are many that disagree with this analysis. Hugh Kaufman, a senior EPA policy analyst in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response is one who spoke up about this situation. Here’s a good little summary of the inadequate testing.


    September 20, 2005
    Critics Say EPA Withholding Information on New Orleans Contamination

    cytochrome sea Says:
    “The standing water isn’t very safe at all to be sure, but any synthetic chemical species in it are going to be the least of your worries; from a public health perspective.”

    Well that’s interesting since public health usually does a pathetic job of protecting people from long term chemical exposure. That is not to say that stagnant water and mosquitoes will not be a problem. But what some people always seem to forget is that they kill predator species with adulticides as well as mosquitoes. The predator species do not rebound as quickly as the mosquitoes. The adulticide can actually trigger an increase in the mosquito population shortly after it wears off. It also makes an area much more dependent on pesticides.

    I would think a larvacide would be much more effective at this point in time to keep the population down.

  36. #36 cytochrome sea
    September 21, 2005

    PeterW: I read your link, found it rather short on details. I’m not real big on ‘evidence of absence’ stuff myself.

    >Well that’s interesting since public health usually does a pathetic job of protecting people from long term chemical exposure.

    My only response is to reiterate, *”(what I would consider) the* **chemophobia** *in your post”*

    I think you misunderstood me here:

    *”The standing water isn’t very safe at all to be sure, but any synthetic chemical species in it are going to be the least of your worries; from a public health perspective.”*

    I meant the standing water is probably full of pathogens, and there is a danger there. (from a public health perspective) I think the concern over mosquito borne illness in this situation is overblown, and I think your concern over synthetic chemicals in the water is **really** overblown. (again, from a public health perspective) Have there been any reports of people actually drinking the water? (I imagine some survivors might have, but don’t imagine it’s a major ongoing thing)

  37. #37 PeterW
    September 22, 2005

    cytochrome sea Says:
    “I’m not real big on ‘evidence of absence’ stuff myself.”

    Oh great, the EPA doesn’t test the water and so you conclude there’s nothing in the water.


    cytochrome sea Says:
    “the chemophobia in your post”

    This is just ignorant and obnoxious. Please grow up.

  38. #38 cytochrome sea
    September 22, 2005

    PeterW: The EPA *has* tested the water. What I meant was the link you cited didn’t provide any *evidence* of the sampling being inadequate, for me that would mean others (Kaufman perhaps, or does he just complain?) independently sampling and showing what the EPA had *missed*.

    [Here](http://www.epa.gov/katrina/testresults/water.html) you can find where the EPA has tested (and what they tested for) and view the results. I might have missed a site or two but here’s where and what they’ve reported as breaching the EPA safe levels:

    September 3, 2005

    site#3 (North Claiborne Ave exit ramp (Exit 236B))

    Lead (measured level)846 (EPA limit)15

    September 4, 2005

    site#16265

    Lead (measured level)27.3 (EPA limit)15

    site#16269

    Lead (measured level)49.4 (EPA limit)15

    September 6, 2005

    site#8587

    Arsenic (measured level)13 (EPA limit)10

    site#8778

    Arsenic (measured level)13 (EPA limit)10
    site#8793

    Arsenic (measured level)11 (EPA limit)10

    Lead (measured level)19 (EPA limit)15

    site#8795

    Arsenic (measured level)15 (EPA limit)10

    Lead (measured level)21 (EPA limit)15

    site#8796

    Lead (measured level)18 (EPA limit)15

    site#8858

    Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (measured level)12.2 (EPA limit)6

    I imagine the numbers are in micrograms/liter.
    WRT the chemophobia quote, note: I haven’t been calling you a chemophobe. I’ve merely been pointing out what I perceived to be “chemophobic” sounding remarks, you don’t need to take that personally.

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