Thursday, August 30, 2007


Environmental healthologist J Lowe discovers a brilliant exposé:
This falls in the category of "something I wish I had written first". It's a brilliant takedown of a dead horse that conservatives just love to keep flogging - the myth that the environmentalist conspiracy to ban the pesticide DDT in 1972 led to a worldwide malaria epidemic that killed millions throughout the tropics.
Lowe then proceeds to link to comprehensively debunked anti-DDT propagandist Tim Lambert, who he credits with "performing stout duty counteracting the waves of conservative crap about DDT". If by "stout duty" Lowe means lying, he's absolutely right; just about everything Lambert's ever written about DDT is at least misleading. But the exposé Lowe is so taken with doesn't come from Lambert, it's from Jim Easter. Before considering Easter's post let's take a look at some of the DDT background provided by Lowe.

Lowe draws his DDT history from the EPA, offering a selectively misleading overview:
In 1971, pesticide regulatory authority was transferred to the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In response to a court order, following a suit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund, the EPA began cancellation of all remaining uses of DDT in 1971. In June 1972, William Ruckelshaus, the EPA Administrator announced the final cancellation of all remaining agricultural uses of DDT. The order did not affect public health or quarantine uses or export of DDT. The cancellation was based on findings of persistence, transport, biomagnification, toxicological effects and the availability of effective and less environmentally harmful alternatives to DDT.
Lowe omits the following:
In August 1971, upon the request of 31 DDT formulators, a hearing began on the cancellation of all remaining Federally registered uses of products containing DDT. When the hearing ended in March 1972, the transcripts of 9,312 pages contained testimony from 125 expert witnesses and over 300 documents. The principal parties to the hearings were various formulators of DDT products, USDA, the EDF, and EPA.
Even the EPA selectively omits crucial details, nowhere mentioning that the man conducting those hearings -- administrative law judge Edmund Sweeney -- who actually listened to the testimony firsthand and weighed the evidence, eventually ruled that the by then limited agricultural use of DDT should continue. (The EPA page linked above, "DDT Regulatory History: A Brief Survey (to 1975)", doesn't mention Sweeney by name or even refer to his judgement, thus making it seem that the hearings were but a prelude to Ruckelshaus's decision to ban DDT. That Ruckelhaus overrode Sweeney is conveniently ignored.)

Lowe does eventually refer to the Sweeney judgement, sort of:
A claim made by the pro-DDT crowd (such as Steven Milloy at his DDT FAQi) is that Ruckekshaus disregarded the findings from his own hearing examiner in cancelling DDT, and that his decision was capricious and unsupported by the evidence. Easter has fact-checked this claim, including finding and posting the hard-to-find hearing examiner's record. He suggests that the pro-DDT case may be based on selective quoting of the hearing record - focusing on the findings where DDT wasn't a human and environmental health hazard, and ignoring those showing evidence of adverse effects, and provides examples where Ruckelshaus acknowledges the findings and clearly states his objections to them.
The linked page's discussion of Ruckelshaus's involvement is limited to the following:
William Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972, was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read "EDF's scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won."

But as an assistant attorney general, William Ruckelshaus stated on August 31, 1970 in a U.S. Court of Appeals that "DDT has an amazing an exemplary record of safe use, does not cause a toxic response in man or other animals, and is not harmful. Carcinogenic claims regarding DDT are unproven speculation." But in a May 2, 1971 address to the Audubon Society, Ruckelshaus stated, "As a member of the Society, myself, I was highly suspicious of this compound, to put it mildly. But I was compelled by the facts to temper my emotions ... because the best scientific evidence available did not warrant such a precipitate action. However, we in the EPA have streamlined our administrative procedures so we can now suspend registration of DDT and the other persistent pesticides at any time during the period of review." Ruckelshaus later explained his ambivalence by stating that as assistant attorney general he was an advocate for the government, but as head of the EPA he was "a maker of policy."

Overruling the EPA hearing examiner, EPA administrator Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972. Ruckelshaus never attended a single hour of the seven months of EPA hearings on DDT. Ruckelshaus' aides reported he did not even read the transcript of the EPA hearings on DDT.

After reversing the EPA hearing examiner's decision, Ruckelshaus refused to release materials upon which his ban was based. Ruckelshaus rebuffed USDA efforts to obtain those materials through the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that they were just "internal memos." Scientists were therefore prevented from refuting the false allegations in the Ruckelshaus' "Opinion and Order on DDT."
None of these claims has, as far as I'm aware, been refuted. That's why Lowe chooses to mischaracterize them rather than quote them.

Okay, now for the amazing 1,968 word Jim Easter post at Some are Boojums -- the title of the blog is pretty damned amazing but the post in question certainly isn't: it's more of the same old misleading, wordy lefty anti-DDT crapola. Easter claims his post is a direct response to's "distortion of the history and science surrounding DDT". The guy's fooling himself.

Easter claims the following is misleading even though it quotes directly from Sweeney's findings:
The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”
Easter then observing:
It is not true that Sweeney found no harm caused by DDT. Rather, he found that, using a “preponderance of the evidence” test, DDT users and USDA had shown that DDT’s usefulness to agriculture outweighed the demonstrated harm.
Nowhere on the linked page is it claimed that "Sweeney found no harm caused by DDT"; Easter just made that up to add punch to his post -- he also spices things up with some sexy graphs.

Easter also claims that Ruckelshaus didn't ignore Sweeney's ruling but rather merely overruled it. In fact, Ruckelshaus did ignore Sweeney's ruling, in that he disregarded the precedent established by Sweeney's ruling. Easter's resort to semantics is actually pretty silly.

Easter concludes his post with a final misrepresentation:
The 1972 DDT ban did nothing to restrict the chemical’s use against malaria, but had the effect of eliminating the single most intense source of selection pressure for insecticide resistance in mosquitos. As the rest of the world followed suit in restricting agricultural use of DDT, the spread of resistance was slowed dramatically or stopped.
The U.S. ban made it impossible for the major funders of anti-malaria efforts to justify DDT use anywhere in the world:
As the organization that led the successful campaign to ban use of DDT in the United States in the early 1970’s, we have read with concern recent reports that US AID is unwilling to consider even limited use of DDT in anti-malaria programs in developing countries. According to the New York Times Magazine, you recently stated that part of the reason US AID “doesn't finance DDT is that doing so would require a battle for public opinion. 'You'd have to explain to everybody why this is really O.K. and safe every time you do it.’
”The battle for public opinion continues.


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