In 1962, Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, published her book called Silent Spring. This historical and enlightening book highlighted the devastating environmental and health impacts caused by DDT, a pesticide that inadvertently killed birds and other wildlife in addition to common pests like mosquitoes in the US.
The book, along with 10 years of education and advocacy by activists and scientists, led to the phase out and ultimate ban in 1972 by the US EPA. DDT has been identified as a possible carcinogen by the US, and a suspected carcinogen according to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), and is a known hazard capable of causing organ damage by prolonged or repeated exposure. However, DDT is one of 12 pesticides recommended by the WHO to combat malaria in indoor environments in African countries where malaria remains a more pressing health issue. DDT can take more than 30 years to breakdown in the environment in cold, clay soils such as those found in the upper Midwest.
As a result, it is an environmentally persistent chemical that requires monitoring by various entities, such as the National Park Services, to achieve complete environmental and ecological remediation.
Remnants of DDT are suspected of still polluting our environment as a 2020 investigation aimed at investing methane seeps in the ocean found barrels of DDT slowly emitting its contents into the surrounding environment. As a result, many workers and their families, and aquatic life off of the Pacific coast are still being harmed around the world due to DDT’s continued use and pollution of our bodies of water.
- EPA status update page
- NIOSH – Occupational Health Information
- World Health Organization – DDT to Control Malaria
- Commentary on How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT, by Elena Conis