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DDT: Scientists, Citizens, and Public Policy

Thomas R. Dunlap
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 326
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    From the time the public learned of DDT's dramatic containment of a typhus epidemic in Naples during World War II to the ban on DDT by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, this is the story of the controversial pesticide and its part in the rise of the environmental movement.

    Originally published in 1983.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5385-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    Even those who vividly remember World War II probably retain only fragmentary memories of the introduction of DDT, despite the wide publicity over the chemical. First used on a large scale in the Naples typhus epidemic of 1943–1944 and during the rest of the war to protect millions of soldiers and civilians against insect-borne diseases, it came home in 1945 on a wave of publicity and high hopes. It was the atomic bomb of insecticides, the killer of killers, the harbinger of a new age in insect control. Scientists predicted better and cheaper control of agricultural pests, the eradication...

    (pp. 11-14)

    • CHAPTER 1 Economic Entomology and Insecticides
      (pp. 17-38)

      In order to understand the controversy over DDT, one must first see it in context. In 1945 the “atomic bomb of insecticides” was a novelty, but chemical insecticides were well established, to the point that they were almost synonomous with insect control.² Farmers, economic entomologists, and government agencies had had a half-century of experience in using, recommending, and regulating insecticides. They had a frame of reference into which they would easily fit the new chemical and others like it. It was this frame of reference, a set of unspoken and almost unconscious assumptions about the need for, and the uses,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Human Health and Insecticide Residues
      (pp. 39-56)

      Just as the arsenicals came to dominate insect control measures, so too did they provide the basis for federal and state regulation of insecticide residues as health hazards. The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Chemistry, predecessor to the Food and Drug Administration, began setting standards for insecticide residues on food in the mid-1920s, two decades before the introduction of DDT. By the time the new chemical was available, experience with the arsenicals had generated a set of working arrangements among the parties concerned with the problem—doctors, regulatory officials, and farmers—and a set of assumptions about the nature and...


    • CHAPTER 3 Applying Old Lessons
      (pp. 59-75)

      When, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, states and the federal government began to restrict or ban the use of DDT, they did so because of the chemical’s effects on the environment. Although there was some concern about its alleged carcinogenicity, human health was not a major issue nor a major part of the scientific case against DDT. In this respect DDT was quite different from earlier insecticides, which had been applied to agricultural areas and had their effects on human consumers. DDT was widely used in forests, swamps, and other habitats where human involvement had been minimal. Its...

    • CHAPTER 4 Wildlife and DDT
      (pp. 76-97)

      Medical scientists could fit DDT into a familiar framework—they had had experience dealing with insecticides—but wildlife biologists could not. Earlier insecticides had been confined by their high cost and low efficiency, to farms and orchards. DDT’s combination of high toxicity to many insects, low mammalian toxicity, low cost, and suitability for aerial spraying invited its use in areas that had been, before World War II, free of insecticides. As soon as the war was over, foresters and public health officials began spraying millions of acres of swamps, forests, and suburbs.¹ Wildlife biologists had to assess the effects of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Storm over Silent Spring
      (pp. 98-126)

      In the summer of 1962 theNew Yorkerpublished three long excerpts from a forthcoming book by Rachel Carson,Silent Spring. By the time Houghton Mifflin published the full text in the fall, the book was the center of a noisy controversy that only increased as it became a best seller. It is not difficult to see why. For years everyone had assumed that pesticides were “safe”; Carson, in a well-written and apparently thoroughly documented book, said they were not. With the threat of nuclear war, she contended, the “central problem of our age” was the contamination of man and...


    • CHAPTER 6 Moving toward Court
      (pp. 129-154)

      NeitherSilent Springnor the subsequent public controversy over Carson’s charges changed pesticide use and regulation in any significant way. Although the USDA curtailed the massive spraying campaigns that had caused so much public and scientific opposition, farmers and government agencies continued to use DDT. Even when it was replaced, its successors were not the nonchemical controls Carson had recommended—and which even the National Research Council had called the methods of choice—but other chemicals, sometimes more toxic than DDT. The apparent lack of progress, though, concealed several significant developments. Public opinion was changing, scientists were accumulating the evidence...

    • CHAPTER 7 A Legal Tour of Round River
      (pp. 155-176)

      The prospect of an extended hearing was exhilarating, but it was more than the EDF had bargained for; it had neither the money nor the scientific witnesses for such an undertaking. Very quickly, though, one of the advantages of legal action became apparent—people were far more willing to support an action that promised concrete results than to help in efforts to educate the public. Local environmentalists quickly rose to the challenge. Fred Ott, a wealthy Milwaukee bird lover, took charge of raising money in that city, and Orie Loucks, a botany professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (and...

    • CHAPTER 8 Is It Safe and Necessary?
      (pp. 177-196)

      When the EDF finished its case, Van Susteren granted the intervenors a continuance to allow them to prepare their rebuttal, but, when the hearing resumed on 29 April, it quickly became clear that the pesticide manufacturers had not used the time to prepare a case against the environmentalists’ scientific witnesses. They relied on the same case they had used in the past, stressing DDT’s contributions to public health and agriculture, the need for the chemical in emergencies, its low cost and great effectiveness, and the absence of illness or death among people exposed to it. The only new element was...

    • CHAPTER 9 Final Rounds
      (pp. 197-230)

      By the time the Madison hearing ended, EDF’s situation had changed. When it had begun the action in the fall of 1968, the public had not seemed interested, the government appeared completely unresponsive to the environmentalists’ arguments, and funds and support were scarce. The EDF emerged from the Madison hearing into a new world. Foundations were interested in funding its work in environmental law; the Rachel Carson Fund of the National Audubon Society was providing steady support; environmentalists around the country were appealing to it for aid and were, in some cases, raising money for legal expenses. The former “Fundless...

  8. EPILOGUE Qualified Victory
    (pp. 231-245)

    The EPA hearing was the last major confrontation over the scientific evidence of DDT’s effects on man and in the environment, and even as it went on the battle over persistent pesticides and the fight for a cleaner environment swept past it. Scientists who came to testify in Sweeney’s hearing room had, in some cases, already appeared before Congressional committees considering sweeping changes in regulation, or they had helped put together cases against other persistent pesticides. The environmentalists had already moved against dieldrin, aldrin, and Mirex, were preparing cases against other chemicals, and were involved in a score of projects,...


    • APPENDIX A Analytical Terms
      (pp. 246-246)
      (pp. 247-248)
    • APPENDIX C DDT in Human Fat
      (pp. 249-250)
    • APPENDIX D Enforcement of the Food and Drug Laws
      (pp. 251-252)
    • APPENDIX E Production of Pesticides
      (pp. 253-254)
    • APPENDIX F Tolerance Levels for Pesticide Residues on Food
      (pp. 255-256)
    • APPENDIX G Vapor Phase Chromatography
      (pp. 257-257)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 258-288)
    (pp. 289-310)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 311-318)