one thing we can be grateful for about Steven Milloy, publisher
of the aptly named "junkscience.com,"
is that his confident ignorance knows no bounds.
is the web incarnation of that fool described by Josh Billings:
"It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble.
It's what we know that just ain't so."
a sort-of Anne Coulter for the chemical industry, has just proposed
August 2002 and also 25
August 2002), that in the face of the West Nile Virus we should
bring back DDT. He argues: "No harm, no foul."
Milloy either doesn't stay up with the scientific literature,
or chooses to ignore it. I suspect it is a combination
of both. Milloy is probably too busy reading his
instructions from the tobacco and chemical industries to pay
attention to anything coming out of scientific laboratories. That's
convenient for him, because if he did it would be difficult--or
at least inconvenient--for him to write ignorant columns like this
one. Instead he would have to acknowledge that what he "knows"
about DDT just ain't so.
Milloy so avidly wishes DDT upon the American public, he should
read a research article about DDT published in 2001 by scientists
from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and
the US Centers for Disease Control. This study, conducted
3 decades after DDT was banned in the US, opened an astounding new
chapter in the toxicology of that compound.
also offered an important and more general lesson about the need
to precautionary action to prevent harm from chemical exposures
even when the science is not yet certain. No, we didn't have all
the goods on DDT when it was banned, but we knew enough. Now with
decades' additional research we know more, and can be thankful today
for the willingness to act on a precautionary basis.
new study, led by Matthew Longnecker at NIEHS, focused on mothers'
blood samples that had been stored upon babies' births during the
'50s and '60s. They used some new chemical techniques to make what
then would have been impossible measurements of DDE levels (DDT
is converted to DDE in people), and then looked at the relationship
between DDE cord blood levels and the likelihood of pre-term birth.
They found a very strong association, strong enough to conclude
that during that time period the US experienced "an epidemic
of pre-term birth" due to DDT use.
on the Longnecker study...
related study on DDE and male birth defects
2003 analysis of DDT's adverse effects on infant mortality
what consequences does pre-term birth have? Well first of all, pre-term
babies are much more likely to die, period. In fact, Longnecker
estimated in an interview in the New Scientist that up to 15% of
infant mortality in the US during the hey-day of DDT use may have
been attributable to DDE exposure. Second, pre-term babies
that survive often
suffer from a host of maladies that pursue them throughout their
Milloy hasn't done the numbers. He is proposing to use DDT to kill
mosquitoes to combat a disease that has killed fewer than 30 people
in the US over the past 3 years. Two-hundred fifty-one cases have
been reported as of August 2002. Most people don't know they have
it when they are infected.
does that compare to the impact of DDT on infant mortality related
to pre-term birth? There were a bit more than 4 million births in
the US in 2001. The infant mortality rate is on the order of 11%,
or approximately 440,000 infant deaths. If Longnecker's
estimate is correct, DDT use could lead to some 66,000 pre-term
deaths* in one year alone. Even
if Longnecker is wrong by one-hundred fold, that's 660 deaths. Add
to that the health burdens imposed on those who survive. Not a pleasant
birth is not something you purposefully wish on anybody, as Milloy
appears to be doing with his desire to bring back DDT for use against
West Nile Virus. I have to assume that Milloy is doing
this out of ignorance, although his work for the tobacco industry
demonstrates that he is willing to advocate the sale and use of
materials that kill millions of people world-wide.
Milloy offers another scientific whopper in his essay.
He writes: "Claims that mosquitoes eventually would develop
resistance to DDT are off-base," ignoring volumes of research
conducted by industry, government and academics on the ways that
pests evolve in response to exposure to pesticides and develop pesticide
resistance. There is no scientific doubt about this. None.
If Milloy wants some bedtime reading perhaps he should start with
the US National Academy of Sciences' weighty tome: Pesticide
Resistance Strategies and Tactics for Management.
does Fox News, where Milloy published this piece, allow such ignorant,
harmful advice and scientific bloopers on its website?