The Fruits of Civilization (78-2) DDT


DDT is now so universally used that in most minds the product takes on the harmless aspect of the familiar. ~ Rachel Carson in 1962

DDT is a crystalline organochloride that is colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless. An organochloride is a class of compounds that are chlorinated hydrocarbons. Chlorination modifies a hydrocarbon’s properties, typically in ways sinister to life. In the case of DDT, a prevalent action is disrupting sodium activity in an animal’s nerve cells.

DDT was first synthesized in 1874. Swiss chemist Paul Müller discovered DDT’s apocalyptic insecticidal activity in 1939. Hailed as the means for winning the war against 6-legged destroyers of crops, Müller won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

DDT is harmless to man, so far as the evidence goes. ~ The New York Times in 1944

The American military sprayed DDT in Europe and the Far East during World War 2 and marveled at its lethal potency. When the war ended, DDT garnered vast application, celebrated as “the atomic bomb of the insect world.”

The praise was on-point. DDT and other synthetic pesticides wreak their havoc through death-dealing ionization.

The damage caused by the ionization of atomic fallout and by chemical agents are the same. ~ Italian chemist Americo Mosca

The appreciation of DDT’s vigor turned to alarm with the seminal 1962 book Silent Spring, in which Rachel Carson detailed the persistent threat that DDT and other synthetic “elixirs of death” had on all animal life. Though the USDA fought it, the book led to the 1972 ban on DDT for agricultural use; a ban that became worldwide only in the early 21st century. (USDA = United States Department of Agriculture)

DDT is still used in Africa and South America to control insect-borne diseases, such as malaria. Some countries, including India and North Korea, continue to apply DDT to crops.

DDT is readily adsorbed into soils and sediments, where it exposes itself to organisms for decades. DDT works its way up the food chain, thus incrementally improving its toxicity on larger predatory animals. DDT is carcinogenic.