Ambrose: Environmental care can endanger humans, too

The Geographic article is about malaria, which, the popular and highly respected magazine reports, is now “endemic to 106 nations” and “threatening half the world’s population.” This affliction on humanity is worse than it used to be, “more than twice the annual toll of a generation ago.” Once, it looked as if it might be wiped out. In the 1930s, the magazine notes, the United States was in malaria trouble up to its knees. There were millions of cases of the disease, but swamps were bulldozed, DDT was sprayed in homes to kill the mosquitoes and, by 1950, presto: disease gone.

The U.N.World Health Organization also went on the march in 1955, spending billions of dollars and spraying tons of DDT, but then the money went away and other things began to happen. One of the most significant was the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which said DDT was killing birds and other animals. The book had such an impact that eventually there was a ban on the pesticide for farm use around much of the globe.

The National Geographic is not in the business of controversy, and it makes it sound as if it was the agricultural ban in and of itself that then led to disuse of DDT in combating malaria. But another part — the criminally negligent part — is that a number of environmental groups fought successfully to prevent its use even when it was applied carefully inside homes with no danger to wildlife and no scientifically persuasive evidence of any harm to humans.

These environmental groups waged this war against humanity despite the statistics proving the disaster they were abetting and the pleas of many in the field. They assured us irrelevantly that there were other means of combating the disease and that the real culprit was the resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs.

This drug resistance is hugely important, and yes, of course, there remain other ways of fighting the disease, but in a great many situations if not all, DDT can be highly effective, and there is simply no doubt that its disuse killed millions — as Gwadz said, perhaps as many as 20 million children.

Gradually, the voices pleading that we save these lives caused re-evaluations so that the World Health Organization once more began to promote DDT use to fight malaria. The United States did as well. It doesn’t follow that the drug will get as much use as needed, that malaria will now be quickly eradicated or even that mosquitoes may never develop DDT resistance, as may have happened sporadically before. But the end of purposely keeping DDT out ofthe fight will be a blessing to millions, and meanwhile we have an object lesson.

It is that radical environmental groups can do more harm than the menaces they fear. That’s a thought to keep hold of as the global warming debate continues.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com

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