A few readers e-mailed me about the weekend Q&A with Art Cooley, the La Jolla resident who helped get DDT banned in the United States and who founded Environmental Defense Fund.
They wanted to know Cooley’s opinion on the debate about DDT use for combating malaria-spreading mosquitoes in Africa. It’s been controversial. The World Health Organization recommended spraying in 2006. In the United States, widespread spraying of the chemical nearly wiped out bald eagles, brown pelicans, ospreys and other birds. But it’s effective at killing mosquitoes, and Africa (particularly sub-Saharan) suffers an estimated 1 million malaria deaths annually.
I e-mailed Cooley, who replied:
The DDT ban in the US was based solely on the effects [on] wildlife. Since there was no malaria in the US it was never an issue. Some have criticized us by using the ban in the US to charge us with enabling others to ban DDT in malaria countries. I think that is a specious argument. EDF has supported the use of DDT indoors in malarial countries but there are better deterrents, e.g. mosquito netting and the new drug that has been synthesized from an Artemisia.
Just spraying pesticides around in the environment isn’t a very targeted way to tackle the problem. I can remember being in the Orinoco years ago and seeing that the spraying applicators actually painted on the outside of the houses the date they sprayed inside the house. I would not object to that but as I had said above there are more effective ways. And mosquito netting is cheap. It just takes some organizing.