A Doctor and documentarian
against the DDT ban
By Dr. D. Rutledge Taylor
June 1, 2006
Besides being a film producer, I have a preventive medicine practice in Los Angeles. As it happens, California is currently leading the nation in West Nile virus, and I was being asked about it more frequently by my patients. Meaning only to get up to speed on vector-borne diseases, I found myself reading volume upon volume of studies on malaria and vector-borne diseases. I was feeling like a budding Albert Schweitzer M.D., wondering what I could do to actually make a difference. Well, like Schweitzer, I could go abroad, and work on one patient at a time, but from what I was finding, this would hardly be efficacious.
In February of 2005, I met with Dr. Art Robinson in San Francisco. He had once worked, for many years, with Dr. Linus Pauling, and currently has his own laboratory where he conducts protein research, among other studies. We talked at length about malaria, DDT, and Third World countries. I found him to be honest, forthright, and willing to pour out what he knew. On my evening flight back to L.A., everything seemed surreal. I knew, somehow, my life as I knew it, had been discontinued.
I told my production partner, an environmentalist, about the conversation, and she had a lot of trouble with it. Yet, she was hearing it from me, and she also knew I had met with a very ethical and prominent scientist. We agreed to research further. The more I read about vector-borne diseases, the more convinced I was that prevention, rather than treatment, was by far the superior approach. From what I could find out, in regard to malaria and other vector- (insect-) borne diseases, treatment was the order of the day, and had been for many years. From what we could see, it was an abject failure. Our research showed that the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe eradicated malaria and many other insect-borne diseases from 1945-70, with the use of DDT. Prevention was the main or first line of defense, followed by other measures.
Something happened in America in the 60s, and it was not just Vietnam. Rachel Carson wrote a "novel," not a scientific study, subject to peer review, but a novel, called Silent Spring. Fear spread across the face of this land – I could see this as I read articles, journals, editorial comments, and ads in The New York Times suggesting mothers were poisoning their nursing children with DDT-tainted breast milk. DDT was allowed, a very slight amount, even in baby food.
Whipped into a frenzy by Rachel Carson's book, fearing cancer, people were, in effect, fearing the unknown. After Earth Day in 1970, it was clear to politicians that the public was demanding getting rid of the most innocuous of chemicals – DDT. It was legally banned in 1972, by people who knew better, at the time – people who were "supposed to know." People who said they were protecting us, and wildlife. Were they? Did they?
Traveling the World to Witness the Ban's Effects
In order to find the answers, we put together a team, and actually traveled the world. Our travel time was a coincidental, yet prophetic, forty days and forty nights. Why this ban on DDT? What have been the gains for the U.S. citizenry for this ban? Why have no major news media worth their salt plastered the resulting death rates all over the media? We interviewed people in places ranging from the streets of South Africa, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Panama, to the U.S. Senate committee hearings in Washington – from doctors, clinics, hospitals, NGOs, Environmental Defense Fund, fighters for malarial relief, to people on the streets of the U.S.
Insect-borne diseases are on the rise all over the world. Malaria, alone, infects more than a half-billion, mostly women and children, yearly, with more and more deaths piled upon the deaths of the preceding years. Something was terribly wrong. This ban was touted by the Environmental Protection Agency, and environmental groups everywhere, as a "success" story, and still is to this very hour. But, they are going to have to come forward with more than words, more than feel-good, look-good soundbites. The result of the DDT ban has been an unspeakable death toll – and a sad, deception-riddled tale.
It took us what has seemed like forever, to wade through the junk science held up to be valid, to get to the hard peer-reviewed data. There have been literally thousands of studies of every possible aspect of DDT. What peer-reviewed, replicated scientific data supports the ban on DDT? None.
Instead, we found that DDT, the most effective chemical for preventing malaria and a veritable host of other diseases (West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Dengue fever, lice, yellow fever, river blindness, elephantiasis, St. Louis encephalitis virus, typhus, Chagas disease, bubonic plague, Japanese encephalitis, bed bugs, and many others – not to mention many bird and animal diseases), had been made a chemical scapegoat, a glorified whipping boy. DDT had to go down, to satisfy politics, resulting in massive deaths among mostly black, brown, and yellow human beings.
Guilt and a Creative Response
Now, the threatened faces are lighter, whiter. We admit that our parents' generation made a grave mistake by banning DDT. They were scared. What they did in ignorance, we must redress with knowledge. We will stand by our parents by helping to make this right again.
My friend, a prominent psychologist, says, "the unconscious guilt our parents carry in this regard can be terrible." Unaware of the havoc and pain hasty actions would set in motion worldwide, our parents are perhaps being mentally weighed down, without their even knowing it. The burden of partial awareness of all those deaths is being borne by the American people, and the burden is looming large. The carnage just goes on and on, with no end in sight. Even a malaria vaccine would leave mosquitoes and other insects free to spread many cases of the disease – and, there would be an astronomical loss of life while we "wait" for a vaccine. Billions do not have time to wait. Their voices, crying for help, have been silenced over the years, but they are now getting desperately louder, shriller.
I heard, firsthand, the sound of their silence, and it was deafening.
Three Billion and Counting, a film I directed and produced as a result of this research, depicts the greatest crime against humanity that this world has ever known. It is about the greatest human death toll in known history, far greater than the Holocaust and all wars combined. It is time that we wake up, and do what is right for humanity.
What has been done with the stroke of a government pen can be undone. How? By stirring up awareness, so that more people will come to know and experience the power of many voices, speaking as one.