Did Junk Science Kill Potentially Life-Saving DDT?

While the United States outlawed DDT 30 years ago during a wave of environmental activism, some health experts don't want the United Nations to follow the same path, and are imploring the international body to lift its ban on the bug spray.

"When countries stop using DDT, Malaria skyrockets, when they start using DDT, Malaria plummets. The insecticide DDT works like no other product," Junk Science columnist Steve Milloy said.

Once called the "miracle pesticide", experts say DDT, which stands for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, has saved 25 million lives by eradicating disease-carrying insects. Supporters of the colorless nerve poison say it should still be used to kill mosquitoes that wreak havoc in the Third World by spreading Malaria to thousands of children a day.

But opponents say DDT is not only harmful to the environment, it is dangerous to other living beings.

"It can cause miscarriages, breast cancer and is very destructive to wildlife like bald eagles," Rick Hind of Greenpeace said.

"This is insane. Depriving people of a great benefit for an almost mythical danger," DDT engineer Joseph Jacobs said.

The truth about DDT's dangers is not all black and white, say some scientists. DDT is safe when used in quantities, and cancer claims re-examined under rigorous standards may be more a scare tactic than sound science, Milloy said.

"The villains are the environmental groups who have succeeded in virtually banning DDT from the planet. They really are the ones who are going to be responsible for the millions of the upcoming deaths in the Third World from Malaria," Milloy said.

"There's a self interest there. They'll want to defend dioxins, (carcinogen) PCBs. Next thing you know, they'll defend smoking," countered Hind.

Most scientists believe DDT has lost the debate. Even the Bush administration recently signed off on the U.N. ban.

However, the argument pitting First World values against Third World realities has many experts, including some at the United Nation's World Health Organization, opposing the ban, saying the lifesaving benefits of DDT often outweigh the risk.