Poisoning of Millions of Indians-a National Shame
During our recent travel in the foothills of the Himalayas, while we were walking in the town of Zero (elevation 5,577 feet), Arunachal Pradesh, we came across houses after houses with black letter signs: DDT, 7/14/15. Somewhat surprised, I asked our local guide what this sign meant. As I had suspected, he told me that DDT was sprayed in these houses on July 14, 2015. I asked him if they sprayed all the houses and how many times? He said every house is sprayed by the government twice a year in whole of Zero and all other parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Then a few days later, we were in Darjeeling and I asked my guide the same question and he too said that DDT is sprayed twice a year in every house in West Bengal. Now the picture was clear: DDT is being sprayed in most of the regions of India once or twice a year to eliminate mosquitos. As we were growing up–and I am sure this is the same experience of everyone who grew up in India—DDT was sprayed every year in our house, especially in the bathrooms and toilets and in the backyard. Like everyone, all of us have absorbed DDT while growing up in India. While the whole of Europe, America and other developed countries have banned DDT use, it is still being used widely in India, other parts of Asia and in Africa.
Houses in Zero, Arunachal Pradesh.
Well, let me give some information on DDT pesticide:
1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethane or commonly known as DDT is an organochlorine insecticide that was first synthesized in 1874. DDT is a pesticide that was used very successfully to control the insect population especially the mosquito population prevalent all over the world. It is a persistent organic pollutant.
Farmers used DDT in a variety of food crops in the United States and worldwide. It was also used in buildings for pest control. The reason why it was used so widely was because not only it is effective, but it is also relatively inexpensive to manufacture, and lasts a long time in the environment.
Rachel Carson, an environmentalist, came out with her ground breaking book called “Silent Spring” in 1962. She used DDT to tell the broader story of the disastrous consequences of the overuse of insecticides and raised enough concern from her testimony before the Congress. This triggered the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Following her testimony, President Kennedy convened a committee to review the evidence Carson had presented. By 1972, DDT was banned in the United States except in case of public health emergency. But its manufacture is still legal in the country as long as it is exported for use by the developing nations.
When tested on animals, DDT is found to cause chronic effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and immune system. DDT is also found to be carcinogenic, causing cancers when tested on animals. It is found to cause disruptions in the endocrine (hormonal) systems of the animals. Also is found to cause reduced fetal weight or even sterility in some animals.
DDT’s carcinogenicity is equivocal. It has been shown to cause increased tumor production (mainly in liver and lungs) in test animals such as rats, mice and hamsters in some studies. In one study, increased connection was found between humans and pancreatic cancers. Also on humans, studies have revealed that DDT can adversely affect the nervous system, liver and the kidney.
The most amazing thing is that DDT gets accumulated in humans and animals in the fatty tissues of the body. Its concentration keeps increasing in the body and without doubt it will have significantly adverse effect on the bodies of humans and animals.
The evidence on DDT’s effect on humans has continued to mount over the years. The recent studies are showing harm even at very low levels of exposure. Studies show a range of human health effects connected with DDT and its breakdown product, DDE:
• Breast and Pancreatic cancers & leukemia
• male infertility
• miscarriages & low birth weight
• developmental delay
• nervous system & liver damage
No wonder, all the developed countries have banned the use of DDT in their countries especially after the US ban. Unfortunately, DDT is widely used in Africa, and Asia including India. India is just one of the three countries still manufacturing DDT and is the largest user of it. The other two countries are China and North Korea. China uses a small quantity of DDT for domestic spraying while exports the rest to other countries.
We should learn from Mexico and Vietnam who successfully carried out a range of programs to reduce or eradicate malaria from their countries with measures other than DDT spraying. Both these countries don’t use DDT anymore since last several years as PAN (Pesticide Action Network) reports.
India desperately needs to develop and pursue other non-chemical methods to control malaria. They include protective nets, larvae eating fish and elimination of mosquito breeding sites such as stagnant waters and open gutters. Addition of alkaline salts to stagnant waters and gutters could be useful but needs further research. Mass production of cotton bed-nets should be made available to the masses at very low cost. Combined with other prevention and treatment strategies, these bed-nets can prevent half of all the deaths from malaria. Like what Vietnam did, there are drugs that can be freely distributed to the poor which gives protection against malaria.
With a huge pool of biologists and other scientists, India can devise ways to eliminate the malaria deaths from the country. Poisoning of millions of Indians by DDT spray is not the solution. I urge our popular Prime Minister Shri Narendrabhai Modi to combat this menace by implementing other alternatives and save millions of Indians from being poisoned.