West Nile fails to stir DDT debate

Mosquito-borne illness kills Coloradans but merits of banned pesticide ignored

by David Kopel

Aug. 30, 2003, Rocky Mountain News

People in Colorado are dropping dead from West Nile virus, and many Coloradoans have been forced to curtail outdoor activities. The papers have been paying plenty of attention to the problem. But the most effective solution has been almost completely ignored.

No pesticide is as effective at killing mosquitoes as DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane).

In a generally well-balanced story about current mosquito control programs, the Rocky Mountain News(Aug. 25) said, "DDT, billed as harmless in the 1950s and 1960s, is a proven carcinogen and has been taken off the market." The Denver Posthasn't breathed a word about the notion that DDT could control the West Nile virus.

The Newswas correct that DDT "has been taken off the market," since the EPA banned DDT in 1972. As to whether DDT is a "proven" carcinogen, it has been proven that force-feeding rodents gigantic doses of DDT gives them cancer; whether tiny doses cause cancer in humans has not been proven. Human studies have failed to find a link between DDT and breast cancer.

In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg explains that even if the rodent studies can be extrapolated to humans, your risk of getting cancer from DDT (before the 1972 ban), was about 1/50th the risk of getting cancer from drinking three cups of coffee a day. The DDT risk was also smaller than the cancer risk from drinking a glass of orange juice, or eating apples, mushrooms, white bread, or potatoes. Many foods contain their own natural pesticides (which help the plant resist pests), and which can cause cancer. Lomborg estimates that artificial pesticides cause about 20 cancer deaths annually in the United States - compared to about 197,000 annual cancer deaths caused by the natural carcinogens in food.

As Roger Meiners and Andrew P. Morriss explain in Property Rights and Pesticides,the ban on DDT has literally caused the death of millions of people in the Third World - most of them African children - due to the resurgence of malaria (www.perc.org/ pdf/ps22.pdf).

Except for spectacular catastrophes, Third World deaths usually don't garner much American media attention, but now that people in Colorado are dying, the media ought to be discussing the pros and cons of prohibiting the most effective weapon against a deadly disease vector.

Last Monday, KWGN-Channel 2 News announced that "researchers say" that a chemical in red wine promotes longevity. Unfortunately, the Channel 2 story did not say what the chemical was, nor did the story say anything about who the researchers were, or where they had published their study. Thus, interested viewers had no clue about where to find additional information.

The next story on Channel 2 reported that American kids are fatter than ever. Channel 2 claimed that "researchers say" that the problem is caused by schools selling fast food, by celebrities and Disney supporting fast food, and by fast-food companies that supersize their products. Again, there was not a word about who these researchers are or where their research can be found.

There are, however, plenty of other researchers, unmentioned by Channel 2, who say that the root cause of fat kids is gluttonous kids who don't exercise and parents who are too irresponsible to do anything about it. The availability of large portions at McDonald's might not be the main reason for the corpulence of people who spend six hours a day watching TV while stuffing their faces with refined carbohydrates and sugar.

Note to headline writers: Read the article before writing the headline. A New York Timesstory reprinted in the Poston Aug. 24 said that "Deregulation is actually a misnomer for the restructuring of the power industry, because only the generation of electricity was freed from strict government controls." As a result, the article explained, there was more generation of electricity, but there was almost no improvement in the infrastructure for delivering electricity, which remained tightly regulated. The highly-regulated transmission grid is, of course, the place where blackouts are caused. So what did the Postheadline say? " '92 deregulation sparked troubles for power industry."

The DVD of the movie Bowling for Columbinecame out a few weeks ago, receiving a laudatory 15-paragraph review in the News'"Video File" column (Aug. 15). A shorter piece in the Post(Aug. 22), while still recommending the movie, also warned viewers about fakery in the new release: the footage of director Michael Moore's Oscar acceptance speech is a re-enactment, not the real event. The Postalso informed readers that Bowling"takes a few liberties with the truth." In contrast, theNewsreview didn't notice that the Oscar footage wasn't real, and also repeated as fact some other distortions from the film.

Neither the Postnor the Newshas ever reported on the audacious frauds in the "documentary," some of which involve Colorado.

For example, while showing a plane on display at the Air Force Academy, Moore announces that "The plaque underneath it proudly proclaims that this plane killed Vietnamese people on Christmas Eve 1972." This just isn't true, nor is much of the rest of the movie, as I detailed in an April 4 article for National Review Online.

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