DDT Pesticide Banned for Over 40 Years but Women Reaping Consequences

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DDT was a commonly used pesticide all over America. However, once harmful side effects made themselves known, the government stepped in. The DDT pesticide was banned in 1972, yet studies show many are still reaping the consequences of unrestricted use of the chemical over 40 years later.

A presentation by Duke University’s Chemistry Department states that DDT was actually created in 1873, however, it was not used as a pesticide until World War II. It was during this time that farmers started using the chemical on their crops. The chemistry department also notes how the pesticide was used to stop the spread of malaria and yellow fever.

The group at Duke also explains how in the 1970s questions started to rise as to the safety of DDT. In 1972, the EPA outlawed the use of the chemical, except in cases where it stopped the spread of disease. Pesticide Action Network North America reports that in 2001, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants banned the agricultural use of the pesticide worldwide. However, many tropical countries are allowed to use it in small amounts, to keep the movement of diseases carried by insects under control.

The pesticide has been banned in America for over 40 years, however, it has been making headlines again this week. Many news outlets are reporting about an ongoing study examining its link to current breast cancer cases. According to these reports, mothers who were exposed to high levels of the chemical while pregnant unknowingly increased their daughters’ chances for the disease.

Reports claim, now that these women are reaching middle-age, the disease is manifesting itself. Researchers have connected the dots through personal histories and have found the common thread to be this pesticide. Therefore, over 40 years after DDT was banned, American women are still reaping the consequences of its once widespread use.


NBC News reported that the researchers working on a study concerning the link between breast cancer and DDT exposure, actually used blood samples taken from the mothers at the time they were pregnant. The study spanned over 54 years, observing the subjects and correlating the rates of cancer to the amount of the chemical they were exposed to while in the womb. NBC News stated these women are at a four-times greater risk for developing breast cancer than other women.

An article on CNBC relayed that these women’s risk was increased regardless of their family history of cancer. This article also pointed out that o.p’-DDT is a form the chemical that acts like estrogen. Estrogen has been linked as a cause of breast cancer in many women. Furthermore, the article claims that by the time this cancer is diagnosed, the tumors are malignant and far more aggressive than in other cases.

Nonetheless, DDT is still used today in areas requiring it to combat the diseases malaria and yellow fever. The Malaria Foundation points out that these diseases are most common in poorer countries, that may not be able to afford newer pesticides. They describe how it is used in the openings of walls to prevent insects from coming inside. Many of these dwellings lack sufficient window coverings and doors.

Additionally, the foundation notes that when used properly, this pesticide poses little threat to humans today. Moreover, they claim it is no longer needed to treat outdoor environments, therefore the chemical should no longer be used outside the living space. According to the World Health Organization, malaria was responsible for approximately 584,000 deaths in 2013.

By these accounts, the difference in the use of the pesticide from the time of World War II to now is the amount of the chemical used. The studies show that even with all of the guidelines and bans in place today, the consequences of the widespread and unrestricted use of DDT from over 40 years ago are still being reaped.

By Megan Hellmann


PAN North America-The DDT Story

Duke University Chemistry Department-DDT: An Introduction

NBC News-DDT in Pregnancy May Raise Breast Cancer Rates in Daughters

CNBC- In Utero Pesticide Exposure Tied to Breast Cancer

Malaria Foundation International- Is DDT Still Effective and Needed in Malaria Control?

World Health Organization- 10 Facts on Malaria

Photo Courtesy of Jon Hayes’s Flickr Page-Creative Commons License

Photo Courtesy of Tulane Public Relations’ Flickr Page-Creative Commons License