- NAIROBI - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on Wednesday branded the pesticide
DDT as a hazard to humans as well as animals and called for a worldwide
ban by 2007. DDT was used extensively in crop sprays until its production
and use was stopped in industrialised states in the 1970s, but it is still
widely used in the developing world to combat malaria through anti-mosquito
sprays for the home. WWF said new research showed those sprays - even
when used indoors - leak significant levels of DDT into the environment.
"DDT's effects on wildlife have been known for a long time,'' WWF's
Richard Liroff told a news conference. "But WWF's new report...indicates
that DDT itself poses a hazard to human health.'' "Up to 82 percent
of the DDT applied indoors could eventually escape outdoors,'' WWF said
in a statement. WWF released the report during an international conference
in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, at which the United Nations is trying
to negotiate the reduction or elimination of emissions of 12 persistent
organic pollutants (POPs) including DDT. WWF said research in Mexico
and elsewhere showed the higher the levels of DDE (a breakdown product
of DDT) in human mothers, the shorter the time they were able to breastfeed.
Exposure to agricultural pesticides among Mexican rural children had
dramatic effects on their development, hampering hand-eye coordination
and diminishing memory, WWF said. In the United States, widespread use
of DDT in crop spraying contributed to a sharp decline in the country's
national symbol, the Bald Eagle. Partly as a result, DDT was banned there
in 1972. DDT, which stands for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, is now
only known to be produced in Mexico, India and China, in much smaller quantities
than in the past. Mexico plans to phase out the chemical's use by 2007.
Some medical experts are reluctant to ban DDT on the grounds that it
would impede the fight against malaria. Some developing countries also
argue DDT is the cheapest method of controlling mosquitoes in the home.
But Liroff said there were now affordable and available alternatives
to DDT, including synthetic pyrethroids. The 12 organic pollutants the
UN is trying to control are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dioxins,
endrin, furans, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, PCBs and toxaphene.
Scientists say POPs, like DDT, are highly toxic chemicals which can take
decades to break down. They enter the food chain, building up in body
fat, and have a tendency to evaporate and travel long distances. They
are found from Africa to the Arctic, where polar bears, at the top of the
food chain, and even the local Inuit people, show alarming levels of the
chemicals in their bodies.