TCS Daily

The Senate's Stockholm Syndrome

By Paul Driessen - April 7, 2004 12:00 AM

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs treaty) will soon become binding international law. The stage is now set for potential U.S. Senate ratification of a document that will allow U.N. and other international bureaucrats to implement future global bans on various chemicals and give the Environmental Protection Agency sole authority to accept those bans for the United States.

This alone should generate rancorous debate over sovereignty and constitutional law issues. However, other elements will raise the stakes even higher.

Environmentalists and the United Nations praise the treaty for dramatically restricting the production, importation and use of PCBs, dioxins and other chemicals that can persist for years in soil, water and food, and accumulate in animal and human body fat.

But officials in developing countries and tropical disease experts are far less sanguine. They stress that treaty will severely restrict poor countries' access to vitally needed chemicals that could help them meet industrial needs and strengthen their economies, as they seek to go through the same stages Europe and the United States did on their way to prosperity.

For these countries, possible cancer risks pale in comparison to the benefits these chemicals would bring, and to the life-threatening risks their people face from diseases that are no longer common in rich nations. Indeed, if they remain poor, the vast majority of their people will never even get cancer, much less die from it. They simply won't live long enough.

"Even worse, the POPs treaty could virtually eliminate the use of DDT, perhaps the most affordable and effective mosquito pesticide and repellant in existence," says Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group. The treaty will severely limit how much DDT countries could store, how far ahead they could get it, and when and how they could use it. It will also impose layers of new regulations that will drive up costs and further delay their access to this life-saving pesticide.

That is bad news for Africa, where malaria kills as many as two million people every year. The vast majority are in sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly 90 percent are children and pregnant women. Those the disease does not kill it leaves too sick to work, attend school, cultivate their fields or care for their families -- or to survive the typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, AIDS and other diseases that also afflict many of them. "Thanks to this eco-imperialist treaty," Tren emphasizes, "poor countries will stay poor, and millions more will die."

How, then, do we justify telling Africa, Asia and Latin America how they should or should not combat the horrendous mosquito-borne epidemics confronting them?

The United States banned DDT in 1972. However, it did so despite the fact that the pesticide is not carcinogenic or a serious hazard for humans, animals or the environment. As then-EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus has admitted, he imposed the ban for political reasons. He did so in the wake of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and in the face of a concerted campaign by green organizations such as Environmental Defense (for which he was raising money at the time) and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and because the U.S. no longer needed the pesticide -- having used it to help eliminate malaria, typhus and yellow fever. Europe followed suit, for similar reasons.

Today, in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary, anti-pesticide activists still claim DDT hurts birds and other wildlife. They also argue that it can show up in mothers' breast milk and might cause early weaning.

"African mothers would be overjoyed if these were their biggest worries," says Ugandan businesswoman Fiona Kobusingye. "I lost two sisters, two nephews and my son to malaria. Don't talk to me about birds. And don't tell me a little DDT in our bodies is worse than the risk of losing more children to this disease."

DDT is one of the strongest insect repellents in existence. It repels mosquitoes from homes; kills any that land on the walls or eaves; and irritates and disorients any it does not repel or kill, so they don't bite. No other chemical has this life-saving triple action, or protects a home and family for six to twelve months with a single application.

Other chemicals are much more expensive and dangerous, must be sprayed every 2 to 4 months, and do not work nearly as well, in part because mosquitoes are much more likely to build resistance to these pesticides, which are used heavily in agriculture. DDT's effectiveness was proven beyond a doubt by South Africa, which used it in combination with new Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) drugs to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 91 percent in just three years.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, USAID, World Bank and UNICEF continue to oppose virtually all pesticide use, especially DDT -- while promoting, prescribing and providing bed nets that are only partially helpful, and anti-malarial drugs that they have known are no longer effective in treating this killer disease.

"These policies are nothing less than gross medical malpractice," says infectious disease expert Amir Attaran. Malaria control scientist Donald Roberts is even more blunt: "For disease-free developed countries to knowingly deprive people of public health protections, and cause them to contract illness or even die, borders on criminal behavior. And yet the USAID and other agencies have repeatedly used political pressure or the threatened withholding of funds to coerce ... nations into not using DDT, causing malaria rates in those countries to go up astronomically."

The U.S. Senate has not yet ratified the POPs treaty. Nor should it.

Instead, the Senate should use this opportunity to correct prevalent misconceptions, educate Americans and the world about the science and compassion of DDT use, and ensure that this life-saving weapon remains in the global arsenal. It should also serve notice to the USAID, WHO, UNICEF and World Bank that their continued funding will depend on whether they correct their misguided anti-pesticide policies.

This is a rare opportunity for Senators (and Congressmen) on both sides of the aisle to leave election-year politics behind, look beyond a supposed "green" label -- and unite in compassion and a commitment to science and the Hippocratic oath, to aid the most powerless and destitute people on our planet. Millions of African, Asian and Latin American lives depend on it.

Paul Driessen is the author of Eco-Imperialism ( and director of the Economic Human Rights Project, a joint initiative of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and Congress of Racial Equality.


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