Most of us know the sad and destructive history of former widespread pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane for you chemists). It’s egg shell thining properties have famously taken out many a generation of bald eagle, as well as many other bird species. The once heralded solution to malaria, DDT was sprayed everywhere without a thought. This attitude of pesticide being “a-ok” lasted into the 1980’s, and lead to this most hilarious and sad poster (seen above) of two attractive young ladies having a pesticide fight. Try suggesting that one these days as a fun game for the whole family.
When environmental and health concerns were raised in the scientific community, an out cry called for the banning of DDT, and in 1972 the ban went into effect. Unfortunately for all of us, the half life of DDT is 30 years. So for those of us scoring at home, there is still almost half the DDT left floating around in our environment that was sprayed the year of the ban… 37 years ago!
I, perhaps like some of you, have heard of studies linking DDT with cancer. For many years DDT has been linked with many different types of cancer. The notion that DDT can cause cancer is well published and seems to have sunk into the public’s consciousness as just common knowledge. If nothing else, I think we all associate pesticide as something we don’t want to be sprayed all over our bodies.
New studies are bringing to light a new health detriment that has not been well publicized. There is mounting evidence that DDT is linked to diabetes. New research out of the great lakes area has shown that high levels of the DDT led to a 38% higher chance of developing diabetes.
As GreenOption’s resident medical student, I can tell you diabetes has become a very large problem in the United States. 23 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes. Diabetics cannot produce (type I) or use enough (type II) insulin, a hormone that allows glucose (the body’s fuel) to enter cells.
The exact mechanism is still unknown, and the study did not differentiate between type I and type II diabetes. Obviously more research will be needed to nail down the exact link between DDT and diabetes. I just hope we can all use our past mistakes as a cautionary tale. Let us not put substances into the environment without, at the very least, understanding all of the consequences. 37 years after the spraying of a once praised pesticide, humans and other animals are still paying the price.
-Image Credit: Craig Radcliffe on Flickr
Update: Link to the study in .pdf format from the University of Albany: Environmental Contaminants as Risk Factors for Developing Diabetes