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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 08:09 GMT


Ban DDT says wildlife group

Malaria: DDT should be 'a pesticide of last resort', says WWF

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The chemical DDT is so dangerous that it should be banned everywhere, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

DDT has been linked to the decline of many species, including the near-extinction of the bald eagle.

A report from the Swiss headquarters of WWF International, released at a United Nations conference in Nairobi, says there is enough evidence of hazards not only to wildlife but also to human health to justify a complete ban.

DDT, which is highly effective in controlling malaria from mosquitoes, is already banned in 34 countries.

It is severely restricted in 34 more, but is still endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for use against malaria.

It is also used to control a parasitic infection called leishmaniasis, which is spread by sand flies.

WWF says the WHO last reviewed the chemical's effect in 1993, before the latest scientific data became available.

[ image: The bald eagle has been hit hard by DDT]
The bald eagle has been hit hard by DDT
"There is no longer a question about whether DDT should be banned, only how soon it can happen while still ensuring developing countries access to safe, affordable alternative malaria controls", said Clifton Curtis of WWF.

"WHO is using outdated data to justify the continued use of DDT -- data that does not include more recent findings of its effects on behaviour, immunity and brain functioning."

The conference where the report was released is working to draw up a treaty to control twelve highly toxic chemicals called POPs - persistent organic pollutants.

POPs, which include DDT, are long-lived, highly toxic, and able to travel long distances.

WWF says that most of the millions of tonnes of DDT used in the past remain in the soil and spread throughout the environment.

It says one US orchard still contained 40% of the DDT that had been used on it 20 years previously.

The report says the chemical can be sprayed in an African village and end up in the fat of polar bears in the Arctic.

[ image: In some countries human milk is now contaminated]
In some countries human milk is now contaminated
"DDT is such a potent chemical that as long as it is used anywhere in the world, nobody is safe", said Clifton Curtis.

Some of the recent scientific findings summarised in the report provide evidence that DDT can damage the developing brain, causing hypersensitivity, behavioural abnormalities and reduced nerve function.

It has also been shown to suppress the immune system, which causes slower response to infections.

Studies in Mexico and South Africa have found human milk containing DDE (a product of the breakdown of DDT) at concentrations above the WHO's acceptable guidelines for infant intake.

WWF says DDT can cause damage at very low doses, and that it can affect unborn infants.

The group wants a global ban on the production and use of DDT by no later than 2007, and for its use until then to be only as "a pesticide of last resort".

It says a study it released last year showed that alternatives such as chemically-treated mosquito nets and environmentally-friendly pest controls are both available and effective.

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