The Conversation

Triumph of the bedbugs

The Wall Street Journal brings us a nasty little postscript from the bloodiest chapter in the history of environmental radicalism.  It seems New York City is suffering from another of its periodic bedbug outbreaks. 

Hang on a second, I've got to update my list of reasons not to live in New York City.

Okay, I'm back.  Anyway, they have bedbug outbreaks every year or two, despite enthusiastic efforts to wipe the little monsters out.  The reason is that they can't use the one thing that would wipe them out.  It was banned in an early triumph of junk science that ended up killing millions of people in the Third World.  That's right: it's fallout from the banning of DDT.

Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health is a former pharmaceutical researcher and author of various patents who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Virginia.

Mr. Bloom explains via email, "The bedbug explosion was partially a result of the banning of DDT in the U.S. in 1972. Although DDT is perhaps the most demonized chemical in the world, its toxicity classification (from the National Fire Prevention Association—a group that keeps hazard data on almost all chemicals) is category 2. That's the same as the mosquito repellant DEET and alcohol, on a scale of 0 (non hazardous) to 4 (deadly)."

Meanwhile, a common chemical that is used to attack bedbugs packs even less of a punch. "Sumithrin, one of the most commonly used insecticides, falls into category 1 (virtually harmless). However, its use is limited because bedbugs are becoming resistant to it. This necessitates the use of other insecticide classes, or cocktails of multiple classes," says Mr. Bloom.

He adds, "Controlled use of DDT, while not currently employed for bedbug extermination, may be required in the future. It is important for consumers to know that when used properly, these chemicals are effective and safe, even DDT."

Good luck with that, at least in the United States.  The Journal notes that "DDT made something of a comeback in the last decade," after people got tired of dying in mosquito-borne malarial plagues to make radical Greens feel better about themselves, but the iconic importance of the DDT ban to radical environmentalists is surpassed by few things, aside from maybe nuclear power.  You can talk about how safe DDT is with proper controls, and how much of Rachel Carson's seminal "Silent Spring" was nonsense, until you're blue in the face, but neither words nor bedbug bites are likely to erase this chapter in eco-mythology.


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