DDT was a pest-control superstar. First created in 1874, DDT is colorless, tasteless, and nearly odorless. But it wasn’t until 1939 that its bug-killing potential was discovered by a Swiss chemist named Paul Hermann Muller.
For this finding, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948.
DDT cut its teeth during World War II, and proved to be a savior for the Allies. It was used to kill mosquitoes carrying malaria in the South Pacific, and to kill insects carrying typhus in Europe—both with spectacular efficiency.
A famous war hero, it returned home to loud acclaim. It decided to turn its attention to agricultural pest control, and was made available to farmers as an industrial insecticide in 1945. It was very good at its job. Starting around 1950, farmers used 40,000 metric tons of it on their fields each year—DDT seemed to be destined for greatness.
But there was trouble in paradise.
One little book published in 1962 would bring the mighty DDT to its knees. It was called Silent Spring, written by an American biologist named Rachel Carson. Now considered a classic, it described how the reckless, indiscriminate spraying of it was devastating populations of birds and other animals, as well as causing cancer, poisoning, and other diseases in humans. The book accused the chemical industry of pushing the insecticide without informing the public of its consequences. And it accused the government of blindly accepting the deceptive and unsubstantiated claims of the chemical industry.
Silent Spring helped start the environmental movement in the United States, and led to a public outcry that resulted in DDT being banned for agricultural use in the U.S. in 1972. Thanks to this action, it is believed that the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle were saved from extinction in America.
DDT almost wiped out our national bird!
Today, it is banned in most developed countries (except to control disease vectors like mosquitoes). This is a good thing, both for birds and because unbridled agricultural spraying was promoting mosquito resistance to DDT; now that it’s not being used as much, DDT has a much better chance of killing mosquitoes and saving people from malaria.
Call us with any pest problem so you can rest easy.