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About the Book
DDT is the world’s most successful public health insecticide. Millions upon millions of lives have been saved from preventable, insect-borne diseases thanks to this almost magical white powder. Yet despite decades of use and thousands of studies, DDT is also profoundly misunderstood. Few recognize the way in which DDT actually functions to protect people from diseases such as malaria. Thanks to orchestrated and well-financed campaigns against this insecticide and without scientific justification, it was banned from most countries. Thanks to these campaigns, many myths and even more fears surround DDT. This book dispels these myths and sets the record straight, reviewing the fascinating science and history of a chemical that changed the world, freed millions from the threat of malaria and other diseases and despite the best efforts of many activists, continues to save lives in poor countries today.
The Excellent Powder. DDT’s Political and Scientific History by authors Don Roberts and Richard Tren with Roger Bate and Jennifer Zambone is the most comprehensive assessment of the science, history and public policy of this intriguing and misunderstood chemical. This book provides the reader with a thorough understanding of insect borne disease and strategies to halt their transmission. The Excellent Powder explains how this insecticide functions as a powerful chemical to keep mosquitoes out of houses and not primarily as a killing agent. Despite decades of scientific evidence about how DDT actually works, the false notion that it primarily kills mosquitoes is widely held. This widespread misunderstanding is not simply an obscure technical issue, but one that has fundamental implications for the ongoing use of DDT in malaria control and the development of new and effective replacements.
This book challenges the widely held notion that DDT was responsible for the decline and near extinction of several bird species, such as the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. The Excellent Powder reviews the history of the changing fortunes of these birds in the United States and finds that direct action by man, such as hunting, poisoning and land use changes pushed these bird populations to their nadir. Improved legislation and enforcement of that legislation along with well-funded programs to reintroduce birds now accounts for their abundance in the US; banning DDT played little or no part in their recovery. The evidence that DDT harms human health is weak, inconsistent and fails the basic epidemiological criteria required to prove a cause and effect relationship. In spite of this and the fact that the public health benefits of DDT far outweigh any potential harm, some activists and researchers continue to undermine DDT on the flimsiest and most questionable basis.
The Excellent Powder provides readers with an absorbing account of this most compelling chemical that shaped much of the 20th century and whose legacy will influence much of the 21st.