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DDT WarsRescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating EDF$
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Charles F. Wurster

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190219413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190219413.001.0001

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The DDT Wars: Four Great Victories

The DDT Wars: Four Great Victories

13 (p.183) The DDT Wars: Four Great Victories
DDT Wars

Charles F. Wurster

Oxford University Press

Nearly five decades ago a group of volunteer scientists and citizens launched a campaign to save birds from the ravages of DDT. They went to court at the local level, then through several states and finally to Washington, DC, overcoming legal barriers and challenging unexpected new issues along the way. By the 1970s, DDT and five other pesticides had been banned. Viewed from the 21st century, these actions produced significant and permanent accomplishments: Preventing cancer—Techniques and procedures for evaluating and regulating carcinogens, which followed the DDT precedents, have been adopted by international treaty. Citizen standing in court—The DDT case broke down the standing barrier, allowing citizens to go to court to protect their environment. It fostered the development of environmental law as we know it today. Recovery of the birds—Populations of iconic bird species, including the Bald Eagle, that had been decimated by DDT, have now recovered their former abundance. Creation of the Environmental Defense Fund—EDF, spawned by the “DDT wars,” has grown into one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental advocacy organizations. Top authorities in chemical carcinogenesis testified that DDT caused cancer in laboratory animals and that it was, therefore, a possible carcinogen in humans. The precedents set by DDT for identifying and regulating carcinogens then became the basis for banning another five dangerous chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides: aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor, chlordane, and mirex (see Chapter 12). EDF had established a very high standard for protection of public health against these carcinogens, as confirmed by two EPA administrators. In 2001 the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (the POPs Treaty) was signed by 151 nations to ban the “dirty dozen,” which included all of the “dirty half-dozen” singled out and banned thanks to EDF’s actions 23 years earlier. There was one exception to the total bans: DDT could be used for only malaria control. In 2009, nine additional POPs were added to the list. By 2013, 179 nations were party to the POPs Treaty, although the United States has not yet ratified it.

Keywords:   American Cancer Society, Clean Air Act Amendments (1990), Endangered Species Act (ESA), Magnuson Fisheries Conservation Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Peregrine Fund, Willamette River, chlordane, heptachlor, owls, sea lions

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