DDT: An Unforeseen Truth

DDT was synthesized by Austrian chemist Othmar Zeidler in 1874; its insecticidal effects were discovered in 1939 by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller. During World War II it was used to fight typhus and malaria, and in 1945 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for public insecticide use. By the end of the same year, American chemical companies were producing an estimated two million pounds of DDT a month. As a result of a vast surplus, negligent regulation, and antiquated scientific tools that inaccurately concluded that DDT had no effect on mammals, DDT found its way into vast amounts of products. However, in 1972 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT after conclusive evidence exhibited that it threatened the maturation of birds and caused nervous disorders and cancer in exposed human populaces.

Contributed by John Abu-Taleb
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US

Further Readings: 
  • Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. 40th anniversary edition. With essays by Edward O. Wilson and Linda Lear. New York: Mariner Books, 2002.
  • Sheail, John. Pesticides and Nature Conservation: The British Experience 1950–1957. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.