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DDT was sold in boxes such as this one
DDT is used against mosquitos, US, 1958
A piece of cardboard soaked with DDT, for use indoors. Seen in Australia, 2008

DDT is a well-known pesticide that was widely used in the past for controlling insects and diseases. The abbreviation stands for Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, one of its names. The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948, for his discovery of DDT. However, in the 1960s, a study questioned the indiscriminate use of DDT, and it was found that DDT could cause cancer. Since then, DDT has been replaced by other pesticides. This article will provide a detailed overview of DDT, including its history, uses, effects on human health and the environment, and current regulations.


DDT was first synthesized in 1874 by Othmar Zeidler, a German chemist. However, its insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, when Paul Hermann Müller, a Swiss chemist, found that it was effective against the Colorado potato beetle. Müller's discovery was a significant breakthrough in pest control, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948.

DDT quickly became the most widely used insecticide in the world, and its use increased dramatically during World War II, when it was used to control malaria and other insect-borne diseases. It was also used extensively in agriculture to control pests and increase crop yields.

However, concerns about the environmental and health effects of DDT began to emerge in the 1960s. Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," published in 1962, highlighted the harmful effects of DDT on wildlife, particularly birds, and raised concerns about its effects on human health. The book played a significant role in the banning of DDT in the United States in 1972.


DDT was primarily used as an insecticide to control mosquitoes that spread malaria and other diseases. It was also used to control pests in agriculture and to protect crops from insect damage. DDT is a broad-spectrum insecticide, meaning it kills a wide range of insects, including beneficial ones like bees and butterflies.

Currently, DDT is still used in some countries for vector control, which involves spraying it on the walls and ceilings of homes to kill mosquitoes that transmit diseases like malaria. The World Health Organization recommends the use of DDT for this purpose, as it is highly effective and affordable compared to other insecticides. However, the use of DDT for vector control is strictly regulated under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Health effects

DDT has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and neurological effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified DDT as a probable human carcinogen, based on evidence from animal studies.

Exposure to DDT can occur through ingestion of contaminated food and water, inhalation of contaminated air, and skin contact with contaminated soil. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of DDT, as their developing bodies may be more sensitive to toxic chemicals.

Environmental effects

DDT has been shown to have significant environmental effects, particularly on wildlife. It is highly toxic to birds and mammals, and can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals further up the food chain. This can lead to biomagnification, where the concentration of DDT increases as it moves up the food chain, leading to toxic effects on higher trophic levels.

DDT also has long-term persistence in the environment, meaning that it can remain in the soil and water for many years. This can lead to widespread contamination of the environment and pose a threat to human health and wildlife.

Environmental impact

DDT has been found to have negative impacts on the environment, particularly on wildlife. Due to its persistence in the environment, it accumulates in the food chain and can cause serious harm to organisms further up the chain. In addition to its effects on birds, DDT has been found to have negative impacts on fish, invertebrates, and other animals.

Effects on birds

DDT was found to have serious impacts on bird populations, particularly those that feed on insects such as eagles, hawks, and falcons. The chemical caused their eggshells to become thin and fragile, leading to a decline in the number of eggs that successfully hatched. This was one of the key findings of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which helped to raise public awareness of the negative impacts of DDT.

Effects on fish and other aquatic organisms

DDT can accumulate in the tissues of fish and other aquatic organisms, causing harm to their reproductive and immune systems. It can also cause deformities and other physical problems. This can have negative impacts on the entire aquatic ecosystem, as fish and other aquatic organisms play important roles in maintaining ecological balance.

Regulation and use

Due to its negative impacts on the environment and human health, the use of DDT has been heavily regulated and restricted in many countries. In 1972, the United States banned the use of DDT for agricultural purposes, and in 2001, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was established to regulate the use of DDT and other persistent organic pollutants. The convention restricts the use of DDT to vector control, which is the use of pesticides to control disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

Despite these regulations, DDT is still used in some countries for agricultural purposes, particularly in developing countries where other, more expensive pesticides are not readily available. In these cases, the use of DDT is often justified as a means of protecting crops and ensuring food security. However, the long-term impacts of DDT use on the environment and human health remain a concern.



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