Thursday, April 30, 2020

Arthro-Pod EP 74: The Rise and Fall of DDT Part 1

Howdy, there bug folks! Today's show is going to be the first part of a two parter on the insecticide known as DDT. The topic is a little dark, so we hope you'll take care when exposing younger listeners. We're going to cover the initial discovery of DDT, what kind of world it came to be popular in, and how DDT became forever linked to American ideas abroad. It's a complicated story with lots of twists and turns and one that is still having reverberations today. We hope you'll tune in and learn along with us!

We start by covering the beginning of widespread insecticide use in the US, which involved a lot of application of Paris green for mosquitoes. Paris green is an arsenic based insecticide which had numerous side effects for the environment and people. Here we can see a man mixing Paris green with gravel dust so it can applied to marshes and a propaganda poster advertising the benefits of Paris green. 

The Colorado potato beetle is an insect that reoccurs in the story of DDT. Issues with this insect led to the use of Paris green as an insecticide, it was one of the first pests controlled by DDT, and was of concern to the Nazi government. Here we can see propaganda posters related to the beetle and its invasion of Germany. 

DDT was released into the civilian market in 1945 and advertisements had been preparing people to buy and use it. World War Two had helped to show the homefront that there was an insecticide coming that would help cure their ills. 

You'll notice a theme of happy women and protected babies in many DDT ads from the time. 
DDT was an integral part of American success in WW2 and became a cornerstone of international efforts to deal with malaria and typhus. Unfortunately, with war raging, many of the initial tests on DDT and its effects on humans were focused on the acute symptoms. Therefore, the long term human and ecological effects were allowed to simmer. 

Show notes:
Check out the book "DDT and the American Century" for the information in the episode

Questions? Comments? 
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This episode is freely available on and is licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

Beginning/ending theme: "There It Is" by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0