DDT is the well known synthetic pesticide in the world. It was used with unique success in the control of mosquitoes which spread malaria and typhoid. Later it was also used in agriculture and its production was enormous. The environmental effects may not be known at that time or the industry was so mighty that only very few people opposed the uncontrolled spraying of DDT everywhere.

Nobody thought at that time about the toxicity of a chemical except its use. Ms. Rachel Carson, a biologist in 1962 questioned the indiscriminate use of DDT in her book. She was the first person who suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer. It is now banned in agriculture throughout the world. But it is still used in some tropical countries for other purposes or selectively against mosquitoes. In India lakhs of tons of DDT was used for Malaria eradication Programme from World Health Organization (WHO).

DDT is a permanent organic pollutant and its half life period is 2 to 30 years. The process of biodegradation occurs very slowly. Breakdown products in the soil are DDE and DDD which are also persistent and have same physical as well as chemical properties. DDT and its metabolites DDE and DDD could enter our bodies through the food chain. It is fat soluble and stored in fat in humans and animals. In the nineteen seventies almost everybody in the world had detectable DDT in their blood. Even now many people have DDT in their blood whether they come from developed or developing countries. According to the WHO survey the Indian mother’s milk contains DDT in higher concentration than any other country in the world. Without exception all the mothers in the world have DDT metabolites in their milk.

DDT and its metabolites are classified as moderately hazardous by World Health Organization. It is not acute toxic. In chronic exposition, liver may be damaged and farmers have an increased incidence of non-allergic asthma. Organochlorine compounds, particularly DDE are linked with diabetes. Fish is a major contaminant in the world. Liver, biliary tract and pancreas cancer may be possible for persons who are working with DDT for a long time. There are meagre studies to establish that DDT or DDE may cause breast cancer. It is very interesting to know about the reproductive toxicology where it is told that DDT, DDE and other organochlorines have xenoestrogenic activity which means that these are chemically similar to estrogens, the female sexual hormone. This may affect the semen quality in men.

There are many cases of DDT victim in the world and I could remember few. A woman between 35 and 40 years came to me and told that she was not doing well and we had to find out what it was. She was not feeling well, very tired and had problems of memory. I asked her to tell what happened in the previous days and weeks so that I could get a picture of what had happened. Five weeks before she had flown to Africa for two weeks holidays. She enjoyed her holidays well and had enough rest and relaxation for her body as well as for her soul. When she returned after the completion of her holidays she had several health problems. We talked about her holidays, she told me how happy she was there and finally I asked her about her food in Africa. She has eaten fish and fish only all the fourteen days because the fish items was highly delicious. I asked her the source of the fish and she replied that it was fished from a big lake. The lake water was very clean, she added. After this it was an easy work for me. We took a blood sample from her and she had very high amounts of DDT, DDE and other organochlorines in her blood. This was the reason for her sickness.

The farmers in the nearby fields sprayed so much of pesticides including DDT and in course of time the whole lake water and the soil became contaminated. DDT is insoluble in water but soluble in fat. Hence, it is stored in the fat tissues. Thus DDT accumulated in the fat of the fish. Fourteen days, two to three times, approximately 500 to 700 gram of fish every time brought so much of DDT and its metabolites in her body and the result is this environmental sickness.

A lady professor, who did research on the impact of DDT, came to our Institute to deliver a lecture. I was out of station on the day. Everybody applauded that the lecture was very good and I also got the copies of her scientific publications. It was about the estrogenic activity of DDT and its metabolites. I read all, it was interesting and her conclusion was that on account of the continuous exposure to DDT, DDE and other organochlorines, the reproductive capacity of the man is strongly reduced and he may not have children. Six months later, she delivered a lecture with seminar organized by the Heidelberg University and I attended that. In the interval I asked her whether she knew India and Malaria Eradication Programme. If her research findings were correct, India’s population should have been dwindling down to 50% by this time. She laughed and she had no answer. She had her data obtained only from white patients. Are white men different from other men in this particular problem?

Most of the mothers prefer to breastfeed their children and breast milk is the healthiest food for the infants. Mothers, who think and know about the environment, are afraid to breastfeed their children. One would be mother met me and wanted help. We had analysed several breast milks and knew the situation. Almost, every breast milk is found to be contaminated with traces or detectable amount of pesticides. In our body fat, the pesticides are stored, if a woman is very slim, she has very less fat in her body. That means all her fat is needed for the production of the milk, accordingly she has more pesticide residue in her mother’s milk. If there is more fat in the body, then only a part is needed for the production of the mother’s milk, correspondingly fewer pesticides in her milk. So it is advisable to increase ten to fifteen kilos that means eating heavily what a modern woman normally does not eat. Only two groups must be careful, the women who have problem with cholesterol and high blood pressure and women who are having high blood sugar. They have to consult their doctor.

Pesticides are sometimes useful, but they are always poisons. We must be careful to save us and our environment…