For the Birds Radio Program: DDT

Original Air Date: Sept. 3, 1986

Disconcerting facts about DDT today. (3:48) Date verified.

Audio missing


![American Robin] ( “American Robin”)


(Recording of American Robin)

Do you have DDT in your body? Chances are you and I both do–and so do the birds in our yards. In a nationwide study conducted in 1983, the National Center for Disease Control found detectable amounts of DDT in every single subject tested: from lower animals to birds and mammals, including human beings. Even though DDT was banned from the U.S. in 1972, it’s still being spread all over the country–including many Duluth backyards.

How can this possibly be? Well, back in 1957, when DDT was still legal, a chemical named dicofol was approved for use in the United States. It’s an ingredient in nearly 200 federally registered pesticides designed for commercial and home use. Dicofol is manufactured from DDT itself, which is obtained legally from Italy for this purpose. The problem is that the manufacturing process is imperfect, and the final product contains from 7-15% DDT and another chemical called DDE, which is even more toxic to birds than DDT itself.

When DDT was banned, dicofol was not, because DDT was not listed as an active ingredient. The Environmental Protection Agency even approved the registration of dozens of new dicofol products after 1972, including Kelthane. A lot of professional lawncare companies use Kelthane or dicofol in their mixtures applied to local yards. And dozens of vegetable and flower insecticides–including most kinds of rose and tomato dusts–sold in local nurseries and department stores have Kelthane as a major ingredient.

For about seven years following the DDT ban in the U.S., studies indicated that concentrations of it were declining in nearly all species of birds and in humans. But in 1979, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered that DDT levels were leveling off-no longer dropping. By early 1984, tests indicated that DDT levels were actually increasing again in some species of birds and fish. Some unscrupulous farmers may be getting DDT from Mexico on the black market, and some of it may be the ugly residue from 30 years of legal use. But many EPA scientists believe that dicofol is an important cause of the rising DDT levels. 2.5 million pounds of dicofol are sprayed in the United States every year. Unfortunately, the agency has recently backed away from an immediate ban of dicofol–it’s allowing manufacturers to phase out the DDT-contaminated stocks over the next two-and-a-half years.

What do you do if you discover Kelthane or dicofol is in your tomato dust? Don’t throw it in the garbage–you might end up contaminating Duluth’s groundwater and Lake Superior. The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District office runs a household hazardous waste program every Thursday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at their solid waste facility at 27th Avenue West off I-35. Free of charge, we can bring old yard chemicals, paints and thinners, cleaning solvents, bleaches, nail polish remover, and any other poisons or corrosives we may have around the house, and they’ll properly dispose of them. Even the most ignorant baby bird knows enough not to foul its nest–the least we can do is to follow that example.

(recording of American Robin)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”