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DDT (Molecule of the Month for August 1997)

Banned Insecticide

DDT the first of the chlorinated organic insecticides, was originally prepared in 1873, but it was not until 1939 that Paul Muller of Geigy Pharmaceutical in Switzerland discovered the effectiveness of DDT as an insecticide he was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1948 for this discovery).

The use of DDT increased enormously on a worldwide basis after World War II, primarily because of its effectiveness against the mosquito that spreads malaria and lice that carry typhus. The World Health Organization estimates that during the period of its use approximately 25 million lives were saved. DDT seemed to be the ideal insecticideit is cheap and of relatively low toxicity to mammals (oral LD50 is 300 to 500 mg/kg). However, problems related to extensive use of DDT began to appear in the late 1940s. Many species of insects developed resistance to DDT, and DDT was also discovered to have a high toxicity toward fish.

The chemical stability of DDT and its fat solubility compounded the problem. DDT is not metabolized very rapidly by animals; instead, it is deposited and stored in the fatty tissues. The biological half-life of DDT is about eight years; that is, it takes about eight years for an animal to metabolize half of the amount it assimilates. If ingestion continues at a steady rate, DDT builds up within the animal over time.

The use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1973, although it is still in use in some other parts of the world. The buildup of DDT in natural waters is a reverisble process: the EPA reported a 90% reduction of DDT in Lake Michigan fish by 1978 as a result of the ban.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)

Picture of DDT

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Picture of DDT

Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for August 1997 )