Eugene Kenaga International DDT Conference on Environment and Health
March 14, 2008
Alma College, Alma, Mich.
DDT: What We Know; What Do We Need to Know?
On March 14, 2008, Alma College, in Alma, Mich., hosted a conference examining what is known about the impact of DDT on human health and the environment.
The conference brought together a number of national and international experts to frame and lead discussions of current knowledge of DDT. Attendees engaged with experts to plan what research or other projects are needed to address questions about the impact of DDT and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
The conference was jointly sponsored by the Center for Responsible Leadership and Public Affairs Institute at Alma College, the Ohio Valley Chapter of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), and the Pine River Superfund Task Force, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) community advisory group (CAG) for Superfund sites in the Pine River watershed in Michigan.
College and Community Background
Alma College is a private, liberal arts college located in the small city of Alma, Mich., and adjacent to St. Louis, Mich., which has three Superfund sites. The conference website has a number of historic photos of the former Michigan Chemical — later Velsicol Chemical — facility that led to the Superfund sites. The photos also show early DDT use in the U.S. and the international use of the DDT produced in St. Louis. There is a copy of the company letter seeking to block publication of Silent Spring. Finally, there are photos showing the environmental consequences of company practices and the remediation efforts.
The Superfund sites in the watershed of the Pine River resulted from the massive dumping of byproducts from production of DDT and a fire retardant based upon polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs). In addition to general dumping of wastes, Velsicol was responsible in 1973 for one of the worst food contamination mistakes in U.S. history, when PBB was erroneously mixed with animal feed, entered the human food chain, and remained undetected for a year. As a result of this mistake, Velsicol agreed to close its factory in 1978 and leave Michigan. In 1982, the comapny reached an agreement with the U.S. government to bury the old plant on site and cover the remains with a clay cap, marked by a tombstone [see photos]. The containment failed and by the late 1990s federal and state officials returned to the community.
Between 1999 and 2005, the U.S. EPA removed over 600,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the Pine River. In 2004, they learned the St. Louis water supply was contaminated with a DDT byproduct, pCBSA. Currently the community is awaiting the plan to remediate the old plant site and nearby golf course site or burn pit. On March 19, 2008, five days after the DDT Conference, the U.S. Justice Department will hold a hearing in the community on a proposed legal settlement with some responsible parties.
While highly contaminated for decades, the Pine River watershed has been fortunate to be the location of Alma College, with a long tradition of community involvement. The community also was home to a variety of citizens with a willingness to give extensively of their time to see the restoration of their environment. In 1998, citizens in the watershed formed the Pine River Superfund Task Force to advise the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on remediation of the various sites contaminated with DDT and other production at Velsicol. One of the long time members of the CAG was the late Eugene Kenaga (1917-2007), for whom the conference is named.
During World War II, Dr. Kenaga served as an officer in a malariology unit in the Pacific Theater, using DDT. For forty-two years he was a research scientists with the Dow Chemical Company, for many years in charge of their entomological research. In 1968 he served on a three-member blue ribbon pesticide advisory panel (for Michigan Governor George Romney) that restricted use of DDT in the state. After the formation of EPA, he served on a variety of EPA advisory panels. He was also one of the founders of the International Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).
Since 1999, community members from the Pine River Task Force and experts such as Dr. Kenaga and faculty and students from the College have worked to secure a comprehensive health study of the region to learn if any of alleged regional health problems arise from the contamination from Velsicol's emissions and leakage from the Superfund sites.
Together, the Task Force and College have solicited support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control. In 2005, ATSDR held a public forum on its work in the region and with the community planned follow-up health education and research.
Currently, the Task Force and College are working with CDC in an experimental project to use infant blood-spots to assess transfer of persistent organic pollutants from mother to child. If that project works, a more general study of health outcomes will be conducted that might be correlated with infant exposures.
In 2006 and 2007, the College, ISEE, SETAC, and Task Force became concerned with a global campaign that questioned the national and international restrictions on the use of DDT. Knowledge of this campaign led to the decision to bring together international experts and concerned citizens to discuss what is known and needs to be known about the impacts on human health and the environment arising from exposure to DDT and the other POPs.
Conference attendees produced a "Consensus Statement" that was published in Environmental Health Perspectives in May 2009. Publication was described in The Scientific American on May 4, 2009, see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ddt-use-to-combat-malaria For the consensus statement itself go to the Environmental Health Perspectives website for either the abstract or to download for free the full statement: http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2009/11748/abstract.html
The concluding paragraph of the 52 page statement found:
Current evidence on DDT exposure to human populations and on its potential health effects support the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants which emphasizes that DDT should be used with caution, only when needed, and when no other effective, safe and affordable alternatives are locally available…Given the paucity of data in populations who are currently potentially exposed to high levels of DDT, we urge the global community to monitor exposure to DDT and to evaluate its potential health impacts both in malaria endemic regions of the world and in locations where DDT use has been historically high such as the Pine River Superfund site.
For more information on the results of the conference, please contact:
Public Affairs Institute