Our politics hid an insecticide superior to DDT – now rediscovered

❝ “We set out to study the growth of crystals in a little-known insecticide and uncovered its surprising history, including the impact of World War II on the choice of DDT–and not DFDT–as a primary insecticide in the 20th century,” said Bart Kahr, professor of chemistry at New York University and one of the study’s senior authors…

Kahr and fellow NYU chemistry professor Michael Ward study the growth of crystals, which two years ago led them to discover a new crystal form of the notorious insecticide DDT. DDT is known for its detrimental effect on the environment and wildlife. But the new form developed by Kahr and Ward was found to be more effective against insects–and in smaller amounts, potentially minimizing its environmental impact…

❝ In addition to their chemical analyses, the researchers sought to determine if their creation had a precedent. In doing so, they uncovered a rich and unsettling backstory for DFDT. Through historical documents, they learned that DFDT was created as an insecticide by German scientists during World War II and was used by the German military for insect control in the Soviet Union and North Africa, in parallel with the use of DDT by American armed forces in Europe and the South Pacific.

❝ In the post-war chaos, however, DFDT manufacturing came to an abrupt end. Allied military officials who interviewed Third Reich scientists dismissed the Germans’ claims that DFDT was faster and less toxic to mammals than DDT, calling their studies “meager” and “inadequate” in military intelligence reports.

Professor Kahr says it best

❝ “We were surprised to discover that at the outset DDT had a competitor which lost the race because of geopolitical and economic circumstances, not to mention its connection to the German military, and not necessarily because of scientific considerations. A faster, less persistent insecticide, as is DFDT, might have changed the course of the 20th century; it forces us to imagine counterfactual science histories,” said Kahr.

One thought on “Our politics hid an insecticide superior to DDT – now rediscovered

  1. nicknielsensc says:

    If it makes it cheaper to get rid of bedbugs, I’m all for it. I’m tired of shelling out hundreds of dollars every time I stay in the wrong motel.

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