Friday, April 3, 2015

17. A Third War in the Forties

In recent posts, Nancy and I described how World War II and the war against polio touched our daily lives in the famous town where we grew up. Recently, we remembered another war we fought every summer as long as we could remember. It was the war against mosquitoes.

Our weapon of choice in that war was an insecticide called Flit used in a hand held device called a Flit gun. Flit was marketed in very successful cartoon ads created by Theodore Seuss Geisel years before he became Dr. Seuss. His ads typically contained the popular catch phrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit.”

In the fall of 1944, we began to hear about a new discovery that promised to wipe out  the mosquito, liquidate the household fly, cockroach and bedbug and control some of the worst insects that ruin crops all over the world.  

The new remarkable insecticide, which we were told was safe for humans, was called DDT, and a few years later, the town of Gettysburg began to spay it from the air and from trucks on our streets.

Nancy and I remember the warnings to stay inside during the sprayings, and we recall the distinctive odor when the DDT cloud went by our houses.

In 1948, Swiss Chemist, Hermann Muller, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the amazing new insecticide. 

Then in 1962, in her book Silent Spring, biologist Rachel Carson presented evidence that DDT killed wildlife and caused cancer in humans. Today, DDT is banned around the world for agricultural use, but limited use is still permitted, with reservations, in countries where deaths due to malaria are significant.

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