Is DDT non-biodegradable and does it affect the body? (11 effects of DDT on human health) 

In this article, the biodegradability and health effects of DDT will be discussed. Other covered topics would be:

  • What is DDT?
  • Why was DDT banned?
  • What are the effects of DDT?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Does biodegradability stem from any hierarchy of waste?
  • What are the examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?
  • Is DDT biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is DDT non-biodegradable and does it affect the body?

DDT is not biodegradable and gets more concentrated as it travels up the food chain. It may remain in the fat deposits because it is fat soluble. 

While it persists, it may affect the environment and life. Environmental effects of DDT may include bioaccumulation, thinning of eggshells, breeding complications, and soil and aquatic toxicity. 

The health impacts may include shaking, neurological issues, tumours, psychological complications, and reproductive problems. 

What is DDT?

DDT is a known insecticide that stands for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane. As it may be guessed from its name, it is a synthetic chemical. It was developed in the late 1940s as a measure to combat the negative impacts of insects and pests. 

The initial uses and applications of DDT included:

  • Effective against malaria
  • Effective against typhus 
  • Effective against other insect-borne human diseases
  • Insect control in livestock
  • Insect control in crops
  • Insect control in personal and professional setups alike

Due to its versatile applications, the use of DDT skyrocketed in every aspect and soon it became a staple of insect control. Everyone started to use DDT because it was cheap and effective for insect control. 

Most of all, DDT was an effective insect control measure for crops and livestock. This meant increased yield and reduced compromise on economical and substantial losses. 

In other words, the use of DDT simply implied that farmers could ensure that their crops and livestock are protected from insects. This also relieved the environmentalists because less food waste meant lesser strain on the environment. 

In short, DDT was regarded as a miracle chemical forged by using the best of science and innovation. 

Why was DDT banned?

You may wonder after reading the glorious introduction to DDT that if DDT was so great, why is it that there is no mention of it nowadays?

It is because in 1972 DDT was banned in the United States and several other countries as well. 

What was regarded as a miracle, actually turned out to be malice. It was in the early 1970s that the harmful effects of DDT were unveiled which gave the world a great shock. 

After due scientific investigations, it was found out that DDT was a severe environmental pollutant which could persist for many years. The problem was not only with the persistence but also with the impacts caused by the chemical. 

With increased environmental, scientific, and medical awareness, it was unveiled that DDT was a blunt promoter of mutations leading to cancer and tumours. The reproductive complications caused by DDT also were identified. 

DDT was also researched to be a great threat to life in general because it could travel through food chains, causing toxification at various levels. A  number of aquatic and land species were found to be affected by the negative effects of DDT. 

Another problem studied with DDT was the bioaccumulation factor because, with the increased use of DDT, it was found that it led to unhealthy and unsustainable accumulation in living systems leading to pollution, toxicity, and poisoning. 

In the light of these discoveries, DDT was banned by the environmental and regulatory authorities and it was ensured that its use does not surface because it would lead to a number of complications. 

What are the effects of DDT? (11 effects of DDT on human health) 

The effects of DDT on the environment include: 

  • Highly persistent pollutant
  • Eggshell thinning
  • Loss of life
  • Bioaccumulation in various ecosystems
  • Breeding failure
  • Infiltration into the food chains and food webs

The medical impacts of DDT include:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive problems
  • Tumours
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Neuro Complications
  • Vertigo 
  • dizziness
  • Neurological anomalies 
  • Hypersensitivity 

What is biodegradability?

Have you ever wondered how much waste is produced on a global scale and what measures are taken to manage the waste? Or perhaps you may have rummaged mentally about how waste was treated before there was any science or machinery.

The answer to all such queries and curiosities will be found in this section. The understanding of biodegradability is really essential to know what is the fate of the trash that ends up in our trash cans. 

Biodegradability can be explained as a natural process through which microbes break down complex waste into simpler substances. This conversion is also facilitated by external conditions such as temperature or sunlight. 

The main driver of biodegradation is microbes. These microbes include bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, yeast, and decomposers. They break down the structures of complex waste so that the simple waste may become part of nature again. 

Biodegradability is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste and that the waste produced is taken back into the system. It is because mother nature is aware that if there is waste, there will be complications and obstructions. 

To understand this, the article invited you to an analogy. Imagine that for some reason you are unable to dispose of waste in your home or office. The situation may be manageable for some days but not very long.

Now, imagine that you can not dispose of the waste for several hundred years. The first thought that you will get is that your home or office will become unlivable. The same is the case for biodegradability and the earth. 

Biodegradability is the earth’s dustbin and earth is our home. If there is no biodegradability, there is no waste disposal. This will, eventually, steal our home’ capacity to sustain life. Results? Mass extinction and environmental degradations. 

Does biodegradability stem any hierarchy of waste?

Biodegradability is the earth’s natural way to eliminate waste by making sure that it gets back to the system. However, there has been corruption in this naturality as well. 

Regarding biodegradability, there is a general understanding that natural materials and natural waste are biodegradable. This is because it coincides with the code of nature. The microbes have no difficulty in breaking down the structures of this type of waste. 

On the other hand, we have the type of waste which can not be degraded by the action of microbes. This type of waste is mostly considered man-made. That is because microbes are unable to degrade the inner structures of synthetic materials and as a result, this type of waste may persist for hundreds of years. 

Do you remember the analogy of the last section? If you do, you will also remember that if there is an incapacity to biodegrade, then this means that nature’s capacity to sustain and promote life is being taken away. 

The same is the case with non-biodegradable waste. Non-biodegradable waste is known to cause a lot of harm to nature and man, other than being non-biodegradable. There is an endless list of these effects but some prominent ones can be cited as humble examples. 

  • Greenhouse effect
  • Global warming
  • Deforestation
  • Soil leaching
  • Pollution
  • Soil erosion 
  • Destruction of habitats
  • Disruption of food chains
  • Species endangerment 
  • Loss of life 
  • Medical complications
  • Harm to the economy
  • Unforeseen and unprecedented climatic anomalies 
  • Pest & insect attacks 

These are some of the effects to illustrate why biodegradable waste is important and needed. 

What are the examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?

In this section, various examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste will be covered to further our understanding of the concept and science of biodegradability. 

Biodegradable waste is that waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. This type of waste may degrade readily or may also take some months. 

As per some studies, biodegradable waste (like bio-plastics) may even take some years to degrade. Examples of biodegradable waste include: 

  • Food waste
  • Plant waste
  • Animal waste
  • Manure
  • Sewage 
  • Crop waste
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Natural fibres
  • Natural fabrics 
  • Semi-synthetic material obtained from plant or animal sources (like rayon fabric) 
  • Drywall mud 

Non-biodegradable waste, on the other hand, can not be degraded by the action of microbes. It is mainly because microbes are unable to break the structures of this type of waste. 

It is generally perceived that materials that are synthesised in the lab from petroleum or fossil fuels are not biodegradable. The tragedy is that with increased commercialisation and consumerism, more such waste is generated which leaves us with unprecedented and grave issues. 

Synthetic polymers are regarded as the most common non-biodegradable waste. Other examples may include: 

  • Electronic waste
  • Plastics 
  • Polyvinyl Chloride
  • Nuclear waste
  • Hazardous waste
  • Chemical waste
  • Hospital waste 
  • Synthetic resins
  • Synthetic fibres
  • Dyneema 
  • PHA 
  • EVA

Is DDT biodegradable?

In the light of the above points, it can be postulated that synthetic materials do not really gel well with microbes’ ability to degrade. Therefore, synthetic materials usually are not biodegradable. 

DDT is one example of synthetic material which was created in the 1940s. Therefore, it can be summed up that DDT is not biodegradable. 

On the contrary, it may get more concentrated as it travels up the food chains. It may remain in the fat deposits because it is fat soluble. 

While it persists, it may affect the environment and life. Environmental effects of DDT may include bioaccumulation, thinning of eggshells, breeding complications, and soil and aquatic toxicity. 

The health impacts may include 

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive problems
  • Tumours
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Neuro Complications
  • Vertigo 
  • dizziness
  • Neurological anomalies 
  • Hypersensitivity 

Conclusion

It is concluded that DDT is not biodegradable and gets more concentrated as it travels up the food chain. It may remain in the fat deposits because it is fat soluble. 

While it persists, it may affect the environment and life. Environmental effects of DDT may include bioaccumulation, thinning of eggshells, breeding complications, and soil and aquatic toxicity. 

The health impacts may include shaking, neurological issues, tumours, psychological complications, and reproductive problems. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is DDT non-biodegradable and does it affect the body?

When was DDT banned?

It was banned in 1972 in the US. However, the implementation of this ban is still underway in some parts of the world. 

Why is DDT non-biodegradable?

It is because microbes are unable to break the structure of DDT into simpler waste that may become a part of nature again. 

References

  • Turusov, V., Rakitsky, V., & Tomatis, L. (2002). Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT): ubiquity, persistence, and risks. Environmental health perspectives, 110(2), 125-128.
  • Van den Berg, H. (2009). Global status of DDT and its alternatives for use in vector control to prevent disease. Environmental health perspectives, 117(11), 1656-1663.
  • Beard, J., & Australian Rural Health Research Collaboration. (2006). DDT and human health. Science of the total environment, 355(1-3), 78-89.
  • Cohn, B. A., Wolff, M. S., Cirillo, P. M., & Sholtz, R. I. (2007). DDT and breast cancer in young women: new data on the significance of age at exposure. Environmental health perspectives, 115(10), 1406-1414.
  • Kinkela, D. (2011). DDT and the American century: global health, environmental politics, and the pesticide that changed the world. Univ of North Carolina Press.

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