The story of DDT, America’s most notorious and most studied toxic chemical, holds many lessons. It illuminates that we know very little about the thousands of chemicals released on the market, the vast majority of which are hardly regulated by the federal government. Scientists are just beginning to understand the impacts of the various generations of pesticides and insecticides on humans, wildlife, plants, and soil. Mostly, we cannot fathom the long-term ramifications of these chemicals on our health and environment. And more chemicals are being invented and released every year for use in agriculture, landscaping, disease control, and other fields. In my in-depth interview with historian of medicine Elena Conis about her new book How to Sell a Poison, we speak about these terrifying unknowns. We also discuss the links between social inequality, race, and environmental pollution — links that Conis eloquently unpacks in the book through the stories of Black and Latinx communities devastated by DDT pollution.
Conis’ history of DDT also delves into industry-funded campaigns to discredit science and ways public opinion can be manipulated to make a poison more acceptable. In the age of misinformation and ‘fake news,’ these are lessons worth heeding. Our full interview can be found here.