Objectives: Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was used worldwide until the 1970s, when concerns about its toxic effects, its environmental persistence, and its concentration in the food supply led to use restrictions and prohibitions. In 2001, more than 100 countries signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), committing to eliminate the use of 12 POPs of greatest concern. However, DDT use was allowed for disease vector control. In 2006, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development endorsed indoor DDT spraying to control malaria. To better inform current policy, we reviewed epidemiologic studies published from 2003 to 2008 that investigated the human health consequences of DDT and/or DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) exposure.
Data sources and extraction: We conducted a PubMed search in October 2008 and retrieved 494 studies.
Data synthesis: Use restrictions have been successful in lowering human exposure to DDT, but blood concentrations of DDT and DDE are high in countries where DDT is currently being used or was more recently restricted. The recent literature shows a growing body of evidence that exposure to DDT and its breakdown product DDE may be associated with adverse health outcomes such as breast cancer, diabetes, decreased semen quality, spontaneous abortion, and impaired neurodevelopment in children.
Conclusions: Although we provide evidence to suggest that DDT and DDE may pose a risk to human health, we also highlight the lack of knowledge about human exposure and health effects in communities where DDT is currently being sprayed for malaria control. We recommend research to address this gap and to develop safe and effective alternatives to DDT.
Keywords: DDE; DDT; dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene; dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane; health effects; organochlorine pesticides; persistent organic pollutants.