1939 DDT

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Paul Hermann Müller chemistry DDT


Silent killer


In 1874, Othmar Zeidler first synthesized DDT, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, that is, 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane, but Zeidler had not investigated its properties. Müller spent four years testing 349 compounds before he tested DDT.

Mosquitos infect over a quarter-billion people in South America, Asia, and Africa with malaria each year, and over a half-million die of it.

The parasite responsible for visceral leishmaniasis (black fever) attacks the internal organs and infects a half-million people each year. If untreated, it usually results in death. DDT is still used to control the sandfly whose larva carry this parasite.

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