Is stopping Lyme disease as simple as DDT?


A whitetail deer in tall grass. Deer are the primary host for ticks carrying Lyme disease.

When I was a kid, if you saw a great blue heron, an osprey, or a bald eagle, you stopped whatever you were doing and you watched that bird. My parents told me they were dying off, and I may never see one again. One place in Woolwich along US RT 1 would have cars lined up on both sides of the road to see the osprey in their nest.

What I didn’t know then, was that DDT was apparently harming several bird species, by making their eggs brittle, and making it more difficult for those birds to successfully hatch a clutch of eggs.

Some things I DID know at the time was that bed bugs were something poor people used to have “back in the old times”. If you didn’t put a flea collar on your dog, or cat it would get fleas. And, ticks were something people got on them out in the woods in other parts of the country.

Today, you can see bald eagles hunting pigeons in downtown Bangor, every body of water that holds frogs seems to have a heron in it, and you can’t go down a river in a boat without seeing dozens of nesting pairs of osprey.


An osprey in a residential area 8/2014


Also these days, you can use all the flea control products on the market, from over the counter to veterinarian prescriptions, and your pets will still get fleas. Even the best hotel/motel chains are scared of bedbugs. You can’t go into the tall grass without being afraid of ticks. And pretty much everybody I know, knows one person or more who has Lyme disease.

What is so different now, in 2015 than when I was a kid in the 70’s? Well from the 1940’s up until 1972, insects were controlled with dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, better known as DDT.

Now DDT very likely did disrupt the breeding cycle of many birds. But it had a 30 year run, and none of those critically endangered species were wiped off the face of the planet. It is safe to say they have made a very strong comeback thanks to the ban on DDT. On the other hand, SO HAVE THE INSECTS! Even worse… if you ignore the expenses racked up by people trying to rid their homes, and businesses of fleas and bedbugs, or you ignore the increasing numbers of children sent home from school with head lice, and you ignore the ticks crawling on every blade of grass…is the number of people suffering from Lyme disease.

According to the Center For Disease Control, in 2013 there were 27,203 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States. In Maine alone, there were 1127.

To me the logical solution is to bring DDT back for 10 years or so. Logically speaking, within a couple of years of widespread DDT usage, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, bedbugs etc. will be hit hard. After a couple of years DDT can be used in specific areas where problems still exist. Within 10 years or so, our once tried and true remedies for these pests will work once again. A 99 cent flea collar will protect our pets, we wont need to inspect the mattresses before we sleep in hotel beds, and there wont be so many new cases of Lyme disease.

We may lose a few birds, and undeniably, some non-targeted insects will suffer as well. But if you ask me? I say preventing the suffering of nearly 30,000 people a year is worth more than all the bald eagles in the world!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.