Monday, February 9, 2009

The Secret of Success

By Alan Caruba

Unless you are a pest control professional, it is unlikely you ever heard of Norm Ehmann. Those of us who were fortunate to know him, however, just loved the man. He passed away recently at the age of 84 and everyone in America owes him a huge debt of gratitude.

Every business and industry in America has a handful of men who transform it and always for the better. They come to their daily tasks with a personal integrity and an enthusiasm that is irresistible.

There was a time when, if people had a pest problem, they asked the local pest control provider to park his car or truck around the corner so others would not know. The inference was that you were not keeping a clean house. People who engaged in pest control had a handful of products and devices to get rid of insect and rodent pests. Their business practices frequently involved a low-ball price for dubious services and results.

Norm Ehmann was instrumental in changing that. He was involved in pest control for more than fifty years and he was passionate about it. What he and others did was introduce educational seminars to the profession. He understood that the most important element of eliminating insect and rodent pests was a thorough-going knowledge and understanding of their habits, life cycles, and harborages.

I knew Norm because, back in the 1970s I participated in the introduction of a remarkable new insecticide called “Ficam.” It was applied with water. It was lethal to a wide variety of insect pests, but virtually harmless to human beings. You’d think this was a good thing, but many years later, the Environmental Protection Agency demanded that the product undergo a repeat of the multi-million dollar registration process and the manufacturer decided it just wasn’t worth it.

I tell you this because it reflected what happened to DDT. During WWII, DDT successfully saved the lives of countless American soldiers and refugees from insect-borne diseases. People were literally dusted with DDT and, then as now, they lived because of this remarkable insecticide. Then Rachel Carson wrote a book, “Silent Spring”, that defamed DDT and, in time, it was banned. Every year now, in Africa alone, five million people die from Malaria for the lack of this miracle insecticide.

Norm worked for Van Waters & Rogers, a leading distributor of pest control products that purchased the company for which he was a salesman. He helped take VW&R from a $3 million operation under its previous owner to a $200 million enterprise. The introduction of new pesticides is the reason that Americans do not have to fear the diseases that insect and rodent pests spread whether it be in a supermarket, a hospital, a school, a hotel, or anywhere else professional pest control services exist.

For Norm, pesticides, used properly, were the answer to the threats of disease and property damage that had always plagued mankind. Over his life he was instrumental in creating 8,000 insect slides and specimens to help train pest control operators, owners and technicians.

That’s why people greet “the Orkin man” and other pest control folk with a smile. Most arrive in a clean uniform, have a professional demeanor, and all are licensed and certified by state agencies.

Norm didn’t just give sales talks. He helped train thousands of men and women to be effective, to understand the products they were using, to understand the pests to be exterminated, to project pride in their profession, to regard and respect each customer as essential to their own success.

Such people transform their industries and, as a result, improve the lives of all Americans.


libertyforusa said...

The example of DDT is indeed a tragic story. It indicates how dangerous educational influences can lead others to take actions based on false premises.

Government intervention has killed millions of people needlessly as a result.

Nothing with any persistence in the environment is now allowed, as a result it takes many more applications of non persistent sprays to do the same job.

This of course raises the costs in countries that cannot afford to pay them.

The spotted owl case is a very similar story. The bans to logging even using responsible thinning techniques has caused the near complete collapse of an entire industry. The spotted owl ended up being pushed out of the environment by the barred owl, not logging. Last word is they are doing fine in non old growth forests.

The pesticide industry were actually pathfinders in sound environmental techniques by developing the Integrated Pest Management system. This does not stop the eco groups from continuing their non stop attacks on this industry also.

BTW were they (greenies) to prevail, insects would quickly consume all our crops world wide, and billions would die of starvation!

Guy said...

I didn't know Norm, but I'll take your word that he was a great guy. Anyone who believes in honest business practices and education has to be worthy of praise in my book ....

However, I'm curious about your comments concerning DDT. While I've always heard that it was a tremendously effective insecticide, I also have first hand experience with the damage it was doing to our bird populations. I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but those who pushed for the ban pointed to research that indicated it was decimating the reproductive systems of birds. Since DDT was banned, there has been a marked rebound in the populations of the higher level bird life in our area, which seems to confirm their hypothesis. Now, regardless of whether you enjoy seeing an eagle fly over your property or not, I think that most people would agree that, like the canary in the coal mine, any chemical that is causing reproductive harm to birds or any other animal is certainly cause for concern. Of course, there is a huge difference between banning a pesticide and regulating it's use to safe levels or safe applications. For example, they also banned many of the common pesticides used to treat the foundations of buildings for termites (chlordane, dursban). I feel that if applied correctly, these highly effective pesticides could still be used safely. I'm curious what else you know about DDT, and in what situations you feel its use would be appropriate. It's my understanding that it is a very durable pesticide, and it takes a very long time to break down, which is why it accumulates in the tissues of the animals highest in the food chain. So perhaps spraying it on crops or over large areas might not be the best idea, but using it to wipe out an infestation of mosquitoes that have tested positive for West Nile might be more appropriate.....

Alan Caruba said...

Amen and amen, Libertyforusa!

Alan Caruba said...

Guy, if I am given the choice between live human beings and the possibility of a few dead birds, you know what I will vote for.

You will have to do your own research on DDT, but my general feeling is that the claims regarding its affect on birds are over-stated or subject to serious scientific dispute.

libertyforusa said...

Contrary to what people believe DDT is in restricted use for vector control purpose in many places in the world.
It is banned in the US and some other countries.
The over use of DDT contributed to the excessive amounts of it showing up in the food chain. This was thought to weaken the shells of large birds of prey that fed in agricultural areas. However, like just about everything ever invented new information lead to improvements that were developed to minimize this possibility.

Today, if used judiciously, DDT is safe to use, but some will never be convinced!

100 Raptors are more important than 1 million people in their world!

Malaria was a horrible scourge that contributed to many premature deaths even in this country a century ago.
DDT was a miracle that won a Nobel Prize for its inventor Mueller. It was no wonder that everyone was overusing it.

An analogy today, would be the overuse of antibiotics.
New research in peptides may solve that dilemma!

Rich Kozlovich said...


I think that you may have some incorrect information. DDT did not decimate the bird populations, irrespective of Rachel Carson's claims. Ornithologists, who actually count birds noted that during the DDT years the bird populations actually increased 12 times. It is believed that DDT killed the parasites an increased their food sources by killing the bugs in the food.

The bald eagle population also increased during the peak DDT years. The reproductive systems of birds were not affected adversely by DDT and Rachel Carson actually misrepresented information dealing with that issue. There were studies that made claims about DDT and egg shell thinning, but they withheld calcium from their diets or the birds were fed so much DDT that there was bound to be some sort of physiological reaction.

Chlordane and Dursban were not "banned". The Chlordane case is an eye opener. Velsicol was the manufacturer. They made a deal with EPA that they would treat a fixed number of homes in a study to see the effect after one year. Someone leaked the homes that were treated with Chlordane after six months. Velsicol wanted to start over again and EPA refused, saying that the deal was for one year and the fact that the information was leaked was immaterial to them. Velsicol then pulled their was not banned.

In the case of Dursban; it fell prey (as did other products) to EPA chicanery under Carol Browner with the Food Quality Protection Act. They decided that all pesticides within a category (not the individual pesticide, the whole category) would have to meet some standard they called a "risk cup" and demanded that the information they required to be in their hands in 18 months and if they couldn't do so (which was impossible) they would estimate the risks. So Dow Chemical, who was the largest maker of Dursban felt the battle wasn't worth it since the product was now out of patent. Therefore they, like Velsicol, also pulled their label. It was not banned...there is a difference.

Resistance to DDT is very high in mosquito populations; however, it still repels and confuses them extremely well. That is an important aspect for treating homes in high malaria locals.

DDT did not bioaccumulate, and although it is persistent it breaks down into DDE, neither of which has shown to be a health concern, in spite of the claims from activists. They would have you believe that is causes cancer and serious reproductive problems. This product was used during the baby boom era. If reproduction was a problem…it was hard to tell, and it doesn't cause cancer.

Kendra said...

I read Rachel Carson many, many years ago and the distinct impression I had was that she was worried about indiscriminate use - lately, after being shocked to hear that she is to be blamed for thousands of malaria deaths, I saw again someone saying she was not for a ban. I don't have the book any more to check, of course.

In a similar vein, there is the whole "dose makes the poison" basis for toxicology. The controversy over vaccines can be very polarized - but isn't it reasonable to think that, especially with very small children and babies, that they should not be given indiscriminately, as a bombardment, and especially when done for the medical or governmental administrators convenience?

Also, sorry to show my lack of specifics, but I also read recently that while aluminum (of a certain dose) can be given to rats and none will die, and mercury (of a certain dose) can be given to them at another time and none will die, but if given together, they all will die.

Alan Caruba said...

Rachel Carson cannot be let off the hook for the millions that have died due to the DDT ban. She was a deliberate agitator, a chemophobe, and the facts she cited in her book, as per Rich Kozlovich., were wrong.

And, yes, the dose is the poison. Look at it this way, if pesticides were such a threat to humans, why hasn't everyone in the pest control industry died from exposure? That's because they are applied in low, but effective doses to exterminate the insect or rodent pests and they are applied in a manner to avoid human exposure.

As to vaccinations, I would think it common sense to space them out and not deliver them in a bunch.

Rich Kozlovich said...

There are a couple of points that I would like to present to everyone. I find that the anti-chemical crowd will tout any "study" that is against pesticides (actually any and all chemicals) and claim it is sound science, and any study that confirms the value of chemicals as science that has been bought and paid for, such as the tobacco “scientists”.

When you have read enough information the light becomes clearer. A number of things have to be looked at to understand where the truth lies.

First! What was the world’s population in 1945? Approximately two billion and it took thousands of years to attain that number. What is the world’s population now? Six billion, fast approaching seven billion and it took less than seventy five years to attain that number. If chemicals are as terrible as they claim, the world should be evidence of it, and yet the opposite is true.

The greenies are constantly alarming the people of the world about chemicals and vaccinations with all sorts of scares. According to the greenies the world should have no electricity, no worthwhile transportation system, no treated water systems, no pesticides, no vaccinations and only practice organic farming in order for the world to be a paradise. Yet the areas of the world that live that way live in a state of dystopia. As for the greenies who insist that his is the way to live; they live here.

Kendra is right in that Rachel Carson claimed that she didn’t want a ban on DDT. Yet, if her information had been correct; banning could be the only conclusion any reasonable person could come to. I don’t see how anyone can come to the conclusion that this wasn’t her goal and her other writings certainly suggest that.

Like so many of the greenies, Carson was enrapt with “becoming one with nature”. Unfortunately that is deadly. Irrespective of what the greenies think or say, nature is not a kind and beneficent being. Nature is a biological machine that is deadly! Going back to nature will kill you as quickly as it does all the wild things in the world. That is why we need vaccinations, pesticides, herbicides, electricity and all the other things that make modern life possible.

I have no problem with anyone who wishes to live that way, but I don’t like it when they insist that all the rest of us do so also.


Ed Darrell said...

Rachel Carson cannot be let off the hook for the millions that have died due to the DDT ban. She was a deliberate agitator, a chemophobe, and the facts she cited in her book, as per Rich Kozlovich., were wrong.

Here's a challenge: Tell me one thing Rachel Carson wrote in that book that has later proven to be in error.

Remember, President Kennedy's scientific advisors did a thorough vetting of her book in 1963. In May 1963 they reported that there was only one significant error in her book -- she did not call for a quick enough ban on DDT.

By 1971 DDT had been found damaging -- too damaging to justify use -- by two separate federal courts. The courts agreed to refrain from an outright ban as allowed under the law if EPA would expedite a then-10-year-old review of DDT. EPA did. During EPA's process, DDT manufacturers applied to voluntarily change the label to ban almost all uses, except in a few cases to protect human health. EPA adopted that standard as its rule, instead, and that is the "ban" we have today (DDT has always been available for use in health and other emergencies, but such emergency applications have been done only twice in the U.S.).

In short, two federal courts found that DDT was very damaging on the basis of evidence presented in open court, with the benefit of experts from DDT manufacturers defending its use.

Under such circumstances, I think it's unfair and inaccurate to blame Rachel Carson, when she did the right thing, and when there is not a peer-reviewed piece of research on Earth that contradicts her claims.

Pest control is much better for the work of Norm Ehmann. But remember, his tools included education with accurate information. Let's not dishonor that tradition.

libertyforusa said...

How many problems in this world have been the direct consequences of people adopting a position with limited information on the subject?

This was my reason for deciding to blog. With the media and public education institutions polluting our youth, alternative sources of information become paramount.

Is this not how the AGW has managed to balloon into a widely accepted "truth"?

Politicians know this tendency and exploit it for advancing their agendas.

Pesticides are rated for lethality.
LD50 refers to the dosage that will kill 50% of the rats in study group. That number is used too as a base to calculate allowed concentrations. They are diluted by a factor of thousands to be legal to use or mix.

The greens always want this further diluted down to infinitesimal amounts that wouldn't work!

Pesticides than are rated in classes based on lethality levels Danger, Warning, or Caution. When I worked in this industry years ago, almost everything used had the safest (least lethal) level which is "Caution". All other potential health or environmental concerns are also closely regulated.

Durasban used on lawns to control cranefly larvae, worked great, but water fowl with their webbed feet were used as a target species by the "greens", as their footprint provided additional surface for dermal absorption. I never knew if their claims had any merit.

Guy said...

Thanks to everyone for all the supporting information here. As I said in my original comment, I am no expert in this field. I am simply a regular guy who grew up in a relatively rural area of Ohio, trying to get a handle on this subject. The only thing I can say for SURE is this ...

When I was young, it was a rare thing to see a hawk, an eagle, a heron, or any other such bird in the fields and marshes around my home. Today, just driving down the freeway, red tailed hawks, falcons, and many other raptors can be seen sitting on fences and trees. Bald eagles have returned to Ohio as well. There has been a SIGNIFICANT change in the number of higher order birds in my neck of the woods....

So, as a layperson who has no specific interest or education in ornithology, I've reached the conclusion that SOMETHING was supressing the population of these birds, and whatever it was has since been "fixed".

I've always felt that anything that's harming other animals will eventually be harming us, so it makes sense to me to try to understand what was going on. I certainly understand the need to protect humans and property from disease and destruction, but it's a little counter-productive if the cure becomes worse than the disease. Had we waited until the entire food chain collapsed before becoming concerned, things might be very different around here today....

Every discovery that science produces has its benefits, and its hazards. Nuclear power is wonderful, while radiation poisoning pretty much sucks. When they first discovered the power locked in the atom, they thought radiation was harmless, and many people died as a result. I feel we should all strive to understand what the risks and benefits of each new discovery are, and then try to find balances that yield the maximum gains while producing the minimum negative impact on our environment. Letting zealots run the show, from EITHER side, is wrong ....

Believe me, I have a serious distaste for these "greenies" that would have us living in the stone age again. However, as I said earlier, it's all about balance. Living in a state where we had a river catch on fire, it's hard not to be concerned about what we're doing to our environment. Call me stupid, but pulling fish with tumors out of the local reservoir that holds our drinking water concerns me to some degree. I don't know what's causing it, but I do know I never saw a fish with a tumor on it in my childhood, and I'd rather not have tumors on me, or in me....

I think the trick is to find these safe balances, and that can only happen through science, observation, and dialogues like this ...

Oh, and sorry if I demonstrated my ignorance about the other "banned" pesticides I mentioned ... all I knew was that I used to use them, but they aren't on the shelf at my local stores anymore ....

Rich Kozlovich said...

Where was Rachel Carson wrong? She was wrong in almost every way and most importantly she misrepresented the facts.

As for the idea that she was only found one thing to be in error is nonsense. Rachel Carson’s book first appeared as installments in the New Yorker magazine and later published in book form. That is not a scientific paper. It was never peer reviewed before publication and after it was published scientists took objection to a great deal of what she said, including the ones who sued the New York Times and won for the newspapers depiction of them being junk scientists and paid lackeys of the chemical companies.

Let’s just take her claims about birds, since Guy has issues about this also. We can start with the bald eagle.

Bald eagles were regularly shot by hunters, farmers, and fishermen in the early part of the 20th and were threatened with extinction as early as 1921 according to the journal Ecology….22 years before DDT. In 1937 they disappeared from New England, at least 9 years before DDT.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act is what saved the bald eagles, not the ban on DDT. In 1960 at the peak of DDT use, the number count was 25% higher than 1941, which was six or seven years before DDT.

Experimental work was done with DDT and various birds by Joseph Hickey at the University of Wisconsin, who testified at the EPA hearings that in studies where birds were force fed large quantities DDT (and its breakdown product, DDE) “and that he could not kill any robins by overdosing them with DDT because the birds simply passed it through their digestive tract and eliminated it in their feces.”

However, the icing on the cake is the famous DeWitt study where she deliberately misrepresented the facts of his study claiming that quail fed large amounts of DDT (which was about 3000 times the daily intake of human beings of the day) produced eggs that had few hatchlings. In reality there was only approximately a three percent difference between the DDT fed quails eggs and the control quails eggs.

More interestingly she claimed that “the concentration of DDT used [in the fields] is many times the amount that will kill an adult pheasant.” In reality the pheasant studies by De Witt showed that “The “controls” hatched only 57.4 percent of their eggs, while the DDT-fed pheasants, (dosed with 50 ppm of DDT in all of their food during the entire year) hatched 80.6 percent of theirs. After two weeks, the DDT chicks had 100 percent survival, while the control chicks only had 94.8 percent survival, and after 8 weeks the DDT chicks had 93.3 percent survival while the control chicks only had 89.7 percent survival.”

In one study pheasant were fed 15,000 parts per million of DDT in their food…that is 15% of everything they ate was a poison. This was unheard of, yet the results were that “four of the birds died “after four or five days” with severe tremors. One died on the tenth day, but never showed any symptoms prior to death. The remaining seven pheasants survived and five of them showed no symptoms. One of the survivors had “slight tremors” and the other had “slight incoordination.” (sic) “This is a remarkable lack of poisoning, considering the astronomical amount of DDT in their food!”

The question isn’t where was Rachel Carson wrong, it should be where was she right. Most importantly what was the result of her work. Millions died and she never made any effort to acknowledge that DDT saved millions “from malaria, typhus, yellow fever, Chagas’s disease, African sleeping sickness, and a number of types of Leishmaniasis and tick-borne bacterial and rickettsial diseases.” That would not have been in her interests. Rachel Carson was a gifted writer. It is impossible to read her works without being impacted at an emotional level, but she was a dishonest scientist.


There is (or at least used to be, I don’t know if it still goes on)an annual event called the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. All during the DDT years that count went up…not down.

Alan Caruba said...

Let's stop being afraid of pesticides and return to a rational fear of the diseases that pest insects and rodents can and do spread.

Good job, Rich!

Hang in there, Guy. We all love birds!

Guy said...

Again, thanks to everyone for taking the time to further this discussion. It seems that, as expected, there are a lot of conflicting viewpoints when it comes to DDT. I suppose this would be true of most pesticides, and probably most of the other chemicals we've developed over the years. It's difficult for a someone like me to sort it all out without, as Alan suggested, doing my own research. And by research, I mean getting some DDT, exposing some birds to it, and observing the results first hand. It's clear that simply reading what others have to say on this, or any other similar subject, isn't enough. For every pro, there's a con. All I've really managed to do is confuse myself. However, when it comes to the environment, it does seem that, just like our government, the two opposing sides temper each other and we come out somewhere in the middle. It's probably not the most efficient way to develop policies and regulations, but I guess it works to some degree. When I posted my original comment, my goal was a simple one ... to learn more about DDT. After all, this is "factsnotfantasy" isn't it? So, I've gathered some information today. Now, it's up to me to sort out the facts from the fantasies ....

libertyforusa said...

Rich gave some great info, thanks!

In Alaska, the bald Eagle has become a nuisance to some people and actually outnumber them in many places.

I think "facts not fantasy" (thanks Alan)is the best course when proceeding to make important decisions and take actions based on the facts!

It may be what saves this country from itself someday!

Unfortunately many educational institutes, and media ignore "inconvenient facts" while presenting their fantasies of the way they see the world as the truth!

Ed Darrell said...

Ornithologists, who actually count birds noted that during the DDT years the bird populations actually increased

Isolated populations of birds who could move in where other populations were wiped out -- but not predators, who are critical keystone species in many different ecosystems; not gamebirds, who were killed outright by DDT on grain, and who demonstrated massive hatch failures and death to chicks as a result of DDT; not most songbirds, who experienced declines because they got multiples of doses from the insects they ate.

What ornithologist ever claimed there were increases in bird populations, and where is that paper published?

Alan Caruba said...

Ed, there was a problem in moderating your posts which resulted in one of them being rejected...mostly because they have come fairly quickly during the course of the "bird" debate. It was unintentional.

Suffice it to say, we are not going to resolve the conflicting data here.

Apologies for the mishap.

libertyforusa said...

The "great bird debate" has become the "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" debate.

In this case it is really a question of what your values are-

Millions of dead people vs a possible(yet unproven) correlation to changing bird populations?

Prevention measures taken for remote possibilities verses actual probabilities as they have in the case of the Supreme courts opinion of CO2?

Responsible and informed decisions or irresponsible ill-informed decisions?

Guy said...

Man, I opened a can of worms this time. Sorry about that Alan. I would like to make one last point though.....

While I do like birds a lot (even though I'm a pilot and could be killed by one some day) my curiosity about DDT really has little to do with them. When a coal miner carries a canary into the mine, and sees it keel over, is he upset because a stupid canary died, or because he might be next? Many of the comments here imply that people like me have more respect for a few birds than for the millions of people who are at risk from Malaria. Quite to the contrary, it is my love of life, and my respect for our environment, upon which all life depends, that drives my search for the truth. Yes, some of these "greenies" would like to see humankind snuffed out like some sort of pest infestation, and I share your disdain for those idiots. I, however, am not one of them ...

Rich Kozlovich said...

All the nonsense about raptors and game birds is just that….nonsense. All of the information that I have presented is public information and is readily available to anyone who really wants to know what the “true” DDT story is; so I am not going to waste my time providing anything for those who make a career out of attacking pesticides. And why? Because they can’t be swayed no matter what anyone says! Dealing with them is a Sisyphean task.

Normally I don't explain myself, but I am going to make an exception this time.

Rachel Carson and I have a great deal in common. We both grew up in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We both saw the irresponsible behavior industry and government demonstrated to the environment. We both saw the coke ovens bellowing dark smoke so thick that it would denude hillsides of greenery and even make it hard to see while drive along the highways near them. We both saw creeks that were an yellowish orange from the sulfur pumped out of the coal mines so thick that you couldn’t see the bottom, known commonly as “sulfur creeks”. We both saw the blacked walls of Pittsburgh from the smoke stacks of the furnaces that made steel. We both knew pollution up close and personal and resented it.

I believed all the things that were said about DDT. I believed that Rachel Carson was a truly brave and brilliant scientist. I believed that the EPA was a wonderful beneficent agency devoted to the well being of humanity; until I started researching the information for myself.

Being a pesticide applicator I wanted to make sure that what I was doing wasn’t hurting people and the environment. The more I read the more I became startled to find that everything I believed was complete nonsense; and nothing upsets a person more than being told that everything they believe is complete nonsense. Fortunately, I am only concerned with the facts, and I am prepared to go where the facts lead. Rachel Carson, it turns out was the mother of junk science and the EPA is a virtual lava flow of scientifically dubious regulations and DDT was one of the greatest discoveries ever in mankind’s history.

And that is that! RK

Ed Darrell said...

And I believed that the claims about birds not being harmed were correct. And then I got called on it in a particularly embarrassing way, and while we didn't lose any lawsuit over it, I discovered that several studies I had seen cited did not exist.

So for the past 15 years I've been looking for those studies that say Rachel Carson got it wrong. I understand you don't want to have to replow old ground.

Who has the studies? Where can I find them?

Do they really exist?

Alan Caruba said...

I suggest we let this discussion come to an end. My vote is with Rich K. who has researched and written on this topic extensively over the years. I have no reason to doubt his facts.

Asking for studies and citations simply transfer such work to others.

In the end, the choice is between mosquitos, malaria, and death or DDT and its benefits.