How to Sell a Poison

The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT


By Elena Conis

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The story of an infamous poison that left toxic bodies and decimated wildlife in its wake is also a cautionary tale about how corporations stoke the flames of science denialism for profit.

The chemical compound DDT first earned fame during World War II by wiping out insects that caused disease and boosting Allied forces to victory. Americans granted it a hero’s homecoming, spraying it on everything from crops and livestock to cupboards and curtains. Then, in 1972, it was banned in the US. But decades after that, a cry arose to demand its return. 

This is the sweeping narrative of generations of Americans who struggled to make sense of the notorious chemical’s risks and benefits. Historian Elena Conis follows DDT from postwar farms, factories, and suburban enclaves to the floors of Congress and tony social clubs, where industry barons met with Madison Avenue brain trusts to figure out how to sell the idea that a little poison in our food and bodies was nothing to worry about.

In an age of spreading misinformation on issues including pesticides, vaccines, and climate change, Conis shows that we need new ways of communicating about science—as a constantly evolving discipline, not an immutable collection of facts—before it’s too late.



In the summer of 1944 Robert Mizell was leafing through Time magazine when an article in the Science section caught his eye: censorship had just been lifted on one of World War II’s top-secret discoveries, a chemical called DDT.

At first glance, DDT sounded mundane. It killed bugs. Flies, bedbugs, moths, roaches, dog fleas, potato beetles, cabbage worms, fruit worms, corn borers, mosquitoes, their larvae, and more. But a US Army official said that by killing mosquitoes, DDT promised to wipe out malaria. He claimed it would revolutionize medicine as much as the discovery of antiseptics had revolutionized surgery. Mizell, a top administrator at a university in Atlanta, clipped the article and underlined the bit about malaria. He attached a note and sent it to an old college friend, Robert Woodruff, the soft-drink magnate who ran Coca-Cola.

“If the stuff is as good as reported, have you thought about the tremendous economic implications…?” wrote Mizell, who often advised his friend on business and charitable matters. “Maybe we should buy some cheap land. Say nothing about it.” In the chemical he saw gold: ranches, housing developments, vacation resorts, and golf courses going in where mosquitoes and flies once thrived. Many like him did. A journalist for Life magazine reported that where US troops were stationed in the South Pacific, DDT had “proved that it could easily convert a verminous hellhole of an island into a health resort.”

When the war was over, DDT came home a hero. It entered a booming postwar consumer marketplace, where it became the solution to a long list of postwar problems. Farmers sprayed it on orchards, vineyards, and croplands and dipped whole herds of cattle in it. Developers erected new suburbs using DDT-coated plywood. Home owners moved in and decorated with DDT-slicked wallpaper. They sprayed kitchens to kill ants and roaches, dusted mattresses to kill bedbugs, and treated pets to kill fleas. Dry cleaners added DDT to their cleaning solutions to ward off moths. Hotel and restaurant decorators arranged bouquets of DDT-impregnated fake flowers to repel wasps and bees. City officials sent out cavalcades of DDT spray trucks to clear neighborhood streets of insects, and children ran behind them, playing in the mist.

In just a few short years, the pesticide—a relatively simple compound of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine, used with abandon—had come to symbolize our postwar nation’s capacity to vanquish age-old scourges with modern science and technology.

Three decades later, it was banned.

The 1972 ban—technically a regulatory restriction of DDT’s approved uses—followed years of mounting protest boosted by a nature writer named Rachel Carson. Her 1962 book Silent Spring implicated all of the new postwar pesticides, DDT included, in an epic attack on American wildlife. DDT was a neurotoxin with a predilection for fat tissue and a tendency to stick around, or persist, long after it had been sprayed. It killed beneficial bugs, fish, and birds. Carson also speculated that its broad class of chemicals, the synthetic postwar pesticides, was responsible for the nation’s rising number of cancer cases. But she was mostly concerned with what DDT had come to symbolize to her: the nation’s rush to embrace quick-fix technologies without taking the time to learn about their unintended consequences, especially those that weren’t immediately apparent. Following high-profile hearings held by the nation’s brand-new Environmental Protection Agency, DDT left the market with as much fanfare as it had arrived.

Then, a generation later, a seemingly grassroots movement rose up to call for DDT’s return. DDT’s defenders argued that the chemical was the best tool against malaria, which was resurgent in sub-Saharan Africa. They also argued that its harms had been gravely overstated. Rachel Carson was wrong, they said. It was time to bring back DDT.

That didn’t happen, but when more than a hundred nations signed an international treaty in 2001 to phase out another class of chemicals to which DDT belonged, the persistent organic (that is, carbon-based) pollutants, they did carve out an exception for the chemical. DDT, the signatories agreed, was critical for public health, even if it was known to be toxic.

That’s DDT’s story in three neat acts: war hero turned pariah turned exception. For a historian of medicine like me, it’s a familiar story; it’s one I’ve shared with students many times. But the third act always nagged at me. Why was the late 1990s the moment when Americans suddenly started calling for DDT’s return? A few years ago I decided to try to figure that out. In a handful of emails and letters in a collection of corporate documents, I found an unexpected answer.

In the late 1990s, public relations specialists for Philip Morris—the tobacco company—were compiling a list of the century’s most important and inspiring women as part of a stealth campaign to promote Virginia Slims cigarettes. Rachel Carson was on the list for her groundbreaking work exposing the dangers of pesticides such as DDT. At the same time, however, Philip Morris executives were funding an entirely separate campaign, one to bring back DDT.

The tobacco industry had no interest in selling the pesticide, of course; it was trying to sell cigarettes. But it found DDT’s story to be a helpful scientific parable, one that, told just right, illustrated the problem of government regulation of private industry gone wrong. DDT, in this tale, never should have been banned in the first place. Companies, not liberal activists and politicians, should be trusted to make responsible choices. DDT’s fate showed what happened when government got in the way. To sell one poison, in short, the tobacco industry sold a morality tale about another.

DDT’s story was also, for the tobacco industry, useful for a far simpler reason: it was a distraction from the accumulating science on the dangers of secondhand smoke. Distraction is one of a list of tactics that various industry players have long used to protect markets for their products. Distract public attention away from unfavorable evidence. Discredit scientists and evidence you don’t like. Distort findings so they say what you want them to say. Deny evidence that isn’t in your favor. These strategies take advantage of the debate and uncertainty inherent to the scientific process. They also capitalize on the sensationalist tendencies of our news media and exploit the public’s dependence on the media for its understanding of scientific issues. “Discredit a scientist,” advised a set of guidelines drawn up by a Philip Morris front group in the nineties, “but don’t spread the word yourself. Get the news media to do it.”

This set of tactics has a much longer history than the last few decades. The tobacco industry first began sowing scientific doubt back in the 1950s to deny the then-emerging harms of smoking. It turned to public relations specialists who had just begun to develop strategies for the chemical industry, which was facing Congressional scrutiny. In the decades that followed, the two industries and their fellow free-market defenders—conservative think tanks and other sectors seeking to limit government regulation—doubled down and expanded on those mid-century PR efforts. In the process, they obliterated the US public’s trust in science. They stoked today’s climate-change doubts, GMO stalemates, vaccine fears, and COVID denial. They led us to the moment we’re now living in, a moment in which science is intensely polemical and politicized.

This revised understanding of DDT’s third act left me wondering about its first two. As I looked into them anew, I found material that complicated the stories of DDT’s postwar popularity and 1972 ban. And as I pieced it all together, the picture that emerged shed even more light on the contested nature of science today.

In Act 1, DDT’s rise has long seemed to illustrate postwar Americans’ faith and trust in science and scientific expertise. Countless scientists and citizens certainly embraced DDT during and after the war, but many did so because they had to, or because they believed they had to. Those who were openly critical of DDT, meanwhile, often found themselves dismissed as ignorant or even mentally unwell. And while DDT spelled profits for those with the purchasing power of a Woodruff, its rise was linked to larger economic shifts that stripped people living at the economic margins of their land and livelihood, in the process eroding their trust in the scientific and government experts who promoted DDT.

Act 2 has long been read as a moment that captures the ascent and power of environmentalism. But that account leaves out the economic forces at play behind the scenes. By the time environmentalists turned regulators’ attention to DDT’s downsides, the larger chemical companies wanted DDT off the market so they could sell pricier, patented pesticides. Tobacco companies wanted DDT out of farmers’ hands because it was threatening US tobacco sales abroad, where other nations were already restricting the amount of DDT permitted in products. Scientific proof of environmental harm shifted policy only when other interests aligned.

Throughout all three acts, meanwhile, DDT’s manufacture, use, and persistence contaminated soil, rivers, creeks, and oceans. The chemical and its breakdown products entered food webs and human bodies. Scientists labored to disentangle its effects from that of other chemicals and aspects of modern life. Scientific uncertainty, paradigm shifts, and plain old pride and ego complicated the task. Citizens struggled to shield themselves or their communities from DDT pollution. Their battles often ended up in the courts. All the while, DDT built up in soils, waters, and bodies in amounts determined by the social and political forces connecting place, class, and race.

DDT’s three acts, reconsidered, struck me as a story about how science and its practitioners—who once not just promised but assured us that DDT was safe—can be comforting to some people and suspect to others, not because they’re uneducated or uninformed, but because they see the world in a different way, and because they have every reason to. It’s a story of how science becomes the turf on which we do battle over differences of gender, race, economic power, and more—without ever admitting as much. It’s a story, all told, that shows why we fight about science—and why science has the power to divide us.



On the outside, Clyde Foster kept it cool behind crisp collars, a trim mustache, and close-cropped hair. On the inside, though, he often felt like a stick of “dynamite” waiting to explode.

Then one day he did. The spark was a story buried in that day’s paper: “Danger Seen in Eating Fish from Rivers.” A government survey of streams in seven southern states had found “huge” quantities of the banned pesticide DDT in a creek feeding the Tennessee River outside of Huntsville, Alabama. An estimated four thousand tons of the chemical lay settled at the bottom of a two-mile stretch of the creek known as the Huntsville Spring Branch. Fish in the creek, the survey found, carried enormous amounts of the pesticide in their bodies. The source of the contaminant was an old manufacturing plant at a nearby arsenal. The plant had been defunct for years, but it was still seeping chemical residues into the creek, which met up with the Tennessee at a bend in the river where the small town of Triana sat. Foster’s town.

Triana was Foster’s town in more ways than one. His wife, Dorothy, had grown up there, and her family told proud stories of how it had once been a bustling place, with a cotton-shipping port busier than Huntsville’s, a hotel, and a saloon. But when Clyde and Dorothy had moved there in 1957 for his job at the nearby Army Ballistic Missile Agency, he was struck by the town’s deprivation. At the space center, engineers, scientists, and analysts like him prepped rockets for Moon launches. Fifteen minutes down the road in Triana, however, people still lived without electricity or running water.

Foster, a soft-spoken man nonetheless known for his determination, decided to do something about it. He traveled to Montgomery to dig a copy of Triana’s nineteenth-century charter out of the state archives. He found a judge to reinstate the charter so that he could apply for government grants to rebuild the town. The judge’s order put Triana back on the map and made Foster, at age thirty-two, the town’s first mayor since the nineteenth century.

By then, it was 1964. At work, Foster analyzed weather data at the missile agency, now part of the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for rocket launches. Nights and weekends, he brought Triana into the twentieth century, putting in streetlamps, hiring a police chief, and creating programs to give people a crack at the kind of secure, middle-class job he had himself. Gradually, the small town grew, reaching around a thousand residents by the late 1970s.

But it remained poor. And for most of the town’s residents, poverty meant living off food from the land, including fish from the Tennessee River and its creek. Which is why, in 1978, the buried headline incensed Foster to the point where he lost his characteristic calm. “We’ve been eating the fish from that water for years and years, and we’re just now learning that it has all this DDT,” he said. “These are table fish, not trophy fish. These fish were caught to eat, not to show off.”

Poisoned fish isn’t what Foster expected would set him off. At the space center, being Black meant an endless assault of discrimination and injustice. Social functions for white colleagues were off-limits. So were trainings, and therefore promotions. He faced the same as mayor when local whites asked him if he intended Triana to become an “all-Negro town.”

As he started digging into the story of how DDT got in the river, however, a legacy of unmistakable racism unfolded before him. He learned that the US Army, which owned the land containing the former DDT plant, had known about the contamination since at least 1964. The Federal Water Quality Administration had known since 1969. The Environmental Protection Agency had warned against eating fish from the river for a whole year. But no one had told anyone in Triana. “If this community had been anything other than Black,” said Foster, “the circumstances would have been different.”

But Foster had become mayor at the height of the civil rights movement. He had watched as the federal government stepped in to help desegregate Montgomery’s buses and defend Birmingham’s peaceful protesters, and then he had watched as President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law. He believed that someone in the federal government would make things right if they knew what was going on. And he had an in: he was a federal employee.

He picked up the phone and began making calls. Within a week, he was sitting in a meeting with scientists from two federal agencies, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The TVA, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt back in the thirties to spur economic development in the area, urged Alabama officials to ban any further fishing. The CDC agreed to start testing fish stored in residents’ freezers to determine exactly how much DDT the people in Triana had already consumed.

The pesticide was, in chemical terms, a chlorinated hydrocarbon, a compound containing chlorine atoms attached to carbon rings trimmed with hydrogen. DDT’s particular arrangement of atoms gave it staying power: when sprayed on crops or trees, it stuck around. It was also fat soluble, which meant that it lingered in the fat of living things. In food chains, this meant that as DDT “bioaccumulated” in individual organisms, it also biomagnified, building up even more in organisms higher up in the food chain as they consumed all the DDT eaten by organisms below them on the chain.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had thus long before set limits, officially called tolerances, on the amount of DDT allowable in the US food supply. But when a family caught its dinner from a nearby river, those tolerances were all but meaningless. The CDC’s initial tests revealed that residents were eating fish with DDT levels fifty times higher than what the FDA considered safe. A second round of tests, by the TVA, found fish with ninety times the safe level.

Foster knew that the people of Triana ate hundreds of pounds of fish each week; Dorothy cooked more than six pounds a week for their family alone. With that much fish in their diet, he knew that they all had the chemical in their bodies. What he wanted to know next was how much—and what, exactly—it was doing to them.

The CDC was also curious. The agency’s own scientists had vouched for DDT’s safety back in the forties and fifties, but scientific thinking on chemical risks had changed since then. The agency also had amends to make: just a few years before, it had settled a lawsuit with participants in its long-standing “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” carried out long after the vicious disease was actually treatable. Now the agency quickly dispatched an epidemiologist from its Atlanta headquarters.

Kathleen Kreiss, a careful Radcliffe grad from Nebraska with glasses and a middle part, traveled to Triana to collect samples. She took blood from Foster’s wife, Dorothy; his police chief, Joe Fletcher; a town elder named Felix Wynn; and nine others. Back in Atlanta, she found that all twelve residents had as much, or more, of the pesticide in their blood as did DDT factory workers, who, until Triana, were thought to have the highest DDT levels in the world. Worse, some of the residents had more—much more. Eighty-three-year-old Wynn had four times more DDT in his body than the highest level ever recorded in any human. And neither he nor any of the others had ever worked at the arsenal plant.

Wynn and the others received their results by mail, on official letterhead from the CDC. No studies, the letters assured them, had ever found any health problems in DDT factory workers. But Kreiss, troubled by the findings, traveled back to Triana to meet with the group in person. She wanted to personally reassure them that all Americans had some DDT in their body because the pesticide had been sprayed on so many farms, fields, and towns for so long. And because no studies had ever found any significant health problems from DDT in the US population—or even in highly exposed factory workers—it was very likely that the people of Triana were going to be just fine.

But the people were far from convinced. The news that you had enormous amounts of DDT in your body “did something to you mentally,” said Fletcher. “It drained you down. You’d be out walking, and all of a sudden it would hit you that you had this stuff in your blood—kind of like cancer.” Everyone knew that DDT was a banned chemical. Six years earlier, President Richard Nixon’s newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had pulled it off the market following highly publicized, years-long hearings. Announcing the ban, EPA head William Ruckelshaus had cited evidence that DDT harmed wildlife and carried a risk of cancer in people. News reports on the hearings had announced that DDT possibly caused other problems, too, including hormonal imbalances and birth defects. All of this made the CDC’s reassurances hard, if not impossible, to trust.

Foster asked Kreiss for her support in asking the CDC to set up a full-time research center in Triana. In less time than it took to get his town’s old charter reinstated, the agency agreed. From a scientific standpoint, the question of DDT’s harms to humans was a still-unsettled one despite the studies of factory workers, and Triana offered a unique opportunity to understand DDT’s risks. The town, a local magazine announced, was going to “make medical history by providing the first massive data on the effects of long-term exposure to DDT in human beings.”

Those answers, however, would prove to be a long way off—longer, certainly, than anyone imagined at the time. In the meantime, Triana became a battleground for a scientific dispute over just how toxic the banned chemical actually was. Its noxious effects on wildlife were well-known. But Olin Chemical Corporation, the company that had acquired the company that had long run the plant on the arsenal, insisted that DDT was no more dangerous to people than table salt. World-famous toxicologists, experts in the harm that chemicals do to living things, agreed. Epidemiologists and risk scientists insisted that they were wrong, that the risks of long-term harm were potentially real. Medical tests on the people of Triana continued, and they came back inconclusive. Nobody, said Fletcher, seemed to know the truth about DDT.

In the meantime, Triana residents needed to figure out how to live with a painful paradox of American life. They had been living in nineteenth-century conditions while a twentieth-century chemical had made its way into their water, their food supply, and their bodies.

As they struggled to adapt to the contaminant within, DDT continued to leach from the site of the plant. Whole crystals were visible on the banks of the creek. DDT’s slightly sweet smell permeated the air. It continued to accumulate in the sediment of the river and the bodies of fish and birds that seemed to somehow survive it. But their survival offered little comfort to Marvelene Freeman, who owned a local grocery store and whose five children all tested positive for high levels of DDT.

“This used to be a lively little town,” she said. “But this problem has changed everyone’s attitude. We’re like prisoners on death row, just waiting to die.”

Chapter 1


Victor Froelicher had prospered during the Great Depression. The Swiss-born chemist and his wife, Helen, bought a gracious new slate-roofed home on a tree-lined street in Ridgewood, New Jersey, just outside of New York City. They raised five children on its half-acre lawn and hosted endless events within its plastered halls: holiday socials, buffet lunches, community meetings, and concerts. Victor played the organ and directed their church choir; Helen raised funds for charity. Their lives felt full and generous.

Froelicher owed his prosperity to the Textile Dyeing and Printing Company, which had a plant in nearby Fair Lawn, where he was chief chemist. Textiles were big business; even during the Depression their production and consumption rose. As the national economy recovered, though, struggles between management and unions rattled the company. In 1938 the Fair Lawn plant shuttered, and Froelicher was out of work. He traveled back to Switzerland, leaving his family behind, in hopes of finding new work to support them. Before a year had passed, he was back in the states with a new job: he was the US representative for the reputable Swiss chemical company J.R. Geigy, which had been looking to expand its reach into the US market for decades.

Geigy was one of the oldest and most successful of the big dye companies in Europe, founded all the way back in 1758, when it began as a manufacturer and trader of not just dyes but also spices, drugs, and other chemicals. A century later, the company joined a pack of German firms that began making dyes and drugs from coal tar, an abundant waste product of the Industrial Revolution. It was a booming business. By the late 1800s, Geigy had sales offices in Europe, Asia, and North America. In the early 1900s, Geigy began setting up plants in the United States. By the late 1930s, just as the Textile Dyeing and Printing Company was shutting down in Fair Lawn, Geigy was closing its own plant in Jersey City but only to build a much bigger plant in Bayonne. The company also had plans to erect a research lab next door to the new Bayonne plant.

This new plant, Geigy planned, would focus on the next big thing in chemistry: compounds that killed insect pests. Insects had assumed pest-scale proportions for more than half a century by then. Massive changes in US farming and transportation in the late nineteenth century had invited a long list of destructive bugs: the Colorado potato beetle, boll weevil, gypsy moth, codling moth, cotton army worm, plum curculio, and countless others. White cabbage butterflies destroyed cabbage crops. Joint worms wiped out wheat crops. Rocky Mountain locusts devastated just about everything in their paths, sometimes swarming so thick that they slowed trains on newly laid tracks. Farmers picked insects off plants by hand, shook them off with wheeled carts, and crushed them with blocks and bricks. They loosed natural parasites and predators of the pests, sometimes creating bigger problems in the process. Desperate, they also applied poisonous chemicals, especially lead arsenate and the copper-arsenic compound known as Paris Green.

The poisons were effective. Straight arsenic killed the cereal-destroying army worm. A sprinkling of Paris Green could kill half the locusts in a field. They had just one problem: their residues clung to crops. And on crops eaten fresh—like fruits and vegetables—such residues could sicken and kill.

By the 1920s, unwitting consumers began to fall ill, left shaking with fever, bloody urine, and “thready pulse” after eating asparagus, cabbage, celery, or the like. Some, like the Montana girl who ate three apples in a row, ended up dead. Journalists reported that people were “refusing to touch green commodities.” Doctors warned of a “menace to the public health.” By the time Froelicher stepped into his new role at Geigy, there was a frenzied search for a generation of insecticides that killed pests but not people.


  • “Monumental…One of Conis’s greatest achievements is to put a human face on this science of risk.”—The New Republic
  • How to Sell a Poison deepened my understanding of this chemical in unexpected ways… It’s a gripping examination of corporate influence over science — and how this tried-and-true playbook continues to manipulate public opinion today… Conis has a prescient way of framing the past so as to inform our future.”—Los Angeles Times
  • “Conis writes with a journalist’s clarity and remove, and a historian’s exacting fidelity to primary sources. She conveys her findings through narrative (more than through historical argument), with scenes rich in dialogue and description.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “Rich in human narratives… How to Sell a Poison sounds a warning about how easily scientific understanding can be undermined by outside forces.”—Civil Eats
  • “The phrase ‘trust the science’ should be replaced with ‘understand how the science gets made.’ This deeply researched, beautifully written, and well-argued explanation of how DDT was sold, misregulated, and resold should scare everyone from the ardent scientist to the fearful conspiracy theorist into rethinking.”—Susan M. Reverby, author of Examining Tuskegee
  • “What Merchants of Doubt did for earlier campaigns of corporate disinformation, How to Sell a Poison does, superbly, for a toxin I thought we’d gotten rid of. Elena Conis’s fast-paced account is all the more important in an era when powerful forces are trying to discredit science.”

    Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost
  • “Elena Conis is a historian who writes nonfiction like a fiction writer. In elegant prose, she reveals the often forgotten and captivating history of how ordinary people discovered the dangers of DDT—and persisted in having it banned against all odds and despite false assurances of its safety from public health officials.”

    Sheldon Krimsky, author of GMOs Decoded
  • "Why do we still talk about DDT? In this provocative and richly detailed retelling of the DDT story, Elena Conis deftly explores why a pesticide banned since 1972 remains so politically divisive. For Conis, the answer lies in the intersection of science and politics, revealing a story rooted in the past, but framed by contemporary political and ecological debates. It is a fascinating story that will resonate with readers trying to make sense of the uncertainty of scientific knowledge in our highly politicized world.” —David Kinkela, author of DDT and the American Century
  • "Science is often thought to be the antonym of politics. Yet the human side of innovation, along with fierce competition, can create the conditions for behavior that is anything but apolitical. How to Sell a Poison brilliantly retells the story of the rise, fall, and reemergence of DDT to highlight how context shapes what we think we know about science and health policy. Rigorously researched and delightfully written, this book sets a new standard for science journalism."—Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight
  • In How to Sell a Poison, Elena Conis skillfully narrates the complex, toxic history of DDT, among the world’s most popular and dangerous chemical pesticides.  Initially heralded, ultimately banned, still widely used, the vagaries of the production, sale, and regulation of DDT opens up the most fundamental questions of corporate greed, the role of government, and scientific practice.  Anyone interested in the problem of scientific authority in our toxic world should read this important, essential book."

    Allan M. Brandt, author of The Cigarette Century
  • "Elena Conis has rendered a frightening and thoroughly researched account of the poisoning of our environment and ourselves. With great precision and keen analysis, she plainly lays out the case for how one of the twentieth century’s most large-scale toxic exposure events was the direct result of corporate greed and manufactured doubt of science. The story always has been urgent, but no more so than now.”
     —Samuel Kelton Roberts, Jr., author of Infectious Fear
  • “A collection of shocking narratives…[Conis] captivatingly examines decades of conflicting reports from scientists and government agencies regarding the pesticide’s toxicity, lawsuits and governmental hearings related to DDT, the related formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and recent efforts by private interests to revive production…An insightful, timely work about ‘the endless game of catch-up we play when we pollute first, regulate later.’”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Conis’s account is impressively researched, and her narrative carefully constructed. This is a worthy contribution to environmental history.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “Conis delivers a compelling, copiously researched account of DDT in America that is both uplifting and utterly bleak…A vitally important contribution to the ongoing discussion over the use of pesticides.”—Booklist
  • “A superb and well-researched account of a notorious chemical and the clash it has provoked between science and corporate doubters.”—New York Journal of Books
  • “[A] complex, disturbing study.”—Nature

On Sale
Apr 12, 2022
Page Count
400 pages
Bold Type Books

Elena Conis

About the Author

Elena Conis is a writer and historian of medicine, public health, and the environment. She teaches at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and the Media Studies Program, and directs the graduate program in Public Journalism. Her current research focuses on scientific controversies, science denial, and the public understanding of science, and has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine, and the Science History Institute. Her first book, Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization, received the Arthur J. Viseltear Award from the American Public Health Association and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and a Science Pick of the Week by the journal Nature.

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