As summer comes to a close, let's take a moment to remember the DDT beach parties of the past. Who wouldn't want to end a long day of paddleball and boogie boarding by being submerged in a thick cloud of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane?
The DDT beach bash was a surprisingly common feature of the early 20th century. In 1945, the New York Times reported glowingly on testing of the "insect-killing fog" at Jones Beach in Long Island.
"Early arrivals among the 60,000 visitors at Jones Beach State Park here today found themselves suddenly enveloped in billowing clouds of sweetish smelling fumes," the paper reported. "The fumes do not cause harm or discomfort to human beings." Those early tests were considered a success, with insects eliminated at a cost of just 17 cents an acre.
It was an era that included ads like this 1947 one for Killing Salt Chemicals:
Still, there were suspicions from the beginning that DDT might be more harmful than it seemed. Though DDT was used to spray down a zoo elephant in 1945, in October of that same year, some scientists were already cautioning that DDT was harmful to animals. As they urged further testing, more scientific voices spoke out against the drug, leading to Rachel Carson's 1962 classic Silent Spring, which is widely credited with changing public opinion about pesticides.
Today, of course, DDT is banned for agricultural use (starting in 1972) due to its harmful environmental effects (though in some cases it's still used to control mosquito populations in some African countries). But one thing is certain: You won't be coated in it when you're visiting the beach one last time this summer.