By Melanie Gosling
South Africa's use of the pesticide DDT for malaria control in the Limpopo River basin is likely to lead to an increase in babies being born with deformed sex organs or being born with both male and female genitalia.
This is the view of former CSIR scientist Anthony Turton, who delivered a lecture on the "Crisis in our Rivers" when he was awarded the Habitat Council's Conservation Award in the city on Saturday.
Because of DDT, banned in most of the world, South Africa faced a "national propensity to androgyny for future generations", particularly for babies conceived in high-risk areas like the Limpopo River basin.
Turton, who now works at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State, left the CSIR last year after the CSIR board had gagged him for speaking out about South Africa's looming water crisis, and had refused to allow him to present his findings at a conference.
In his acceptance speech at the weekend, Turton said South Africa's rivers were under severe pressure from over-abstracting and pollution. River quality was deteriorating from radioactive pollution from gold mines, biological contamination from dysfunctional sewerage works, and chemical pollution from pesticides like DDT.
DDT is banned worldwide as an agricultural pesticide under the Stockholm Convention. Limited use is allowed for the control of diseases like malaria.
"We know from published peer-reviewed research that a high correlation exists between the application of DDT as a (malarial) control measure and the birth of babies with deformed genitalia, either being born with both male and female organs, or with abnormalities associated with what we can broadly call gender-defining organs, and we also know this is affecting male fertility," Turton said.
DDT is used to control malaria in the Limpopo River basin, which has an extremely high number of people using the river in relation to its flow.
"The common denominator is the Limpopo area and abnormalities associated with gender arising from endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as the use of DDT to control malaria ... This means a national propensity to androgyny for future generations, specifically if they were conceived in areas of high risk such as the Limpopo River basin," Turton said.
South Africa has thousands of tons of DDT in the environment which will stay there for decades, even if the country stopped using it tomorrow.
"Very little research has been done on this... It should become a national priority with a high level of funding," Turton said.
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