Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, was created to kill bugs. A crystalline, whitish powder with a slightly fruitish smell, was first synthesized in Europe in the 1800s. Historian of medicine Elena Conis explains that during the late 1930s, there was an interest in finding a better pesticide to destroy crop-damaging insects. The Allies of World War II devoted time to studying how DDT could be used in war and eventually its effectiveness made warding off uninvited pests in the home quotidian.
A contradiction existed among the scientists at the FDA and the USDA surrounding the chemical's toxicity. USDA scientists were concerned over immediate effects of DDT, while the FDA focused on more long term warning signs such as the toxins building up in the fatty tissue and in the breastmilk of lab animals which led them to conclude the same could result in humans.
In her book “How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT,” Conis weaves the tale of how the pesticide was pushed on humanity, a story that is both riveting and infuriating.