The last aerial war against the beetles of May – An unglamorous chapter of Basel chemistry – Basel Stadt – Basel – bz

Since 2014, an annual protest march against Syngenta's business practices has been held in Basel and other cities around the world, alongside Monsanto, the world's largest producer of pesticides. According to UN reports, 200,000 people die each year from the use of toxic pesticides. The most harmful ingredients have been banned in western industrialized countries since the 1970s, but remain legal in developing countries.

Since the beginning of their industrial production, pesticides have been controversial. The different interests of chemical companies, farmers, consumers and environmental advocates contradict each other when asked how their use is legitimate or dangerous. We can see how basic conditions in Basle changed as a result of the war on the beetle of May in the 1950s.

The DDT lie of the Basel Chemical Society, Geigy

For centuries, the massive appearance of June beetles in some annual cycles has been a major challenge for agriculture. The tremors of infested trees and the collection of beetles have been transmitted since the beginning of the modern period. From 1870, several cantons coordinated their control measures.

During the Second World War, Switzerland became the market leader in the production of pesticides. Now these funds should also be used in the fight against the chafer. The discovery of the chemist Paul Hermann Müller in a laboratory of the company Geigy in the autumn of 1939 was at the base of the world supremacy. He was the first to prove the insecticidal effect of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). In 1942, Geigy launched the pesticide based on DDT "Gesarol". Through experiments on animals, society knew since 1941 that DDT was not only toxic to insects but also to warm-blooded animals. Nevertheless, he praised the means with display panels cleverly designed as "non-toxic, persistent, odorless". After the Second World War, the pesticide trade ceased. The attacked insects have developed resistance and unwanted side effects of increasing importance. Expansion in foreign markets did not succeed as expected.

Tons of pulverized to complete the destruction

Nowadays, the war of the chafers has grotesque traits. In a timely context, it can be understood as the last major campaign to promote pesticides containing DDT on the local territory. The stated goal was the complete destruction of all the June beetles. To this end, tons of DDT and hexachlorocyclohexane preparations from aircraft and helicopters have been sprayed on forest edges. The companies Maag and Siegfried were also involved. ETH Zurich and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs supported this action.

After a first large-scale trial in the Canton of Friborg in 1949, about 200 kilometers of forest edge were sprayed with pesticides in northwestern Switzerland the following year. Beekeepers and conservationists protested and the few entomologists who did not cooperate with the chemical industry also drew attention to the dangers.

This did not prevent chemical companies from undertaking eight other large – scale operations on the central shelf the following year. In 1954, 1,750 kilometers of forest and 2,200 hectares of forest were irrigated in the cantons of Thurgau, Zurich, Solothurn and Bern. For the year 1956, another action was planned in northwestern Switzerland. But the criticism had become unmistakable.

The representative called Mr Ph. Schmidt, who enumerated his complaints in a long letter to the Riehener Zeitung of 13th April 1956: the contamination of drinking water proved by the Basler Wasserwerk had been refused, l & # 's 39; promised official evaluation of the poisoning action had never been presented. Finally, he quotes an eyewitness of the poisoning action in Thurgau in 1954: a few days after the pesticide treatment, the water surface of a forest pond had been covered fish, frogs and newts. In a creek, perch and pike were found. In the forest, we found young badgers, rabbits and dead songbirds. He was negligent in destroying also legally protected animals, Schmidt writes and required official clarification.

Due to the numerous events planned in 1956 for the Basel region, the poisoning action was canceled. A last use of poison against chafer took place in 1957. The canton of Bern had explicitly requested it.