Perils of the New Pesticides

Published — October 17, 2008

Think twice before setting off a bug bomb


Before setting off a neurotoxic bug bomb in your house, you might want to try a couple of less extreme measures first: maybe clean up a little so there’s no food or water for the creepy crawlies, or try using bait traps. And if you decide to use those bombs, be careful: that’s the message from a new Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention report released Thursday.

According to the study, bug bombs and foggers can cause acute health effects and have a substantial potential for unintended exposure. And while the authors note that most of the illnesses seen were not severe, they still conclude that a greater effort is needed to promote safer alternatives to these products.

The CDC study of pesticide incident reports from eight states during the period of 2001 to 2006 identified 466 illnesses or injuries related to total release foggers, also known as bug bombs. The foggers kill cockroaches, fleas, and other insects by releasing a pesticide, usually pyrethroid or pyrethrin neurotoxins, that fills an indoor space.

“We don’t know what the true magnitude of the problem is, but we think the data suggest the problem is not trivial,” said Dr. Geoffrey Calvert, a CDC medical epidemiologist who worked on the study. “The point of the article is that these products can cause problems and workers and homeowners need to be cautious.”

Among the injuries and illnesses reported was one suspicious death involving an infant in Washington.

The illnesses and injuries often occurred because people either couldn’t get out of the room before the bomb went off or for some reason didn’t leave the room. Others went back into the treated room too early or engaged in what the study gingerly called ”excessive use… for the space being treated” – in other words using multiple bombs in a room the size of a closet. Calvert suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the product, should consider improved labeling to address these problems. That might well help the problem. Then again, there’s no substitute for common sense.

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