Pesticides in Your Home: Avoid Pesticides Made with Permethrin

Pesticides in Your Home: Avoid Pesticides Made with Permethrin

January 26, 2007

By Guest Blogger, Bill Baue, Corporate Sustainability Architect

Look in your cupboards, in your basement, under the bathroom sink. Chances are you’ll find a pesticide of one sort or another – a can of insect repellent, a bottle of weed killer, a box of rat poison, some flea shampoo for the dog.

But pesticides also abound in products we don’t think of as “bug sprays”. That includes the wood you bought to build a playset for your kids.

Pressure treated wood used to contain an arsenic compound to preserve it against insects and decay. (CCA wood has been banned for several years now, but older structures can still leach arsenic). And the swimming pool chemicals in the shed contains antimicrobials. Everyday soap is now laden with antimicrobials.

Then there are the fungicides in paints and wallpaper, the pesticides in shelving paper, mothballs. There are even pesticides in the “edible” waxes on fruits and vegetables. Click here for more on “hidden” pesticides in your home.

It doesn’t take an accident to expose our children to these toxic chemicals. Applying pesticides in your home, even when you follow the directions, and using products that contain pesticides means that everyone in your home gets ongoing doses that can be harmful over time.

No Pesticide is Safe

It’s hard to believe that manufacturers would put our kids at risk, or that the government would allow dangerous chemicals to be used in consumer products.

Yet, consider the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own definition of pesticides.

By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.

Registration of a pesticide by the EPA does not mean a pesticide is safe. “The law regulating pesticides is not a health- or safety-based law,” writes Caroline Cox of the Northwest Coalition for Alternative to Pesticides in Pesticide Registration: No Guarantee of Safety. The decision to register a pesticide relies on weighing the health and environmental risks against economic benefit.

But even more worrisome is that the government hasn’t even been able to keep up with the large numbers of pesticides that have been developed. Many of the pesticides in use today do not meet the requirements of the law, according to Cox.

Within our own homes, however, we are free to weigh the relative risks of pesticides’ toxicity against their potential benefits.

The Risks

A considerable number of pesticides registered by the EPA contain suspected carcinogens. And many pesticides are nerve poisons, which means they can impact the development of a child’s brain. Recent research is beginning to reveal that some pesticides could be endocrine disruptors.

Take permethrin, which is considered a low toxicity pesticide and is used in many household insecticides. The fact that it is often marketed as having been derived from chrysanthemum flowers might tempt us to consider it natural or nontoxic.

In reality, permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrum, the substance derived from chrysanthemums. The EPA ranks permethrin as a possible human carcinogen. Permethrin can also cause allergic effects, trigger asthma attacks, and harm the brain and central nervous system. Recent evidence also shows that permethrin may be an endocrine disruptor, because it causes estrogenic effects in human cells in the laboratory. What’s more, infants may be more susceptible than adults to permethrin’s risks, based on animal studies.

Is killing fleas, roaches or ant worth all that?

Inert Ingredients

Federal regulations only require manufacturers to name the active ingredients in pesticides. That means that manufacturers are not obligated to reveal the so-called “inert” ingredients, which are considered trade secrets. These ingredients can actually be more harmful than the active ingredients. Since 1997, the EPA has encouraged (but not required) manufacturers to replace the term “inert ingredients” with the term “other ingredients.”

The EPA lists approximately 1,500 inert ingredients with “unknown toxicity.” For more information on inerts, see Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Are They Really Benign?

Routes of Pesticide Exposure

“Indoor use of pesticide products in the home is the main source of exposure for children,” according to toxicologist William Pease of the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health. The EPA reports that 75 percent of U.S. households use at least one pesticide product indoors in a given year, and that 80 percent of the typical person’s exposure to pesticides occurs indoors.

However, indoor application of pesticides cannot account for the amount of pesticides found in homes studied, according to the EPA. That suggests that we import pesticides inside from outdoors. In fact, indoor dust collects pesticide residues, according to numerous studies.

While most pesticides decompose rapidly when exposed to outdoor light and heat, in an indoor environment they can persist, sometimes for years, buried in carpet fibers, furniture, and stuffed toys.

However, there are alternatives to mainstream pesticides. See the articles listed below for more information: