Most pesticides are complex compounds that can release various gases and harmful substances over their life. In Safety at Home, Beyond Pesticides (BP) reported that consumers in the U.S. buy and use a phenomenal 285 million pounds of toxic pesticides every year. BP says these chemicals “are nerve poisons, can cause cancer, respiratory problems, birth defects, genetic damage, injure wildlife, and pollute the environment and drinking water.” 1
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According to the EPA, the general public is often misinformed or misled about the risks of pesticide exposure.2 There are pesticides that have been banned in the U.S. that are still on some of our shelves—such as chlordane and DDT. 3
When used indoors, pesticides can be serious indoor air pollutants. After all, pesticides are formulated to kill living creatures, and they don’t always distinguish very well between humans, pets, and pests. The greatest danger is just after a pesticide has been applied, but it’s been found that house dust can be a significant reservoir for older pesticides, and a major contributor to human exposure—especially for infants and toddlers.4
Using pesticides outdoors often isn’t much better. This is particularly true for lawn chemicals because, when applied, the overspray can drift with the wind onto food crops, through open windows, or onto people who happen to be downwind.5
Lawn chemicals can also be tracked indoors on shoes, and be sucked indoors through foundation cracks if the lower part of a house is depressurized. One study found that children whose yards were treated with chemicals were four times as likely to be diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcomas.6
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of less-toxic methods of pest control that can be used in many routine residential applications. One the best comprehensive sources is a book titled Common-Sense Pest Control.7 The Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC) and Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides both offer very good information on less toxic pest control.
When chemical controls are necessary, you should use the least-toxic product, in the lowest dose, and take care to apply it carefully and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.8 If you suspect pesticide poisoning, or need information about a particular pesticide, you can call the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at 800-858-7378. At the same location, there is also a National Antimicrobial Information Network (NAIN).
Of course, not all pesticides are especially toxic to humans. For example, boric acid is often used to poison ants and cockroaches, yet it is not particularly dangerous to people. In fact, healthy-house builders often sprinkle boric-acid powder inside wall cavities, as a preventative measure, before the drywall is installed. That way it will always be there to act as a deterrent to insects yet, because it doesn’t outgas anything, it won’t effect the occupants. Nationally distributed brands of boric-acid powder include Woodstream Corp. (Victor Roach Killing Powder) and Copper Brite, Inc. (Roach Prufe). They are often available in hardware stores.
(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)
1. National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, Safety at Home (Washington, DC: National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, 1991).
2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Nonagricultural pesticides: Risks and regulations (Washington, DC: EPA, April 1986). #GAO/RCED-86-97.
3. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National home and garden pesticide survey, Final report: Executive summary (Washington, DC: EPA, March 1992). #RTI/5100/17-03F.
4. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Project Summary: Nonoccupational Personal Exposure Study (NOPES) (Washington, DC: EPA, April 1990). #EPA/600/S3-90/003.
5. Robert Abrams, Lawn care pesticides: A guide for action (Albany, NY: NY State Department of Law, Environmental Protection Bureau, May 1987).
6. J.K. Leiss and D.A. Savitz, Home pesticide use and childhood cancer: A case-control study, American Journal of Public Health 85 (February 1995): 249-252.
7. Olkowski, William, Sheila Daar, and Helga Olkowski Common-Sense Pest Control (Newton, CT: The Taunton Press, 1991).
8. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Citizen’s Guide to Pesticides (Washington, DC: EPA, September 1989). #OPA 008-89.
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