(Beyond Pesticides, October 21, 2008) On October 17, 2008, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that the state will be taking action to address the risks posed by total release foggers, also known as “bug bombs,” in the wake of a new federal report detailing hazards and injuries related to the product. DEC will move to classify foggers as a restricted-use product in New York State, meaning that only licensed pesticide applicators, rather than the general public, will be able to obtain them. DEC also says it will explore the need to further limit fogger use and encourage the adoption of better pest management strategies.
Total release foggers have caused numerous explosions and acute illnesses due to pesticide exposure. According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 123 cases of bug bomb-related illness or injury in New York State (58 in New York City alone) from 2001-06. Information on New York’s incidents are part of a larger study published October 17, 2008 in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which illuminates the hazards of total release foggers using data from several states. The most commonly reported acute health effects from bug bombs are respiratory problems and gastrointestinal reactions, such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In editorial comments accompanying the study, the CDC notes that these figures are most likely underestimated.
The CDC study, which pulls data from eight states, identifies a total of 466 cases of acute, pesticide-related illness or injury associated with exposure to foggers between 2001 and 2006. Median age of affected persons is 35 years (range: 0–90 years); 255 (57%) are female, and 55 (13%) were exposed while at work. Race information is available for 137 patients, of whom 101 (74%) are white, 17 (12%) are black, and 19 (14%) are of other races. Ethnicity information is available for 158 patients, of whom 31 (20%) is Hispanic. Three cases occurred among pregnant women, and approximately 44 cases occurred among persons with asthma.
“The CDC study makes it clear that we cannot wait for the federal government to restrict the use of foggers,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines. “We must act to protect the health of New Yorkers. Pest control should be accomplished without harming people.”
In each of the past several years, total release foggers have caused at least four to eight serious explosions in apartments in New York City, according to Fire Department data. Just last month, an apartment building in Manhattan was evacuated after a fogger caused an explosion. Ten people were treated at the scene, including six who were brought to the hospital.
Aside from fire dangers, most foggers contain synthetic pyrethroids and piperonyl butoxide which are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, respiratory problems, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity and other health and environmental issues.
“We commend the Department of Environmental Conservation for taking action on this issue,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “By getting these products off the shelves, we will prevent avoidable illness and injury. There are far safer and more effective methods of controlling pests that do not put people’s health at risk.”
Most pest problems can be solved without toxic pesticides, through sanitation, proper storage of food and trash, exclusion (sealing entryways), traps and non-volatile baits. For detailed information on preventing and specific pests, see Beyond Pesticides’ Alternatives Factsheets. The New York City Health Department also recently created a guide to safe pest control for New Yorkers. The guide provides useful information on preventing pests and the dangers of conventional pesticide sprays and bombs, but does not warn of the hazards of volatile pesticides in some baits. For more on this issue, read Beyond Pesticides’ “How Safe Is Your Bait” article in the Winter 2007-08 issue of Pesticides and You.