(Beyond Pesticides, November 6, 2009) A 10-month old boy died in Williamston, SC after his mother used several insecticide foggers, also known as “bug bombs” inside their home. Elizabeth Whitfield called 911 when her 10-month old son, Jacob Joesup Isiah Leah Whitfield, was having difficulty breathing. She and her older son Kenneth were also experiencing breathing problems. According to Beyond Pesticides, every death and injury caused by foggers must be attributed to a the failure of EPA’s regulatory system to take an unnecessary and ineffective product off the market. The group says that EPA has known for years that foggers kill people and present a serious public health hazard, regardless of warnings on the product label, and can be replaced by safe alternative products and practices. “This child’s death should move the leadership of EPA to take the necessary steps to ban foggers, an action that has been urged for years both within and outside the agency,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticies.
Anderson County Deputy Coroner Don McCown said, “It appears mom has been using a pesticide fogger in the house that may have contributed to their illnesses.” Ms. Whitfield had been in the house, a rental property, for about a month and had used the foggers several times inside the small home. He said it may have been a day or two days since the last insect fogger was used inside. Investigators found seven foggers inside the house. “Most people put these foggers in ”” they do it one time a month or every couple of months. She was using two to three a week,” Mr. McCown said.
Ms. Whitfield was reportedly coated in chemicals when she first arrived to the hospital and had to remove her clothes and take a shower. The scent of chemicals at the home was so strong authorities called in a hazardous materials team before entering. One deputy complained of headaches, Mr. McCown said.
Anderson County Safe Kids Coordinator Dwayne Smith says that while he rarely hears cases of people who die directly from poisoning, places like the Palmetto Poison Center receive thousands of calls annually about children exposed to poisons. In 2007 alone, the Palmetto Poison Center received over 36,000 calls, more than half of which were cases of children six years or younger who had been exposed to poisons.
Children are at higher risk to pesticide poisoning because they are smaller and have faster metabolisms. The Beyond Pesticides factsheet “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix” highlights particular vulnerabilities of children to pesticides. The U.S. EPA, National Academy of Sciences, and American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
In July, Beyond Pesticides submitted a letter to the Washington, D.C. Department of the Environment urging the suspension of foggers after an explosion on July first. As Mr. Feldman states in the letter, “Aside from fire and explosive dangers, most foggers contain synthetic pyrethroids, such as permethrin, which are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, respiratory problems, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity and other health and environmental issues. With a high incidence of illness, explosions and even death from the use of these products, their use must be suspended now and ultimately eliminated or highly restricted.”
Foggers, or “bug bombs” are notoriously dangerous and as such, plans to restrict their use in New York state to commerical applicators and take them off the retail market were announced by the Department of Environmental Conservation in October, 2008. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, which pulled data from eight states, identified a total of 466 cases of acute, pesticide-related illness or injury associated with exposure to foggers between 2001 and 2006. 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.