(Beyond Pesticides, November 13, 2009) The Ohio Department of Agriculture is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow an unregistered use of the neurotoxic and cancer causing insecticide propoxur in homes to fight bedbugs in what state officials are describing as an ”˜emergency’ situation. The chemical, o-isopropoxyphenyl methylcarbamate, is in the carbamate family and classified as a probable human carcinogen (Group B2) by EPA, and listed as a known human carcinogen by the state of California. Though EPA allows emergency exemptions for unregistered pesticide uses in agriculture and for public health reasons under a controversial waiver program (Section 18, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, 40 CFR Part 166), it rarely issues such an exemption for an indoor pesticide use.
Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are all experiencing a surge of bed bug infestations. According to Richard Pollack, a Harvard University public health entomologist, this is probably due to the fact that bedbugs are becoming resistant to many pesticide products that are used today.
The use of broad spectrum insecticides, which kill common household insects such as cockroaches, ants and other insects including bed bugs, has resulted in insect resistance to these chemicals. Many of the chemicals used against bed bugs, such as esfenvalerate and various pyrethroids (permethrin, deltamethrin, cyfluthrin, etc) are also associated with adverse human effects, including skin irritation (important if applied to mattresses) endocrine disruption, cancer and neurotoxicity.
Propoxur is labeled as a highly toxic chemical, and the symptoms of poisoning include malaise, muscle weakness, dizziness, and sweating. Headache, nausea, and diarrhea are often prominent. Propoxur is a known neurotoxin, and likely a carcinogen. Propoxur has been linked to kidney and liver damage, and potentially cancer. A non-specific poison, propoxur is highly toxic to non-target, beneficial species such as bees and is of very high toxicity to crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects, and aquatic worms. Propoxur was first registered in the U.S. in 1963. In the 1990s numerous uses were withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer, Bayer. The remaining uses were reregistered by EPA with severe restrictions in 1997.
However, propoxur still remains a very common pesticide, due to its controversial use on flea and tick collars, and roach and ant spray, which are being increasingly scrutinized by the EPA. In April, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit, NRDC v. Albertsons, Inc. et al, in California against major pet product retailers and manufacturers for illegally selling pet products containing propoxur as a known cancer-causing chemical without required warning labels under the state’s Proposition 65.
Earlier this year, EPA held the first ever National Bed Bug Summit to solicit recommendations from scientists, state and local officials, pest control operators and the general public on how to tackle the resurgence of these pests. Among the recommendations from the participants, support for an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach was one of the most commonly discussed solutions.
While bed bugs may have recently re-emerged as a common unwanted insect and troublesome infestation problem, it’s important to note that the transmission of disease by bed bugs is highly unlikely. Importantly, there are many alternative ways to manage bed bugs without the use of harmful chemicals such as propoxur. These strategies include habitat modifications and least-toxic alternatives available to prevent and control bed bugs. These include sealing cracks and crevices where bed bugs can hide, regular laundering of bed linens and clothing in hot water (120oF), as well as regular vacuuming and steam cleaning of carpets and other soft furnishings, which can destroy bed bugs and their eggs. There are also several least-toxic chemical alternatives on the market, including diatomaceous earth.
For more information on detecting and preventing a bed bug infestation in your home, read our factsheet “Bed Bugs – Back with a Vengeance.”
Source: New York Times