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Letters to the Editor (TV)

DEET and Halloween (November 2003)
Your DEET Advice (October 2003)


DEET and Halloween

To: News 14 Carolina (North Carolina) contact14@news14.com
Sent: Wednesday, November 26, 2003 11:37 AM
Subject: DEET and Halloween

Dear Mr. Brett Tackett, Web Staff & Editors,

I would like to draw your attention to a very important issue that was neglected in Mr. Tackett's online story and the story aired during the week of Halloween. Although we understand that the Health Dept. was recommending parents to spray DEET on their children’s Halloween costumes, your story neglected to mention (1) the importance of keeping the DEET dosage in the product low (10% or less) for children and (2) to read and follow the label on the product. As an important news agency, it is vital that you report the news responsibly and give the whole story.

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a toxic chemical and must be treated as one. It is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who recently made the label stricter in an effort to warn people of its toxicity and hazards. (See below for Toxicology on DEET.) Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of DEET, which is a neurotoxin. EPA requires that child safety claims be removed from all end-use product labels, as they are misleading and irreconcilable with the intended use and pesticidal ingredients of DEET products. Following are excerpts from the EPA's warning label requirements of how DEET should be used:

Do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children.
Do not use under clothing.
Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
Avoid over-application of this product.
After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.

If you can imagine all the scenarios that people may use insect repellents - on themselves and their kids (who notoriously wipe their hands on their clothing and put their hands in their mouth – ESPECIALLY DURING HALLOWEEN), it is not difficult to imagine people failing to heed these warnings - if they even read them. Especially if using a product like Off which contains up to 100% DEET (vs. the doctor recommended 30%), reapplication, medications, and putting clothing on over the product within 13 hours of use can cause heightened levels of toxicity in the human system.

Most likely you will be reporting on insect repellents again. We respectfully ask that you give the public all the information – including the use of natural alternatives like Bite Blocker, Skin-so-Soft, or Herbal Armour or others with active ingredients made from the oils of soybean, geranium, coconut, eucalyptus, peppermint, or from citronella or IR3535, or Ethyl-Butylacetylamino-propionate, a biopesticide popular in Europe that is chemically similar to the naturally occurring amino acid alanine. Though not generally promoted, these non-toxic alternatives have been shown to work just as well as DEET, though they must be reapplied more often.

Please inform your readers that DEET is not a benign chemical. Several cases of DEET poisonings have been reported by the EPA, including at least three fatalities. Doctors recommend using products that contain no more than 30 percent DEET for adults. DEET should not be used on infants or children. In 1998, EPA made it illegal for any product containing DEET to make child safety claims. Products containing more then 30% DEET are banned in Canada. Andrew Spielman, a professor of tropical medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health notes there have been seven reports of seizures in small children who were exposed to excessive doses of DEET. Spielman also noted that product labeling typically provides little guidance for users. "It's terribly important that there be some way for the consumer to understand how much of the material should be applied" and how often, he said.

Sincerely,

Eileen Gunn
Special Projects Director
Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides

Toxicology on DEET

  • Several cases of young children developing toxic encephalopathy (severe brain involvement) have been associated with the use of DEET, including one death, following repeated exposure to 10% DEET. The toxic encephalopathy was characterized by agitation, weakness, disorientation, ataxia, seizures, coma and death (NYDOH, 1991).
  • Animal experiments indicate that DEET crosses the placenta, and that it is found in the placenta and fetus and in rats three months after birth. (NIH, 1990)
  • Duke Medical University pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia, Ph.D. conducted numerous studies in rats, two of them published in 2001, which clearly demonstrate that frequent and prolonged applications of DEET cause neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration. Animals treated with an average human dose of DEET (40 mg/kg body weight) performed far worse than their counterparts when challenged with physical tasks requiring muscle control, strength and coordination - effects consistent with physical symptoms in humans reported in the medical literature, especially by Persian Gulf War veterans.
  • With heavy exposure to DEET and other insecticides, humans may experience memory loss, headache, weak-ness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors and shortness of breath. (Duke, 2002)
  • Adverse human effects, including skin hypersensitivity and eye irritations, have been reported.
  • DEET is absorbed quickly through intact skin; 48% of the applied dose is to-tally absorbed within six hours. Accumulation on skin has been demonstrated. (NIH, 1990) Dermal application of insect repellents containing DEET can produce a variety of skin reactions in humans. Cases of localized skin irritation, large painful blisters, and permanent scarring of the skin at the crease of the elbow has been reported in soldiers who applied solutions of 50 to 75 percent DEET.
  • Results from surveys of Everglades National Park employees indicate a variety of dermal reactions, including rashes, irritation of skin and mucous membranes, and numb or burning sensations of the lips among park workers who were highly exposed to DEET-containing repellents. Field trials of a 60% DEET formulation on 600 lumbermen resulted in cases of contact dermatitis, conjunctivitis, and aggravation of pre-existing acne conditions.
  • Several cases of young children developing toxic encephalopathy (severe brain involvement) have been associated with the use of DEET, including one death, following repeated exposure to 10% DEET. The toxic encephalopathy was characterized by agitation, weakness, disorientation, ataxia, siezures, coma and death. (NYDOH, 1991)

News 14 Response

Wednesday, November 26, 2003 2:11 PM
Thank you for your email. We always appreciate hearing from visitors to our website. I will forward your information to our reporters and news writers so they may take it into consideration the next time we report on a similar story. Thank you for writing and thank you for visiting news14.com.

Rick Willis, News Director
News 14 Carolina
2505 Atlantic Avenue Suite 102
Raleigh, NC 27604
(919) 882-4020 rick.willis@news14.com


Your DEET Advice

To: NBC4 TV (Southern California) lanews@nbc4.tv
Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2003 1:00 PM
Subject: Your DEET advice - WNv issues

Dear Editors and Writers of NBC4 TV,

I read with great concern your recent story titled: "Keeping The Bugs Away". The subheading "Some Tips DEET Repellents Found Most Effective" is completely misleading as you point out in your own story:"A product called Bite Blocker is made from soybeans, geranium oil and coconut oil and has been shown to work as well as DEET and for just as long." And there are others beside Bite Blocker as well - two of which you mentioned.

What is disappointing is not just the misleading headline, but the fact that you never once mention the extensive warnings about DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) as a toxic chemical, which it is, or allude at all to the lengthy warnings and use instructions mandated to be placed on products containing DEET by the EPA. (Thankfully, you do however provide a link on how to use it safely.) EPA requires that child safety claims be removed from all end-use product labels, as they are misleading and irreconcilable with the intended use and pesticidal ingredients of DEET products. Following are excerpts from the EPA's description of how DEET should be used.

      Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
      Do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children.
      Do not use under clothing.
      Avoid over-application of this product.
      After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
      Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.

If you can imagine all the scenarios that people may use insect repellents - on themselves and their kids (who notoriously put their hands in their mouth), it is not difficult to imagine people failing to heed these warnings - if they even read them. Especially if using a product like Off which contains up to 100% DEET (vs. the recommended 30%), reapplication, medications, and putting clothing on over the product within 13 hours of use can cause heightened levels of toxicity in the human system.

As a national membership organization concerned about the use, misuse, and overuse of pesticides, we advocate that people avoid products containing DEET especially when choosing a product for children or when using it in combination with other chemicals or medications. There are an abundance of alternatives, many of which are not tested in major comparisons by consumer groups. Regardless, as your article mentioned - there are effective alternatives, and even if they need to be reapplied more often they are not toxic and therefore do not pose as many hazards.

Please tell your readers that several cases of DEET poisonings have been reported by the EPA, including at least three fatalities. Doctors recommend using products that contain no more than 30 percent DEET for adults. DEET should not be used on infants or children. In 1998, EPA made it illegal for any product containing DEET to make child safety claims. The Canadian Government recently banned products containing more then 30% DEET. Lastly, a new study by Duke University researchers found that combined exposure to DEET and permethrin, a mosquitocides commonly used in government mosquito control programs, can lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or desire further information or references. Below please find additional information that may shed some more light on this issue.

Sincerely,

Eileen Gunn
Special Projects Director
Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides

NBC4 TV Response

10/28/03 4:35 PM
Hello, thanks for your comments. We'll review the article in question.
Thanks for visiting NBC4.tv.

Laura Bobendrier
Health - Money Editor
Internet Broadcasting Systems
http://www.ibsys.com

TOXICOLOGY ON DEET

* For more information and references see DEET ChemWatch or contact Beyond Pesticides.