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Daily News Archive
From July 24, 2002

California Warns Against Insect Foggers

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recently distributed a public warning against the use of insect foggers. Foggers, often called "bug bombs," create a hazard to people and property. From 1993 to 2000, DPR reviewed about 50 cases with suspected or confirmed injuries from foggers. Most involved respiratory, eye, or skin irritation from overexposure to fumes. Some victims ignored application or re-entry instructions. Others were unaware that someone was using a fogger in the vicinity.

DPR reminds consumers that they can prevent pest problems before they occur, and often avoid the use of pesticides, by using IPM -- integrated pest management. IPM emphasizes techniques that control pests and encourage beneficial plants and animals to thrive. Simple pest control tips including removing easy pest access to food (crumbs on the floor, food-filled plates on the countertop) and water (pet water dishes, leaky pipes, basins under houseplants).

In typical residential applications, label directions call for use of only one or two 8-ounce cans of fogger. Labels also direct users to turn off ignition sources such as gas pilot lights and electrical appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators) that may produce a spark when they cycle on and off, because the propellants used in most foggers are flammable.

DPR stated that in April 2001, fumes from a gas pilot light ignited 18 foggers in a small San Diego apartment, ripping open the ceiling and tearing kitchen cabinets from the walls. A week earlier, a Los Angeles woman sustained burns when 30 foggers exploded in her home, blowing off the roof. Such incidents typically occur during warm weather when roaches, fleas, and other indoor pest populations suddenly increase, and fogger users fail to follow instructions on the product labels.

In 1998, EPA adopted flammability labeling changes for pesticide foggers in order to "reduce the potential for fires and explosions by alerting consumers to the dangers of total release foggers." EPA said it received reports of fires and explosions involving total release foggers going back over 12 years. During a one-year period, the New York City Fire Department reported 40 incidents of fires and explosions involving total release foggers, with 28% resulting in personal injury. Other incidents have been reported to EPA and through the media. Fire experts believe that actual number of incidents to be much higher than those reported because there is no nationwide reporting system.

California DPR also provides some tips to the public:
-- To prevent insect stings and bites, first consider non-chemical alternatives such as screens, netting, long sleeves, slacks, and closed shoes. When using insect repellents, start with lower-strength products to minimize the chance of a reaction to the chemical.
-- Keep pesticides away from children and pets by storing products in a locked cabinet or shed.
-- Remove pets, children, and their toys from areas to be treated, ventilate properly and follow directions on re-entry intervals.
-- When using pesticides in your garden, never dump "leftovers" down storm drains or risk runoff by over-watering the treated area.
-- To choose the best control strategy, correctly identify the pest. Always read the label before you buy a pesticide, then before you use it, and follow all instructions to the letter.

California DPR's emphasis for consumers to read the label and carefully following directions to avoid accidents, environmentalists warn, gives the public the mistaken impression that pesticides are safe when used according to the label. Critics say EPA and California DPR should do more to warn people about the health and environmental hazards that pesticides pose, especially to children, the still inadequate health and safety testing that supports product registration with EPA, the problem with undisclosed yet potentially toxic "inert" ingredients, and the finding of contaminants in products. Critics of current labels suggest an overall redesign of the labels to include improved precautionary label statements, which have been criticized by the Inspector General as unable "to protect the public and the environment from unreasonable adverse effects."

For more information on California DPR's announcement, contact Glenn Brank, 916-445-3974, California Department of Pesticide Regulation News or see www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/factshts/factmenu.htm for DPR consumer information.

For information on non- and least toxic pest management strategies or for information on the toxicity of pesticide foggers, contact Beyond Pesticides.