Organophosphate pesticides are known for their hazards to human health. Prenatal exposure, for example, has been linked to delayed brain development, reduced IQ, and attention deficits.
As a result, pyrethroids—synthetic chemicals derived from natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums—have risen in popularity over the past decade. There are currently more than 3,500 commercial products containing this insecticide. This includes items like roach sprays, flea bombs, and dog flea or tick collars and medicated shampoos.
Pyrethroids are well-known to be highly toxic to cats, and the most frequent reason for pyrethroid poisoning in cats is the incorrect and unadvised application of dog flea or tick medication.
You can identify pyrethroids in any given product by reading the label. Compounds that end in “thrin,” such as bifenthrin, permethrin and cypermethrin, are all pyrethroids. Alas, switching to pyrethroids may not have been the wisest move. Animal studies suggest it causes neurological-, immune-, and reproductive damage. And, as usual, the human health effects are still largely unknown, despite its widespread use.
Now, Canadian research suggests pyrethroids may be associated with behavior problems in children. As reported by Scientific American:
“The findings raise some questions about the safety of the compounds, which have replaced other insecticides with known risks to children’s brain development.
Exposure to pyrethroids, which kill insects by interfering with their nervous systems, is widespread because they are used inside homes and schools, in municipal mosquito control and on farms.”
Common Insecticide May have Adverse Effects on Your Child’s Development The study in question tested urine samples from 779 Canadian children, aged 6-11, and the parents answered questions relating to their child’s behavior. Shockingly, even at that tender young age, 97 percent of the children had pyrethroid breakdown products in their urine. Ninety-one percent also had traces of organophosphate pesticides.
“A 10-fold increase in urinary levels of one pyrethroid breakdown product, cis-DCCA, was associated with a doubling in the odds of a child scoring high for parent-reported behavioral problems, such as inattention and hyperactivity,” the featured article reports.
A previous study found that toddlers who had been exposed to pyrethroids while in utero had lower development scores compared to unexposed children. According to a 2006 EPA review, animal research has also shown that even low levels of some of these compounds have an adverse effect on:
Immune function Nervous system development Behavioral development Thyroid Liver Reproductive hormones Some pyrethroids act as endocrine disruptors by mimicking estrogen. Such hormone-disrupting chemicals can raise your levels of estrogen, thereby promoting the growth of estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer.
As stated by Dana Boyd Barr, a research professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta: “Pyrethroids are obviously a safer alternative to organophosphates, but just because they are safer doesn’t mean they are safe.”
Are You Using this Toxic Bug Spray On or Near Your Kids? Permethrin—a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family—can also be found in many commercial bug sprays. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), permethrin is carcinogenic, capable of causing lung tumors, liver tumors, immune system problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Permethrin is also damaging to the environment, and it is particularly toxic to bees and aquatic life.
Despite that, approximately 2 million pounds of permethrin are applied to agricultural, residential and public sites each year. The majority, about 70 percent, is applied in non-agricultural settings; more than 40 percent of it is applied by homeowners in residential areas, so there’s plenty of room for individuals to take personal control over this chemical exposure.
While it may be tempting to douse your kids with bug spray in order to prevent bugs from biting them, there are plenty of other tricks that can keep bugs at bay that don’t involve the application of neurotoxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
Simple Preventative Measures to Avoid Mosquito Bites Mosquito’s are probably the most pervasive when it comes to biting bugs. You can avoid most assaults by staying inside around dawn and dusk, which is when they are most active. If you must be out during those times, wear light-colored, long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks.
Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and near standing water. Body temperature and skin chemicals like lactic acid also attract mosquitoes, so trying to stay as cool and dry as possible may also help to some degree.
The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has a helpful factsheet of things you can do to prevent mosquito breeding on your property. The Three D’s of protection from mosquitoes are:
Besides draining all sources of standing water and dressing appropriately, the following ideas can help reduce the mosquito population around your yard:
DIY Bug Repellants Your diet may have something to do with your popularity with the mosquitoes. To reduce your attractiveness, you may want to forgo bananas during mosquito season. According to alternative health nutritionist Dr. Janet Starr Hull, “there’s something about how your body processes the banana oil that attracts these female sugar-loving insects.” She also recommends supplementing with one vitamin B-1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B-1 to a B-100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes.
Regularly consuming garlic or garlic capsules may also help protect against both mosquito and tick bites. Bear in mind, the best way to avoid ticks is to make sure you tuck your pants into your socks and wear closed shoes and a hat—especially if venturing out into wooded areas. You can also make your own mosquito repellent using any of the following:
Another option is to use the safe solution I formulated to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects. It’s a natural insect repellant with a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, and vanillin. An independent study showed it was more effective than a product containing 100 percent DEET. And it’s safe for you, your children, and your pets.
Safer Alternatives for Ant, Roach, Lice and Flea Control With mosquito control out of the way, what about other pesky bugs? Not to worry, there are safer alternatives for most infestations. For example: