Indoor Pesticides–why you should get rid of Raid!
Confession: I carried the rascals in! While preparing to move from my last home, I looked at the price of cardboard boxes and said to myself, this is a big city. Someone else just moved here, so why not ask for their boxes? Craigslist had several postings a day for free boxes. Unfortunately, free boxes have free roaches, and one or two roaches can quickly turn into dozens which took up residence in my kitchen. Short of calling an exterminator, I did my best with over-the-counter pesticides to get rid of them, but on moving day my kitchen still had an infestation. It was depressing, because I thought that only “dirty” homes got roaches but no matter how much I cleaned, they persisted (more on this later). In hindsight I think they liked the consistent heat of the pilot light and some crumbs and drippings in my antique gas stove. It was not my intention to leave a problem like this to the new homeowners (sorry)… but I got my reward. The bugs hitched a ride to my new house and although I tried more commercial and home remedies, they would not budge. I even tore out the toekicks under my cabinets, thinking they had set up house there. To my disappointment (because of my affinity for most things German), I even learned that they were called German cockroaches. A week before Thanksgiving I broke down and called a pro, who required that I empty all my kitchen cabinets so that my cooking and storage containers would not be sprayed (he also cautioned me to wash anything that came in contact with the spray residue). To my relief, the critters all died or left the house. But now I wonder, what was in all the pesticides I tried, what did he use, and since I haven’t had a pest problem for about 4 years, how are these chemicals affecting me?
Whether you or the professionals tackle the insect or pest problem, it’s important to consider the effect of pesticides on your air quality. According to the EPA, 80 percent of most people's exposure to pesticides occurs indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes. Whoa! The exposure to airborne chemicals when spraying pesticides is obvious, however, there is also accidental ingestion and absorption to consider. All in all, it’s a desperate and dangerous conundrum for those who are aware of toxins in pesticides…do I have to live with the pests or live with the poison?
First, what kinds of pests are we talking about? According to the EPA, there are 5 different types of pests and therefore 5 different types of pesticides:
- insects (insecticides)
- termites (termiticides)
- rodents (rodenticides)
- fungi (fungicides)
- microbes (disinfectants)
What’s in these different types of pesticides? If there’s a label on the bottle, then you can use this informative page to decode what each ingredient is and its risks to you.
According to nontoxicforhealth.com, “Most indoor insecticides, including those you use on your pets, contain some type of Pyrethroids. These are amped up synthetic versions of natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums (the natural chemicals breakdown quickly in sunlight so they are less effective).” These are possible carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, nervous and respiratory system toxins.
In addition to the active (toxic) ingredients, manufacturers are not required to list all the inert (carrier and amplifying) ingredients, which can be even more harmful on their own. Inert ingredients are called adjuvants, and they increase the effectiveness of the active ingredients by helping them spread out, stick to pests or weeds, and penetrate their outer layers. “Among these are carcinogens like coal tar, naphthalene, hexane and xylene. And endocrine disruptors like dibutyl phthalate, plus hydrochloric and nitric acid and many petroleum distillates and fuel oils.” (nontoxicforhealth.com) These inert ingredients do the same when they encounter your skin or clothing; they help the pesticide or herbicide stick to and penetrate so the active chemical can enter your body. Once inside, the inert ingredients alone are quite harmful. “...a 2016 study found that two inert ingredients, APG (alkyl polyglucosides) and POEA (polyethoxylated tallowamine) were 15–18 times and 1200–2000 times more toxic to cells than the active ingredient glyphosate, respectively. And the inert/active ingredient glyphosate combo doesn’t just kill more body cells. They also disrupt your endocrine system at much lower levels than glyphosate alone.” (nontoxicforhealth.com)
One of the most common insecticides is Raid. What happens when one sees an unwanted guest like a spider or roach? They reach for the can of Raid under the sink, spray it, then wait to see if there are any other intruders! I went to the official website (whatsinsideSCJohnson.com) to check on one version, “Raid Spray Multi-Insect Killer”. The active ingredients are d-Phenothrin and Prallethrin. Both of these chemicals are Pyrethroids. Then, there are the inactive ingredients (99+% of the product), the first three of which are Propane, Butane and Petroleum Distillate. These 3 are VOCs, and the 5th, fragrances, contains many VOCs. Here’s the problem: the product label recommends “Do not allow people or pets to enter treated area until vapors, mists and aerosols have dispersed, and the treated area has been thoroughly ventilated. Wait two hours after application, then open windows, vents and doors for two hours. “ I doubt that many people leave the area (especially an open-concept home) for 2 hours and then open the windows for 2 more hours, so consumers are breathing in the VOCs of the “other ingredients”, which carry the active ingredients to their intended destination, the insects, but also float through the air for 4 or more hours!
In order to clear the air, you’ll need to get rid of the VOCs. Be proactive and get started with some pest prevention:
- Cut them off! No, not with a knife, but with caulk, door sweeps, foam sealant, screening, etc. There are many videos out there on how to seal out pests: make sure doors, windows, and ventilation openings have screens, install door sweeps and weatherstripping on doors and gaps around AC units, and fill cracks with silicone or latex caulk.
- Repair leaky piping to limit water sources for pests.
- Install wire mesh (hardware cloth) on attic openings, roof, chimney and crawlspace vents.
- Use airtight containers for food storage.
- Clean up after meals and try not to leave any crumbs! I left this one for last because even clean homes can get roaches (they can live for a month without food and a week without water). Do your best not to sustain them by limiting food sources, so the occasional foraging pest will not have reason to stick around. Food sources even include non-food items: newspaper, cardboard (hence my moving box problem), “book bindings, leather, wallpaper paste, grease, soap, toothpaste, feces, and even human hair.” (resteasypestcontrol.com) Gross!
Now here’s where you can take control with natural pest control solutions (source: nontoxicforhealth.com):
- Wondercide is an essential oil-based natural pesticide that comes in flea and tick, mosquito, indoor and outdoor formulations.
- Food-grade diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms. When sprinkled over surfaces where pests crawl, the earth sticks to their legs and makes small cuts in them and dries out their bodies. It can also be sprinkled into the fur of dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. to kill fleas, as the earth is non-toxic if they decide to lick themselves. The fleas start dying within hours! I used this on my pet rabbit with success, because he liked to hop around the backyard during the day where fleas also roam. Sprinkle it into carpets for fleas or ants as well. Just be sure to use a mask when applying it, because the dust is harmful to your lungs (don’t use if you have lung problems). Also, although many people claim it is safe for humans to eat, I have seen several articles about its danger to our intestines (may block absorption of nutrients).
- A hand vacuum will get pests where you can reach, and it’s so satisfying to suck them up! You can catch-and-release outside, or drown them by emptying the contents of the bin into a bucket of soapy water. There are lots of hand vacuums available and if you are buying one or replacing yours, be sure to get one with a HEPA filter so that dust and microbes are not expelled into the air while you’re getting that spider! This one comes with several suction heads and 2 washable HEPA filters.
Educate yourself–there are no excuses now that we have the internet at our fingertips! Integrative Pest Management (IPM) is long-term prevention of pests or their damage by managing the ecosystem (University of California). Basically the following are the four methods of IPM:
- Biological control: use enemies of the pests to keep them under control! For example, cats kill rodents. Many people keep outdoor cats, and never see mice. Spiders kill insects and mosquitoes. By allowing small non-poisonous spiders to live around your home, you will have less insects. Chickens will search and destroy insects too–and roaches are one of their favorite snacks! The popularity of keeping backyard chickens has grown greatly.
- Cultural controls: this mostly applies to how food is grown and cultivated, but if you are keeping plants inside, be aware that mold can grow if you overwater the plant and the soil stays too moist.
- Mechanical and physical controls: keep the pests out by using the methods discussed under pest prevention, and if you need to, use mechanical or chemical traps in safe places so that children and pets aren’t harmed.
- Chemical control: pesticides are a last resort, and only those that will be safe for the user and the environment.
Here are two more posts that will be of interest to homeowners: Termiticides: safe for indoor use? (more personal experience here) and Enjoying the Outdoors Naturally…because we love the fresh air but not the creepy-crawly things!