In many climates, warm weather brings bugs. While a few ants, fleas or silverfish can be a nuisance, an invasion may tempt you to reach for the bug spray. Don’t do it! This heavy-handed approach can unleash toxic compounds that put your family’s health at risk.
While highly toxic organophosphates are no longer allowed in home pesticides, popular pyrethrum-based pesticides aren’t without risk. In animal studies, pyrethroid exposure affects the brain and nervous system; increases thyroid and liver cancers; damages male reproductive organs; and reduces testosterone levels and fertility. The Cancer Assessment Review Committee classified pyrethrins as “likely human carcinogens” if ingested.
Pyrethrins have sparked concern among environmentalists and lawmakers alike. Recently, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry introduced legislation to explore the link between hormone-disrupting chemicals such as pyrethroids and the dramatic increase in autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, and breast and prostate cancer.
Pyrethrum-based pesticides aren’t the only cause for concern. Propoxur, commonly found in ant and roach killers, depresses the central nervous system and respiratory tract, and overexposure can cause muscle weakness, dizziness, headaches and nausea. This noxious chemical also damages DNA and negatively affects fetal growth. The chemical N-octyl bicycloheptene dicarboximide—often found in ant and roach sprays, household foggers, and flea and tick repellents—is an excitotoxin that can depress the central nervous system, causing decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness and possibly death.
Infants and children, whose internal organs are still developing, are especially sensitive to the health risks these pesticides pose. Researchers have found that exposure to home pesticides and insecticides more than doubles a child’s chances of developing neuroblastoma, a rare type of malignant brain tumor, and increases the risk of leukemia. An American Cancer Society study suggests children exposed to household insecticides are three to seven times more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Try these chemical-free alternatives to toxic pesticides.
Ants leave a scented trail so other ants can find their way to food. Routinely wash away these invisible trails with a vinegar-based cleanser made from 1⁄4 cup vinegar, 2 cups water and 10 to 15 drops of peppermint, clove, eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil. Keep ants out of your cupboards by sprinkling powdered cinnamon, paprika or cayenne pepper across their trails.
The best strategy to kill fleas requires two steps: Bathe your pet in cedar oil shampoo and, at the same time, sprinkle flea-killing diatomaceous earth on all carpets. Brush it in and leave it for about four days, then thoroughly vacuum dead fleas from the carpet. Diatomaceous earth is harmless for pets and people, though it can be a mild skin irritant. If your pet is sensitive, keep it out of the area. During an infestation, repeat frequently to destroy hatching fleas.
Grain moths and weevils
Keep these tiny bugs away by placing a cinnamon stick or bay leaf in with your flour, pasta or grains. The strong-smelling spices will repel the insects without affecting the food’s taste or smell.
Place sachets of crushed mint, bay leaf, clove or eucalyptus around the house to repel flies. You can also make your own flypaper. Mix 1⁄4 cup corn syrup, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut strips of brown kraft paper and soak in the sugar mixture. Let dry overnight. To hang, poke a small hole at the top of each strip and hang with string.
Commercial mothballs contain naphthalene, a hydrocarbon derived from coal tar. This toxin destroys red blood cells and has been detected in human breast milk. Cedar is a far safer option. Wrap cedar blocks or chips in cheesecloth and place in the drawer or cabinet alongside your clothes. Dried lemon peels are also a natural moth deterrent. Toss a handful into a clothes chest or tie some in cheesecloth and hang in the closet.
Silverfish prefer damp, warm conditions like those found around kitchen and bathroom plumbing. To remove them, vacuum the area to remove food particles and insect eggs, then dust with either diatomaceous earth or boric acid (do not use boric acid if you have pets). You can also trap silverfish in a small glass jar. Wrap the outside with tape so they can climb up and fall in. The silverfish will be trapped inside because they can’t climb smooth surfaces.
natural insect repellents
fly and mosquito controls
natural insect repellents
moth traps and other insect repellents
Kim Erickson has been writing about health and environmental issues for 16 years.