Use only EPA-approved pesticides
Use only US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved pesticides if you absolutely must use a chemical bug spray. Using only EPA-approved pesticides helps protect you and wildlife, as non-approved pesticides can be far more harmful than approved pesticides.
Using EPA-approved pesticides helps you go green because…
- Chemical pesticides that have not been approved and registered by the EPA may be extremely toxic to you and the environment. If a substance has not been approved and registered by the EPA, the health and environmental safety impact of the product has not been determined. Always use the product in the approved manner—outdoor pesticides should not be used indoors unless also approved for that use, for example.
In 2001, over three billion dollars worth of insecticides were purchased in the US, representing over one-third of the total world market. Nearly $1.3 billion was spent on insecticides for home and garden use, nearly as much as that used for commercial agriculture. Exposure to small amounts of chemical pesticides can cause serious health problems in humans (especially children) and pets, and even those who do not use pesticides can suffer from their pervasive use.
Pesticides may also harm the habitat of endangered species because of drift, runoff, or leachates that may contaminate the water, soil, or vegetation used by the species. Both the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon became endangered because of the use of the insecticide DDT, but populations rebounded after use of the insecticide was banned.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states register or license pesticides for use in the US. The EPA registers pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Before a pesticide can be registered, the EPA requires over 100 tests to determine the safety of the product. These tests are to determine that the pesticide "can be used with a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health and without posing unreasonable risks to the environment."
The EPA re-registers old pesticides to ensure that they meet current safety standards, and is also reassessing the maximum residue limits for pesticides used on food. States may also impose their own restrictions on the use or sale of a particular pesticide, and in general are responsible for the enforcement of pesticide regulations in the state.
The pesticides that the EPA regulates encompass a wide variety of substances beyond insecticides, including herbicides, fungicides, plant regulators, and rodenticides. Some common products that are considered pesticides by the EPA:
- Cockroach sprays and baits
- Insect repellents for personal use
- Rat and other rodent poisons
- Flea and tick sprays, powders, and pet collars
- Kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers
- Products that kill mold and mildew
- Some lawn and garden products, such as weed killers
- Some swimming pool chemicals
- Some pest control devices
The EPA does not regulate disease-controlling drugs, fertilizers, biological control mechanisms (i.e. beneficial predators, except for certain microbial pesticides), and some natural, low-risk products (natural, nontoxic pesticides, such as those made from plant essential oils).
The EPA assigns a toxicity category to all pesticides ranging from Toxicity Category I (most toxic) to Category IV (least toxic). Pesticides in all four categories may be fatal if orally ingested, inhaled, or exposed to the skin. Category I pesticides are required to bear the signal word "Danger" on the front and must also bear the word "Poison" if it is a Category I based on fatal ingestion toxicity levels (as opposed to corrosive effects on skin and eyes). Category II, III, and IV pesticides must bear the signal words "Warning" or "Caution" to alert consumers to possible health effects.
A recent controversy surrounds the labeling requirements for insecticides sold in the US. The EPA forces manufacturers to list active ingredients on their labels, but critics maintain that inert ingredients (which may be up to 99 percent of the product) should be listed as well. These inert ingredients often work to make the active ingredients more effective, but can cause cancer, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, birth defects, and other problems to users and in the environment.
Another recent controversy surrounded the canceled Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) that would have paid Florida parents to purposely expose their young children to pesticides in exchange for cash payments. The program called for parents to spray pesticides in the rooms of their children under age three and allow the EPA to study the effects on their development. After outcry by the EPA's own scientists and the public, the study was cancelled.
Related health issues
The health effects of exposure to bug sprays depends on the type of bug spray used and the level of exposure. Chemical bug sprays and fumigants can irritate the skin or eyes, affect the central nervous system (carbamates and organophosphates), disrupt the endocrine system, and some may be carcinogens. Most chemical bug sprays are toxic to humans if ingested or inhaled. Extreme caution should be exercised when using these products and exposure to humans and animals should be minimized.
- Beyond Pesticides
- US Environmental Protection Agency - National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
- US Environmental Protection Agency - About Pesticides: 2000-2001 Pesticide Market Estimates: Sales
- Canadian Peregrine Foundation - Have peregrine falcons and bald eagles recovered in Ontario to the point that the Province of Ontario should be down listing them?
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Region 5 Information Resources: Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticides: Regulating Pesticides
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticide Reregistration Facts
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticide Tolerances
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticide Compliance and Enforcement
- US Environmental Protection Agency - About Pesticides
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticides: Health and Safety
- Office of New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo - Press Release: States Petition EPA To Require Disclosure of Secret Ingredients in Pesticides
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility - EPA and Human Testing: What is CHEERS?