Bug sprays, weed killers, and basically any kind of eradicating chemical frighten people. Just consider the case of glyphosate, a 40-year-old weed killer that many consider extremely safe. In recent years, though, concern about its effects on people and the environment has grown, leading to legal cases and increased calls for its regulation.
When it comes to bug sprays, things can quickly become much more frightening, especially when there are children in the house. After all, anything designed to kill living creatures can’t be that good for humans, right? Well, things aren’t quite that simple, which is why we’ve put to together this short guide about indoor bug spray and child safety.
Bug Spray Toxicity
Clients often ask us, “Is this indoor bug spray safe for babies?” or “Is this a harmful chemical repellent?” Unfortunately, that’s a difficult question to answer simply. Why? Much of the reason has to do with the way in which toxicity itself works. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “The dose is the poison.” While helpful, it’s not entirely accurate. Let us explain why.
According to the Pesticide Safety Education Program of Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension (which happens to be a federally mandated program), “The effect of a pesticide, or any substance for that matter, is dependent on a number of factors. The most important factor is the dose-time relationship.” The dose-time relationship is actually fairly easy to understand, and it helps to explain why many concerns about harmful chemical repellents are overstated.
A dose is the amount of chemical to which a person or animal is exposed. Time measures the length of exposure. When put together, these two factors determine your toxicity risk. The ways in which toxins enter your body include through your skin (dermal), your respiratory system (inhalation), or by eating and drinking (oral). If you receive a large dose over a short period, then you could end up with acute exposure (i.e., severe exposure). If you receive small doses over an extended period, then you would have chronic exposure (i.e., persistent exposure).
Detailing these terms and concepts may seem pedantic. However, it’s important to understand when considering the safe, minimal-exposure approach used by Smithereen and other pest-control companies that have adopted integrated pest management.
Indoor usage of bug spray
Let’s return to the twin ideas of acute exposure and chronic exposure in terms of keeping children safe when dealing with pests. As we’ve seen, it’s not enough to select an infant-safe bug spray or think that you’ve finally found a safe pest aerosol. That’s due to a very simple reason: Children or infants’ toxicity risk is directly related to how much of the toxic chemical they come into contact with and how long that contact lasts.
Consider some real world scenarios. You discover a terrible infestation of, say, cockroaches in your child’s room. You or a fly-by-night exterminator bomb the space with a product guaranteed to kill the nasty critters. It does — but your kid accidentally wanders into the space immediately after the treatment. That would lead to acute exposure.
Now let’s think about what could happen if you approached the same situation in a different way. You or your exterminator pick a different product and spray it more judiciously, making sure to keep your little one outside during the treatment. The only problem is that you fail to eliminate all of the bugs. That leads to repeated spraying and your child coming into contact with much smaller doses of the chemical over a lengthy period of time. You can see how even the best safe indoor bug spray could cause chronic exposure.
Indoor Bug Spray and Kids
Such scenario slinging isn’t just spitballing. Academics and professionals have documented how situations like the ones above have led to unhealthy amounts of exposure for children. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health released a case report about how a 13-month-old child experienced facial paresthesia after coming in contact with pyrethroid-containing pesticide. (Pyrethroids are an active ingredient that’s highly toxic to insects and not very toxic to people. Paresthesia is a medical condition that involves a seemingly spontaneous tingling feeling and, if it happens on the face, spasms or tics.)
The study stated, “History taking revealed the patient’s family had been coincidentally treating an ant problem in their house (previous two weeks) using products they purchased and applied themselves as instructed on the label. They also reported hiring a licensed pest management professional (PMP) to treat their home (indoors and outdoors) during the same period. The expanded exposure history discerned multiple pesticide types and applications in the home.” In other words, the family’s actions accidentally led to a classic case of chronic exposure.
Before you get too worried, know that the human body tends to metabolize and excrete these particular chemicals rather quickly. Additionally, the study’s authors said that “this is the first child case report of pyrethroid pesticide toxicity manifesting in facial paresthesias.” In other words, it’s an extremely rare issue. However, the authors also noted, “After spray application, pesticide residues settle on floors and surfaces, which contributes to a higher risk of dermal contact for children who crawl and play on the floor. Younger children exhibit the highest extent of hand to mouth and mouth to object behavior, which can increase exposure to residential pesticide residues.”
Tips To Reduce Kids’ Chances of Pesticide Poisoning
As the above case study shows, you should avoid the wide spraying of chemicals in areas where children may come in contact with them. Other steps you can take include:
- Avoiding indiscriminately spraying insecticides such as bug bombs
- Storing pesticides in safe places where children can’t come in contact with them
- Selecting gels or solids instead of sprays
- Removing children from an area or the home entirely during a treatment
- Thoroughly cleaning treated areas after an appropriate time has passed (cleaning too soon quickly can reduce a treatment’s effectiveness against pests)
The final step that you can take to ensure the safety of your little ones involves hiring a pest-management company like Smithereen that uses an integrated pest management approach. Unlike spray-and-pray exterminators, integrated pest management is an environmentally friendly approach that eliminates pests while reducing pesticide exposure. In addition to minimizing our insecticide use while treating current infestations, we also seek to understand how the pests gained access to your property and prevent them from doing so in the future. Not only does this approach benefit the environment as a whole, it also keeps your children safe. Contact or call us today at (800) 336-3500 to learn how we can help!