What’s in Your Insect Spray?
‘Natural’ Doesn’t Always Mean Safe.
Mosquitoes and their itchy bites can be more than just an annoyance. They may also pose a heath risk to humans and pets if they are carrying diseases such as West Nile, St Louis Encephalitis, and heart worm disease. In fact, the only way a dog can become infected with heart worm disease is from the bite of an infected mosquito. You can greatly reduce the risk to you and your pets by taking some proven preventative measures, like emptying any standing water around your home and treating your yard with a mosquito barrier.
To avoid exposing your family and pets to harmful chemical pesticides, many of us may be drawn to natural options to keep our yards mosquito free. This would seem to be the safe and logical choice, right?
But do you know what’s actually in the “natural” mosquito sprays that you are considering for your yard and the dangers that those ingredients could pose to you or your pets?
Pyrethrum, Pyrethrins & Pyrethroids
Many insecticides used to control mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests are touted as being natural or derived from natural ingredients. These insecticides contain substances known as pyrethrums, which are made up of pyrethrins and pyrethroids. So what exactly are those substances?
Pyrethrum is the common name given to naturally occurring compounds that can be used as an insecticide. These compounds are extracted from certain types of chrysanthemums. These flowers belonged to a genus of Old World plants that were once known as pyrethrums. They are a mixture of 6 closely related chemical compounds known as pyrethrins.
These natural pyrethrins are poisons that affect the insect’s nervous system. Moments after application and contact, the insect will become immobilized. However, some insects are able to use enzymes to detoxify the pyrethrins, leaving them only temporarily immobilized. This is sometimes known as the knockdown effect. Within moments, the insects are able to move again.
To ensure that the insecticides are lethal, additional chemicals are added to the compound. These chemicals are called synergists. These non-natural additives delay the enzyme action and provide more killing power.
Pyrethroids are semi-synthetic and synthetic derivatives (man-made chemicals) that have been developed to be more effective than their natural counterparts. These synthetic compounds vary in toxicity and constitute a majority of commercial household insecticides on the market today, including mosquito control, and flea and tick treatments.
Are these insecticides safe?
Toxicity depends on the species involved, the concentration, and what synergists and carriers were added.
Pyrythrum is toxic at very small levels to beneficial insects like bees. They are vital to plant pollination. When bees come in contact with pyrethrum, it is fatal. They are also toxic to other insects that help control the population of “pest” insects.
Pyrethrums in water ways are extremely toxic to aquatic organisms, including fish and tadpoles.They are also moderately toxic to birds.
Cats are extremely sensitive to pyrethrins and pyrethroids. This is because our feline friends are unable to quickly metabolize or break them down due to their unique liver metabolism. It’s important for pet owners to avoid using flea and tick treatments with high concentrations of pyrethrins / pyrethroids on or around their cats.
Exposure to Insecticides
Studies show that there are many known dangers due to exposure to pyrethrum insecticides. These dangers include:
- increased tumor growth in laboratory testing,
- anemia due to exposure in laboratory testing,
- increased risk of leukemia for farmers using pyrethrins,
- disrupted function of human sex hormones,
- life-threatening allergic reactions; including heart attack and asthma,
- sneezing, nasal stuffiness, headache, nausea, in-coordination, tremors, convulsions, facial flushing / swelling, and burning and itching sensations,
- and severe poisonings in infants, who are not able to efficiently break down pyrethrum.
Today, many of these insecticides are touted as being natural and derived from chrysanthemums. But as you can see, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. So, when it is time to choose an insecticide to treat the pests in and around your home, don’t believe the flowery talk. It’s important to research and find a product that is safe for your entire family, pets, and surrounding wildlife and environment.
If you have questions regarding how to safely protect your yard against mosquitoes and other pests, we’re here to help. Contact us today!