Chlorpyrifos, which was removed from home and garden use by the EPA in 2000 due to a risk of neurological damage, has been linked to lower birth weight and smaller head circumferences in newborns. Chlordane, which was banned in the U.S. in 1988, can last in the soil for decades and can accumulate in the tissues of wildlife.
Researchers showed that these two chemicals were among the three most commonly detected pesticides on the floors of homes. In a sampling of 500 homes nationwide, chlorpyrifos was found in 78 percent and chlordane in 64 percent.
Chlordane’s tendency to stick around is primarily why it was withdrawn from the market, said Dan Stout, an EPA biologist in Washington D.C. who conducted the sampling study. “It just tends to hang around too long.”
When a pesticide is used indoors a lot of it will be absorbed by the carpet, walls and floor. “That house is like a leaky box,” said Stout. “What gets in doesn’t tend to get back out.”
This leads to concentrations of chemicals indoors that are on average 10 to 100 times greater than concentrations outdoors.
“It’s a funny world,” said Stout, “that I would take a poison and put it into my home to control a pest. But on the other hand, if I don’t do that, I can be overrun by insects and pest activity, and that has its own negative repercussions such as asthma triggers. It’s kind of you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t based on current technology. But things have gotten better.”
Scholl-Buckwald points out cities across the country, from San Francisco to New York City, are focusing on reducing pesticide use.
New York City has crafted policies that incorporate integrated pest management into current maintenance programs for city-owned property and has prohibited city agencies from using cancer-causing chemicals.
The chemical industry does not have alternatives to the chemicals prohibited by New York City. “When this list was discussed several years ago,” Reardon said, “we did not believe that there was a scientific basis for creating the list. The [banned] products are registered and approved for safe use by the U.S. EPA and the State of New York.”
Many experts agree with the chemical industry that integrated pest management can’t solve every pest problem.
“There are times when the infestation was so bad you had to complement the integrated pest management with some spraying,” said Brenner.
In milder cases, Kass recommends using covered cockroach baits, gels that can be inserted directly into cracks and old-fashioned mouse traps.
“The main thing to know is that pesticides by definition were designed to kill,” said Scholl-Buckwald, “and it is a myth to think that they only kill bugs. There are very, very effective alternatives out there, but it’s going to take a little looking.”
The alternatives employed by Eddie Rosenthal in his Brooklyn apartment seem to be working so far.
“This so crazy,” he said. “I feel like this is a siege.”
Rosenthal purchased special devices that isolate his bed and night stand from the floor, and he slid them away from the wall. He even put Vaseline on the cord of his bedside lamp so he doesn’t provide a bridge for insects. Diatomaceous earth, a powder made up of fossilized algae, was squeezed from a ketchup bottle into the spaces between walls.
Yet Rosenthal has not ruled out using pesticides.
“Only from desperation and loathing would I have them come into my apartment and spray,” he said.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.