Effect Measure

Bug bomb illnesses and injuries

If Mrs. R. is typical, it’s a good thing there are no atomic bug bombs or thermonuclear mouse traps or our neighborhood would be a radioactive dead zone. In our case her malevolent vibrations are sufficient to sterilize the area of vermin (that and our dog) but many people resort to chemical bug bombs, called total release foggers (TRFs). These are canisters that release enough pesticide to fill a living area with chemical fog that kills bugs like cockroaches, fleas and flying insects. The pesticides are usually relatively non-toxic to humans, primarily pyrethrins, derived from chrysanthemums, or their synthetic counterparts, but they also contain additives like piperonyl butoxide that affect the insect detoxifying enzymes and could possibly affect the same systems in humans. The vehicles in which the pesticide is dissolved is often flammable and explosions and fires have been caused by area space heaters, pilot lights or sparking electrical circuits. Mostly, though, mishaps are less severe, although it is difficult to get a handle on how often these devices create problems for consumers. In CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) eight states report the first systematic attempt to compile illnesses and injuries related to TRFs.

We begin with some typical case reports:

Case 1. In March 2008, a woman aged 38 years from Washington visited an emergency department with headache, shortness of breath, nausea, leg cramps, burning eyes, cough, and weakness after she was exposed to fumes from three TRFs (in 6-ounce cans) deployed nearly simultaneously by a downstairs apartment neighbor. One TRF each was set off in the crawlspace beneath the house, in the neighbor’s apartment, and in the hallway. The building was an old house converted into apartments, with a single ventilation system connecting all apartments. The neighbor had orally notified some of the tenants but not the patient. The patient recovered completely within 3 days, and the illness was classified as low severity. The TRF dispensed a toxicity category III pesticide product that contained permethrin and tetramethrin as active ingredients.

Case 2. In September 2007, a man aged 34 years who worked as a maintenance worker at an apartment complex in Michigan forgot to disarm the smoke detector before activating a TRF. Because the building elevator shuts down if a smoke detector is triggered, the maintenance worker (without respiratory protection) reentered the mist-filled apartment to disarm the detector. He had onset of cough and upper airway irritation approximately 1 hour after exposure, contacted a poison control center, and did not seek additional medical care. His symptoms resolved within 24 hours, and his TRF-related illness was classified as low severity. He was exposed to a toxicity category III pesticide product with pyrethrins, cyfluthrin, and piperonyl butoxide as active ingredients.

Case 3. In August 2007, a man aged 54 years in California simultaneously set off nine TRFs in his small 700 square foot (6,000 cubic foot) home. Each 1.5-ounce TRF can was designed to treat 5,000 cubic feet of unobstructed space and released a toxicity category III pesticide product containing cypermethrin. When the man returned 6 hours later, a strong odor prompted him to open the doors and windows and to vacate. Entering a second time 4 hours later, the man had onset of headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. He visited an emergency department, where he was treated symptomatically for TRF-related illness with a nebulized anticholinergic bronchodilator, intravenous hydration, and intravenous medication for headache, nausea, and bradycardia. He completely recovered after 36 hours, and his illness was classified as moderate severity. (CDC MMWR)

None of these cases are dramatic but I think they can be taken as typical. In all, this preliminary surveillance system in eight states, using an ad hoc collection of poison control centers and other systems, found 466 cases of acute, pesticide-related illness or injury in 2001 – 2006. Three cases were pregnant women and 44 were in asthmatics. Most occurred in residences, not work places. Failure to get out of the area quickly enough, premature re-entry into the fogged area, accidental discharge and failure to notify others were the main factors contributing to the reported illnesses or injuries. Over 80% were low severity (cases 1 and 2 are typical), 18% moderate severity (case 3) and 2% high severity:

One death was classified by the Washington State Department of Health as suspicious. (This death occurred in a female infant aged 10 months who was put to bed the evening of the day her apartment was treated with three TRFs. The infant was found dead the next morning.) Twenty-one persons were hospitalized for 1 or more days (range: 1–35 days), and 43 persons lost time from work or other usual activities because of their illness or injury.

Pyrethrins and the added knockdown agents are of low acute toxicity in mammals, but can be irritants or sensitizers for some people. Over half the cases for which information was available involved the bug bomber him- or herself and involved the respiratory system. Anaphylactic reactions have been reported to these agents but were not present in this series. Burning or itching of the skin and eyes, gingling and numbness, dizziness, salivation, headache, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, seizure, irritability to sound and touch, and other central nervous system effects have also been associated with pyrethrins in some settings and the propellents and vehicles used in these bombs are capable of setting off reactions in some people.

These do-it-yourself bug bombs are a lower cost alternative to professional pesticide application. They are obviously less discriminating in where the pesticide is applied however and therefore have a greater potential for unintended or unaware exposure. As the MMWR report notes, appropriate usage requires some arithmetic calculation on the part of the resident about treatable volume. That requires not only the ability to do arithmetic (!?!) but the ability to measure or estimate a length, area or volume. Maybe I’m too cynical, but that’s a lot to ask of many people. There is also a tendency for some people to think that if one bug bomb is good, five bug bombs are even better.

Meanwhile, Mrs. R. is roaming the neighborhood with a twelve-gauge shotgun, looking for mice. We’ve been married so long she now thinks chemicals are dangerous.

Comments

  1. #1 Victoria
    October 17, 2008

    Four years ago I was rummaging around the local hardware store and came across an electrical magnetic device, ultra-sonic the emits silent sound waves that does not affect humans. The effects on cockroaches, mice, rates, flies, and mosquitoes, is to keep all the little critters out of the house. I have not sprayed an insecticide, or pyre-thrum spray, nor have I had to lay any traps four years. If you are interested I can give you the name of the company.

  2. #2 Victoria
    October 17, 2008

    Brain not engaged at the moment, please excuse mistakes.

  3. #3 tony
    October 17, 2008

    I’ve always found it odd that farmers and landscapers have to take classes and tests to be able to use pesticides but any Joe (even Joe the plumber) can walk into a hardware store and walk out with an arsenal of moderate to highly toxic materials to lather his home, yard and family without question. I honestly think a short test should be mandatory before buying some of the more toxic pesticides.

    When we lived in Manhattan in the 90′s our favorite TRF was “La Bomba” found in every bodega on the lower east side. La Bomba kept on killing months after release which made me nervous, but our low body mass guinea pigs (cats) are fourteen years old without suffering ill effects. (Yes, we removed the cats before setting La Bomba off.) I hope never to have to use one again, they work too well for my taste.

  4. #4 Karen
    October 17, 2008

    From my years in the retail pet trade, most people don’t use bombs in ways that get effective coverage. Because of this, the places I worked didn’t carry flea bombs. We recommended judicious use of direct application sprays (multi stage) and treatment of the animals themselves. We also recommended heavily vacuuming before treatment, both to pick up fleas and to disturb eggs.

    Another reason for overkill is that many products are adulticides. People think they haven’t used enough when they have another outbreak shortly after use, so the next time, they add more bombs. Eventually this works since they’re killing off the adults before they reproduce, so they think the additional bombs were what did the trick.

    In the years since the topical monthly and IGR containing products have come out, I’ve personally found almost no need to treat for fleas. We’ve certainly got them in the yard, judging by the neighborhood cats who wander through. I’ve treated my menagerie with insecticide twice in the past 10 years, each time with a single dose of a monthly treatment. My first line of defense is bathing the animals with a regular shampoo – of course, my cats are okay with baths – YMMV. :)

    I’d go beyond asking for regulation of JQPublic – how about mandatory training for anyone selling the stuff? Better cost to benefit ratio. My customers had the benefit of someone with a science background who likes reading package inserts. That’s not the average retail sales person.

  5. #5 Tasha
    October 17, 2008

    Your post reminded me of this:
    http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/owiipp/docs/Edition4Pesticides.pdf

    The “real world example” talks about a case back in 2005 where two police officers and three EMTs suffered respiratory distress after entering a home that had been treated with pesticides a few hours earlier. In this particular case the pesticides (a pyrethroid (esfenvalerate) and a pyrethrin (formulated with the synergist-piperonyl butoxide and N-octyl bicycloheptene dicarboxidmide)) were commercially applied. However, one of the residents (an elderly lady) actually died after exposure.

  6. #6 Cathie
    October 17, 2008

    ‘Combat’ works very well — and is much more contained. I had never seen a cockroach in my Manhattan apartment building until some new tenants moved in recently and assured me that they were ‘using bombs’ — the bombs aren’t working but they insist it is stronger than Combat. I may give them a copy of Festinger’s “When Prophecy Fails” — an excellent study (and a good read) that shows how some people amplify their belief in beliefs that fail. Timely.

    I wish the Combat people would make a rodent version that screened in mus and ratus and did not attract other species like microtus (voles, AKA meadow mice) and the wonderful little North American kangaroos — Zapus hudsonius. If at dusk you have every been surprised by a tiny creature popping nearly straight up out of low lying vegetation — you have probably encountered these cute little animals that have white feet and very long tails — who never spend more than accidental time in houses.

    I agree with Mrs. revere on her 12-gauge solution to mus. I am from a rural area, and have a good aim, so I once tried to buy a gun to shoot a herd of rats that had invaded and then ate my Manhattan garden — they had been evicted from another building by a demolition. The gun shop owner got very upset — said “You CAN’T discharge a gun in NYC!!!”

    I had been driven mad by the rats so I was like Palin on wolves — admittedly I hadn’t thought it through too well. I said, “Oh, goodness, what was I thinking?! The police would empty their Glocks on me if I did. I’d be dead!” The gun shop owner was bemused, “No. No! A woman shooting rats — that would be cool. The only problem is that you would never be able to get another gun permit!”

    The bait-shy (therefore trap-shy) rats finally succumbed to a trap bait they could not resist: fresh basil. Truly Upper East Side rats!

  7. #7 g336
    October 18, 2008

    Note the item about the apartments in the building with SHARED VENTILATION.

    Shared ventilation is a MAJOR public health hazard, and will undoubtedly be a factor in fatalities in the next flu pandemic.

    Yet instead of dealing with that issue, some truly stupid city councils have instead done things such as enacting bans on smoking in apartments. Presumably a ban on cooking pork is next, so as not to stink out observant Jews and Muslims in those buildings.

    What is needed is a comprehensive ban on shared-air ventilation systems in ALL residential buildings, regardless of cost to the building owners (give ‘em federal loans: if need be, they can call themselves bankers and apply…)

    What to do about ants:

    Get a water spray bottle of the type you use for misting plants. Fill it mostly with water, and a little dishwashing liquid (the stuff you use to wash dishes by hand), enough to make sudsy foam when you shake the bottle. This, when sprayed on ants, kills them instantly on contact.

    If you add more dish detergent to water in a bottle and shake it vigorously, it will make a slightly damp foam that also kills just about any insect or arachnid on contact.

    The complete solution for ants is to follow them back to the point at which they are entering the building (follow the trail, it’s like following a dotted line where the dots move:-), and then cement up the hole with wall spackle (available in premixed form in little tubs of a few ounces to a half pound). Then kill the ones you can see, either with the detergent spray or by slurping them up with the vacuum cleaner.

    Whatever method of pest control you use, it’s pointless unless you can find out where they’re getting in and cement up the holes with spackle.

    For fleas:

    I once invented a flea trap. It was to consist of a small resistance element that would heat up from wall current to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit; suspended over a board that had contact shelf paper on it, sticky side facing out. Fleas, attracted to the heat, would hop up to reach it, land on the contact paper, become stuck, and die.

    Turns out someone beat me to it, and there is a clever little product availble at many hardware stores, that consists of a night-light bulb for warmth, mounted in front of a backboard made of very very sticky material (that is replaceable), all of this mounted in a little flat plastic cage. These are highly effective at dealing with relatively small numbers of fleas in rooms that are not subject to major infestation. For example the cat infests the living room, and a few fleas straggle into your bedroom: the bedroom is the place to use these little flea traps.

    For the areas with major infestations, whatever else you do, there is no substitute for vacuuming three or four times a day to get as many of the little bastards as possible.

    Oh Rats! (and mice):

    The Rat Zapper. Electrocutes them, for an almost instant death that is the most humane of any lethal method of rodent control. These things apparently work wonders, and since the dead rodent appears to be asleep (no mess), other rodents don’t get scared away from the trap. They cost about $50 last time I checked, but you can re-use them endlessly (take out the batteries when you’re done each season). Also safe for pets, since the electrocution contacts are in the middle of the plastic tunnel, where pets can’t get at them. (Well maybe a cat can get a nasty shock if it reaches inside to try to retrieve a fresh-fried mouse for a midnight snack.)

    Please don’t use “glue boards,” they are incredibly cruel. Imagine dying of dehydration, and being in a state of constant mortal terror right up to the last moments. If you can’t afford a Rat Zapper, use the old fashioned snap traps, since those are almost as fast a death.

    To deal with the entrance holes (mice can squeeze through an opening the size of a nickel, and some rats, an opening the size of a quarter), you may need something stronger than spackle. Fix-All powder is a form of “instant cement” that hardens within minutes after being mixed with water, and is almost as strong as concrete.

    However, particularly for rats, you should use it in conjunction with wire mesh, the kind that has 1/2″ spacing between the wires in each direction, and is used for making rabbit cages. Cut a section of mesh to fit into the rat hole, and then remove it for the moment. Fill the hole most of the way with Fix-All, and then, very quickly before the stuff sets, put the mesh back in the hole and fill the rest of it with Fix-All, taking care to press it into the hole so it bonds around the mesh. Think of it as a scaled-down version of reinforced concrete. This will keep the little buggers out, if for no other reason than it makes it inconvenient to get in, so they will go elsewhere (such as your neighbor’s apartment:-).

    Ultimately, control of ants, roaches, and rodent pests, is a matter of basic sanitation: Wipe down counters with soap & water immediately after preparing food. Wipe up all food spills including food particles on the floor. Mop the floor regularly with detergent and water (Pine Sol works well, and is a mild disinfectant). Vacuum or sweep up crumbs. Do not let dirty dishes accumulate in the sink: wash immediately after using. Keep all refuse containers (indoor and outdoor) covered with tight-fitting lids, and don’t allow loose refuse to accumulate. Remind neighbors to move their cars on street sweeping days; and if they don’t, then get a broom and shovel and clean up the areas the sweeper had to miss. Don’t let dog poop remain on the sidewalk or in the yard (flies carry plenty of diseases): bury it in the ground, or shovel it into newspaper and put it into the refuse bin.

  8. #8 ReiAnna
    February 24, 2011

    Hi. I am writing you to see if the bug bombs could possibly cause kidney failure if somebody set 4-5 off next to the bed you were sleeping in. An ex of mine did that to me everynight for a couple weeks til i was rushed to the ER in a coma almost completely dead

  9. #9 mary
    May 22, 2011

    On july 7th 2009 I set off two raid foggers in my home.I followed directions on the box and shampooed and mopped my tiles before bringing my dogs in.That night I was up all night washing my eyes they burned so bad. The next day they felt a little better and I thought they would be ok. They continued to hurt so I called the company and the lady told me to go to the doctor imediately.The doctor said something definately hurt my eyes, and they were bruised and swollen.He prescribed double dose restasis. The residue on my bed gave me dry eyes.I wonder how many poeple have dry eyes and don’t know why? The S.C.Johnson Co. refused to pay my doctor bills.Fisk Johnson, the ceo,in a comercial on american idol, was in South Africa in a field of flowers looking for natural ingredients to put in their products.I don’t understand why they don’t warn people of the dangers of their products.In 2002 a man reported his dog was foaming of the mouth because of their product and there is still no mention of shampooing or mopping floors to protect the animals.They say they are a family company but oviously the only family they care about is their own.

  10. #10 Linda
    June 19, 2011

    I used bombers for several years. I see a fly in my house its gets bombed by a fogger. I have the ten second rule. ten seconds its not dead bombs are going off tomorrow.
    Yes more is better. Last longer. One in every room and in every closet. that includes your outside shed and laundry room and where you store your car. . so a about 8-12 is good for me.
    My health is good so is all my animals although they are all taken out for 24 hours. Everything is covered.
    My prefume in the summer is OFF.
    Sorry I hate bugs of any kind.
    Has my house blown up over past 40 yrs NO!!! No One died of my foggers…
    My animals get treated every month and my yard is done every 3 months.
    So me from the old school. I’m stil alive and kicking.. Supporting the raid and foggers of tomorrow.
    Thanks .
    Healthy Grandma.

  11. #11 Concerned resident of the future
    AZ
    August 17, 2013

    Grandma…you are an asshole.