Washington: Bug Bombs Linked To Illnesses

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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State health officials have documented dozens of cases of illness or injury from exposure to bug bombs or insect foggers in Washington in the past three years. Many people don't know that these products can be a health risk, especially if directions aren't followed.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Washington Poison Center received 256 reports of people who had symptoms after bug bomb exposure. The Department of Health, which typically documents only the cases reported to the center that seek medical attention, attributed 47 illnesses and injuries associated with bug bombs in the same period.

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People with respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and reactive airways disease are at higher risk. They may develop serious breathing difficulty and require emergency care after breathing the fog or re-entering the treated area too soon. In addition to the risk to people, improper use of foggers can cause fires or explosions.

The Department of Health co-wrote a letter with the Department of Agriculture notifying the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the health hazards from insect foggers. Specific recommendations in the letter to EPA (www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/Pest/081721epa.pdf) include improving health warnings on packages, adding safety features to fogger cans, and investigating certain products that were associated with more than half of the reported exposures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported on 466 fogger exposures from eight states, including Washington. Although 80 percent of the cases identified in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article had minor symptoms, 20 percent had moderate to severe symptoms that required medical attention. More than 20 people in these cases were hospitalized for longer than one day. The state health department classified the death of a 10 month old baby as "suspicious" after it was exposed to fumes from insect foggers; the exact cause of death was not determined.

The most common mistakes consumers make in Washington are using too many foggers in an area, not following directions on re-entry and ventilation, and leaving foggers in reach of young children. Closely following instructions can reduce the risk of injury or illness.

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