The Perils of Pyrethrins, and Other Pesticide Problems

A new class of pesticides is making a growing number of people sick — leading to death in some cases — according to a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity.

Pyrethrins, derived from chrysanthemums, and their synthetic equivalents, pyrethroids, first started showing up on the market in large quantities a little more than a decade ago, but they’re now in mosquito nets, flea collars, gardening products, lice shampoo and countless other products.

In some cases, they are sprayed by misters directly over fast-food restaurants.

The Center’s report found a 300 percent rise over the past decade in the number of reported cases of severe reactions to pyrethrins and pyrethroids.

Together, they accounted for 26 percent of all fatal and serious pesticide reactions in the United States in 2007. In 1998, they were implicated in just 15 percent.

And according to the report, the Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to respond — in fact, much of the report’s data came from classified EPA reports attained through the Freedom of Information Act.

In an editorial, the Hartford Courant newspaper praised the Washington, D.C., watchdog group’s report and chastised the EPA. A Chicago Tribune columnist also called the report “important.”

But meanwhile, agencies all over the United States are spraying pyrethroids to combat West Nile Virus.

Officials in India, concerned over mosquito repellents that no longer work, are telling families to sleep under pyrethroid-treated nets, reports The Hindu newspaper.

–Will Crain/


“Perils of the New Pesticides: ‘Safe’ Pesticides Now First in Poisonings”
The Center for Public Integrity, August 2008

“EPA’s Sluggish Response”
The Hartford Courant, August 27, 2008

“‘Beetle juice,’ pesticides and tough SEALs”
Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2008

“Spraying continues as West Nile threat subsides”
Clinton (Mass.) Times & Courier, September 4, 2008

“Mosquito repellents, no longer effective: official”
The Hindu (India), September 8, 2008

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