Wednesday, January 19, 2022 Jan 19, 2022
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Some of the pesticides used in your home have been proven to cause neurological, renal and hepatic damage. They may or may not be safe if used according to label instructions. The technician using them may or may not have a license and may or may not know what he is doing. If the chemicals are misapplied, you may or may not be able to clean up contamination that has by now been distributed throughout your home. The nightmare of a Dallas family and the chemical that is changing their lives.


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WHEN CASEY AND John Bergen married in December 1982, they took on all the challenges inherent in the institution of second marriage: the integration of silverware drawers and closet space, the more difficult adaptation of her two sons to his fathering style, her cat and dog to his cat and dog. For the most part, the merger transpired with amazing ease. In April, the four moved into a big, middle-aged house in Preston Hollow. It was their dream house, soon done up in new paint and bright, clean wallpaper symbolic of the fresh start they all had made.

The Bergens lived in their new home 18 months. During that year and a half, they saw their family’s health deteriorate and began to wonder if they all were falling apart. Headaches, dizziness and nausea plagued John almost from the moment he walked in the door after work until he left again in the morning. Casey’s vision became blurred, and she would often wake in the night and vomit. Her then 10-year-old son, Patrick, dropped 10 pounds, passed out twice and had headaches and stomach cramps so severe they took him to the emergency room thinking he had appendicitis. Thomas, their then 12-year-old, had headaches, too, and had an unusually hard time concentrating.

Finally, Casey and John put all the pieces together. The musty odor they had wondered about even before they’d bought the house, and hadn’t been able to rid it of since, had something to do with the way they felt. They eventually learned the smell was a dangerous pesticide called chlordane. It would change their lives radically. Chlordane is an organ-ochloride proven to cause kidney damage and neurological and hepatic dysfunction in humans. It was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for most purposes in 1974, but is still approved and remains the most commonly used pesticide for subsurface termite control.

After reviewing testing done by the Texas State Department of Health, three physicians and a toxicologist advised the Bergens to move out. They were told to leave every book, every paper, every photo, every stick of furniture, every item of clothing they owned behind. They’ll never return to live there again and doubt they’ll ever recover most of their possessions.

The Bergens’ story is frightening and controversial, especially since chlordane and similarly dangerous chemicals are routinely used at one time or another to control termites and other pests in almost all Dallas homes. More often than not, the pesticide applicators are high school graduates without any certification or extensive training in the exterminating field. Businesses are relatively unregulated, and the chemicals, as they are applied, may or may not be completely safe.

A congressional study conducted in 1982 showed that as many as 93 percent of pesticides on the market had not been tested sufficiently on their propensity to cause genetic damage and 84 percent had not been tested sufficiently on their ability to cause cancer. Some of those pesticides have been around so long, they’ve been “grandfathered” into modern use, having had almost no safety testing done. Studies on the cumulative effects of low doses of some termiticides, such as chlordane, are almost nonexistent, although that chemical has been shown to be one of the most persistent in the environment, with residues that can remain up to 20 years after application.

Chlordane products are available in most grocery and hardware stores. Not only can an exterminator who does his job haphazardly endanger your health and home, you can do it yourself. Any home handyman can buy a gallon jug of 74 percent chlordane, ignore the label instructions and use the product in a way that could jeopardize all those currently living in the home and even future owners.

“People must realize,” says Norman Dyer with the Dallas office of the Environmental Protection Agency, “that the government can go only so far in determining if a product can be used safely. Because these chemicals are poisons, their safe use depends on the user.” And “safety” turns out to be a dangerously vague term. Dr. Ruth W. Shearer, a Washington consultant in genetic toxicology, points out that pesticide labels are still based on the lethal dose after brief exposure. The degree of toxicity indicated on the label does not take into account the risk of low-dose cumulative damage. She says that in a letter from EPA Region X commenting on an environmental impact statement of the Washington Department of Ecology it was stated that “the implication that adherence to label restrictions eliminates all threat to human health is not warranted.”

The Bergens did not link their health problems with chlordane until September 1984. On the 23rd of that month, Casey threw a surprise birthday party for her father. Before guests began arriving, she shut the house completely and fired up the air conditioner full-blast. It was an extravagance she rarely used, but she knew her warm-blooded father wouldn’t be happy otherwise. After the party, eight of the 13 family members present became ill.

Casey says the next weekend, when a change in the weather caused them to close up the house and turn on the heater, she woke during the night, short of breath, with a severe headache. She imagined she might be having a stroke until John and Patrick also awakened ill. They thought at first they had all contracted the same virus, but then noticed the smell, which was so much stronger when the house was shut up and the air conditioner or heater was on.

The Bergens first turned to Blackmon-Mooring Steamatic, a company that specializes in cleaning up after disasters such as fires and floods, and asked them to come and clean out the duct work and the air handling system to try to rid the house of the odor. But a company inspector who came out to give them an estimate said that Blackmon-Moor-ing wouldn’t touch it. “What you’re smelling,” he said, “is a toxic smell-a chemical or a pesticide.”

After that, the Bergens called the Texas Department of Health. An industrial hygien-ist, John Hulla, came and did the first air samples to test for chemicals. He said the results were the highest he’d ever seen in a non-occupational area-185 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Hulla said the health department wasn’t allowed to tell them what to do, but that he would send them a copy of an Air Force study on chlordane in military housing.

The study to which Hulla referred was the first that clearly stated the potential for disaster that chlordane has. In 1970, pesticide fumes were detected inside two homes at Webb Air Force base in Big Spring, Texas. An investigation revealed that the chemical had been injected accidentally into the air ducts located in the slab foundations of the homes. Two years later, the Air Force received numerous complaints of an unusual odor in homes at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Testing there revealed the presence of the pesticide in the vast majority of those homes, although the treatment was proven to have been done properly.

After still more findings of chlordane contamination in Air Force housing, the Air Force asked the National Research Council’s Committee on Toxicology to evaluate the significance of chlordane exposure to persons living in Air Force housing. The academy responded in 1979 that it “could not determine a level of exposure to chlordane below which there would be no biological effect under conditions of prolonged exposure of families in military housing.”

By current military standards, an acceptable level of chlordane in the home is below five micrograms per cubic meter-less than one-thirtieth the level the Bergens were breathing in their home.

After calling several city consumer agencies, not really knowing where to turn for help, Casey was given the name of Dr. Tom Kurt, a toxicologist who, after hearing the results of the health department’s tests, advised the family to leave their home. Two physicians, Dr. Martin Buehler and Dr. Joe Hanig, also wrote letters saying that it was their professional opinion, based on the health department’s test results, that the Ber-gens should leave their home and its contents.

Later, another lab, TALEM Inc. in Fort Worth, found thorough contamination on some shoes, a jacket and some Christmas ornaments that had been stored in the Bergens’ house. Tag Coolidge, owner of that lab, said the vapors were so strong he could taste them. Dr. Morris Key of Key Laboratories inspected the house and wrote a letter to the Bergens’ attorney, also saying the house was uninhabitable. Key says he expects his tests to confirm the state’s tests. “In order to sell that house, they’ll have to find somebody who’ll just arm-wave the problem away. . . somebody like a chlordane distributor. But even then, I guarantee you they’ll have to discount the price.”

John Bergen argued that it was ridiculous that they should have to move out; who’d ever heard of such a thing? But their chief concern at that time was Patrick’s health. Maybe this was the answer. The family filed out the front door and went to Casey’s aunt’s home, where they deposited the clothes they were wearing in black plastic trash bags and put on borrowed T-shirts and jeans. Casey teased John that she’d finally found a way to get rid of the moose head he was so proud of and the polyester pants he hoped would someday come back into style. They didn’t mention the thousands of dollars’ worth of antiques they’d left behind. At that time, they thought they would someday return home.

Immediately after moving out, the health of Casey, John and Thomas improved. Their headaches and nausea subsided, although tests revealed that chlordane was still present in John’s and Patrick’s bloodstreams. Examinations of Patrick revealed high blood pressure and a tumor attached to his aorta near his lower spine. Last December, surgeons removed a benign growth four inches in diameter that had been wrapped around the tissue surrounding his aorta. It was a pheochromocytoma, a condition so rare that as of 1979 there had been only 140 such tumors reported in children in the world.

Although no physicians are willing to say the tumor was caused or even enhanced by the chlordane, the coincidental timing of the exposure and the manifestation of the tumor causes Casey to hope, perhaps desperately, that it, too, can be blamed on the chemical contaminations.

But toxicologist Dr. Tom Kurt says that since Patrick is much younger than the typically 16 to 20 year latency period associated with chemical induction of cancer, there is no way to prove the exposure to chlordane had anything to do with his condition. Dr. Joe Rutledge, a pathologist, says that although he believes that the two are unrelated, it’s hard to come to any conclusions because the level of exposure to chlordane and the pheochromocytoma are so rare.

Dr. Martin Buehler, the family’s internist, says he can say without reasonable doubt that other health problems the family suffered, including plebitis and blood clotting disorders, are associated with the chlordane. He also says that some of the symptoms Patrick suffered in connection with the tumor were increased by his exposure to the chemical.

Regardless of what caused the disorder, Patrick has recovered so well from the operation that he plans to try out for softball this spring. But he’ll have to return to the hospital often for tests to be sure the tumor growth does not recur.

Neither the family nor their attorney, James Mills of The Law Offices of Windle Turley, is willing yet to speculate as to exactly how the chlordane came to be so concentrated inside the Bergens’ home. In some similar cases, flaws in the ventilation system have caused the chemical to be sucked from under the house, where it was sprayed to prevent termites, and then distributed throughout the house through heating and air conditioner ducts.

Attorney Mills says the challenge in toxic tort cases such as this one is getting an expert to say first, “yes, the chemical is present;” second, “in the amount in which it is present it renders the house uninhabitable;” and third, “looking at the family’s medical records, I can say within a degree of medical probability that we can link the chemical with the plaintiffs’ health problems.” Mills believes he has these elements.

To date, three defendants have been named in the lawsuit: the real estate agents who sold the home, the previous owners of the house and Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., the pesticide company that treated the house several times for termites and other pests. Mills has lots of confidence in this lawsuit; he says he has enough on Orkin to “go to the races.” “People don’t leave everything they own and walk away from all the material things of life for a frivolous lawsuit. This goes far beyond faking injuries.”

Officials at Orkin declined to comment on the case or provide any information about the company, its procedures or training program.

ORKIN NEEDN’T feel alone in its litigation. Judging by the number of Dallas families with horror stories similar to the Bergens’, mistakes and complications-and the resulting lawsuits-are not uncommon. An accidental poisoning by an exterminator first gained local attention in 1982, when Dr. Amanullah Khan filed a $369,000 case against Miss Phoebe’s Pest Control Co. (now defunct) and Velsicol, the Chicago-based manufacturer of chlordane. Khan alleged that the exterminator negligently sprayed the chemical into the air-conditioning duct system of his home at 4324 Briar Creek Lane, permanently contaminating it and causing Khan, his wife and two young daughters to suffer severe headaches, fevers, numbness, fatigue and other health problems. A court date has still not been set.

Last August, Chuck Auten, a Braniff pilot, and his wife, Helen, won a third-party negligence and deceptive trade practice jury verdict against Allied Pesticide Control of Dallas, with actual damages totaling $335,000. Their attorney, Jim Francis, is asking that that amount be trebled, since he claims the company knowingly violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Allied was found liable for its use of the chemical dursban. The Autens believe Allied fogged with the chemical, which has been banned in some states for all but substructural termite control. Fogging with dursban is illegal in Texas, since no safe levels for use in the home have been determined, and tests show the chemical can damage the nervous system. Allied is expected to appeal or seek to settle the case.

The Autens left their home and its contents in 1981 after suffering headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, diarrhea, muscle spasms, hair loss and numbness after the treatment of their home for carpet beetles. Chemical analysis tests run on some items from their home by the Pesticide Hazard Assessment Project at Texas Tech School of Medicine in San Benito found a chair skirt to contain 20 micrograms of chloropyrifos, the scientific name for the organophosphate, dursban. The chemical was found present in almost every one of the approximately 30 samples tested over two years by the Texas Tech lab. But Joe Clark, an investigator with Texas Structural Pesticide Board (the body empowered by the EPA to regulate exterminating companies) did a swab sample and found neither the pesticide that the company claimed to have used nor dursban.

Mrs. Auten is still bitter toward that agency, as well as the EPA. “I’m shocked,” she says. “These agencies are mandated to protect the public, but it’s been our experience that the ones they protect are the exterminators, the poison peddlers. I called all these agencies-consumer agencies-and their response was, ’That’s terrible,’ but they didn’t help.”

Dr. William Lowry, chief of the controlled substances section of the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science, a Dallas County agency, and a faculty member at Southwestern Medical School, did testing on the Auten house and detected no toxic substances. “There was nothing wrong with that house,” he says. “It beats me how they won the case. I was very surprised at the verdict.” Lowery often serves as a paid consultant in toxic torts, not a routine sideline for a county employee. When testing soil from around the RSR Corp. lead smelter plant, his report was the only one of all the government and private consultants who did testing to observe only negligible levels of lead contamination. In another chlordane case, Lowry was one of four experts who ran dozens of tests. Then, too, he said that his tests for the chemical showed concentrations substantially lower than the findings of the other experts.

During court proceedings, the defense implied that Helen Auten poisoned her home herself or tampered with the samples she sent to be analyzed. After the trial Chuck Auten answered the phone one evening to hear an anonymous voice call him a “blood sucker” and “a parasite.” “We know there’s nothing in that house,” the caller said. But if the Autens made some enemies in their court victory, they also made some friends. They gained a following of families across the country who plan to ask for similar compensation for the problems they attribute to pesticide poisonings. Helen Auten says she’s received at least 15 calls about possible pesticide contaminations, and she can reel off an amazing list of names and horror stories concerning cancers, birth defects and respiratory ailments allegedly resulting from misuse of pesticides by professionals in homes across the nation.

Most of the families we talked with asked that their names not be used because they were involved in or planning litigation. A physician says the diasonon in his home has caused a permanent disturbance in his wife’s nervous system that affects her speech. He says he had a contract with a Dallas pesticide company to treat his home once every six weeks, but that he was never warned of the problems the chemical could cause.

A nurse says that the chemical aldrin destroyed immunities in her son a few years ago. The chemical was misprayed in the family’s redwood hot-tub room and the effects of the chemical were intensified, she believes, by the moisture present. Redwood is itself resistant to termites, so there was no reason for it to have been sprayed there in the first place. She says the Structural Pesticide Board has not even acknowledged her complaint. “I feel strongly that there are thousands and thousands of people who don’t even know that the chemicals they pay to have applied to their homes are causing their health problems.”

Another family, already familiar with the problems caused by chlordane, has put their newly purchased and decorated North Dallas home on the market because they are unsure whether the relatively low levels of chlordane found in their home are safe. Their infant son became extremely lethargic and irritable soon after they moved into their home. The child’s mother experienced blurred vision and nausea and could not rid the house of a musty smell even after painting and recar-peting. Blood tests run on the boy two weeks after they moved out of the house showed elevated white blood cell and liver enzyme counts. Some tests have shown such changes common to chlordane exposure.

NEWS OF THESE cases and the panic these families’ stories are causing in their neighborhoods raise a basketful of questions to be asked of the chemical and exterminating industries and the government bodies charged with regulating them. Are label instructions adequate guidelines for a family’s safety? Is the training and licensing of exterminating companies sufficiently rigid? Do the regulatory bodies do their job responsibly? Is safety testing of pesticides sufficiently extensive?

David Ivie. executive director of the Texas Structural Pesticide Board (TSPB), presides over the 3,200 licensed exterminating businesses in the state. Ideally, TSPB inspectors see to it that the board’s laws and regulations are enforced, that exterminating businesses maintain proper records and instruct their employees correctly. Although annually there are eight to 10 million exterminating jobs done in the state and over $1 billion spent on pest control, the board now has only seven full-time inspectors to watch over those businesses and investigate complaints. Compare this to the Texas Barber Board, which has 11 inspectors. Ivie has asked the state to approve the hiring of three more full-time inspectors.

The board received 140 complaints between September 1 of last year and the end of February-a high number, Ivie says, for the winter months. In a previous 12-month period, the board received about 400 complaints. Of those, 52 involved pesticide misuse.

Ivie says that the number of complaints the board receives is increasing because of the growing number of exterminating businesses and the growing awareness of the problems that pesticides can cause. He says he believes the public is overreacting to news about such problems, and that “it’s just in vogue to talk about it.” To support his position, he quotes a 1982 Scientific American poll on how the public perceived different health hazards vs. their actual level of danger based on scientific data. The general public rated pesticides 12th. College students rated them fourth, and the League of Women Voters rated pesticides ninth in order of perceived danger. By contrast, scientific data showed smoking to be the No. 1 health hazard, while pesticides ranked only 28th out of a possible 30.

“The majority of problems we have are always results of misuse,” Ivie says. “We have not been able to document any adverse effects of approved chemicals if they are used correctly. The industry is changing-10 years ago, they were using secret ingredients to treat houses. Now there are no big secrets about what chemicals are used. All have been tested, registered and approved by the EPA.

“We run into problems when consumers who were buying pesticide products 10 years ago still use them the way they did at that time, regardless of what the current label says. Ten years ago, it was legal to spray peaches with chlordane. That’s one reason we’ve asked the Commissioner of Agriculture to make chlordane available only to certified applicators. We stress that people should not have any more exposure to pesticides than is absolutely necessary.”

Since pesticides are described by the industry as safe only if used according to label directions, the competence of the exterminator who shows up to treat your home is vital. Unfortunately, in most cases you’ll have to trust the judgment of the company you choose rather than asking to see credentials yourself.

Texas law does not require that an exterminator be licensed or certified, and the vast majority are not. Only the owner of the business is required to have a business license and certification. Among the 3,200 licensed exterminating businesses in Texas there are only about 5,000 certified applicators to supervise technicians who must merely be declared “competent” by their company. Most companies have their own training programs and provide opportunities for their technicians to attend seminars hosted by the TSPB, the EPA, manufacturers and universities. They are usually encouraged or required to study to complete courses for certification.

The test for certification in Texas is a three-hour exam given in Austin that consists of five sections including termite control, weed control, lawn care, fumigation and general pest control. An applicant may take one or all parts and must have 12 months’ experience during the past two years working under a certified operator. Technicians working without certification must receive “verifiable instructions” on how to do a job from a certified applicator, either through training programs, written instructions or verbally. Only one rare type of exterminating work requires that a certified applicator be present: structural fumigation, usually done locally to rid structures of powder post beetles.

Compare those rather casual requirements with, again, the Texas Barber Board, which requires 1,500 hours formal schooling spread over a period of not less than nine months, and successful completion of a practical exam and an anatomy exam before a candidate can be granted a first class A license.

Allied, the company the Autens sued, has its own highly structured training program. Owner Bill Davis says that all of his technicians are “required to be studying to complete” a pest control technology correspondence course through Purdue University. A newly hired worker will start off answering the phone while he studies basic insect types, state rules, labeling and types of treatments. He’ll be tested over what he learns and will then spend two weeks in the field working with a “team leader” before beginning to do home maintenance jobs alone.

Davis says he feels “perfectly good” about the methods and chemicals his company uses. “Integrity and common sense play a big part in this business, and they’re hard to test for. If any of us thought what we were doing was causing injury to ourselves or someone else, common sense would tell us not to do it.”

But “common sense” is an evolving skill. James Price, president of Oliver Goldsmith Co., can remember the days in the late Forties when even his well-respected pest control company was fogging houses with chlor-dane while dishes and food were still out on the kitchen table. He remembers one company stringing a large hose from its truck through the front window of a house and spraying with lindane.

Price says he’s thankful for the stricter guidelines the EPA has required of his business. “It put the industry on a higher plane. We want the safest product in the home that’s possible. We don’t like being made scapegoats by the press; and no one likes to see poisonings occur.”

Leo Trademan, manager of technical service for Velsicol, manufacturer of chlordane, says his company spends at least seven years testing new products. Experiments go on at research farms, in universities and among toxicologists. All the collected data is submitted to the EPA, which reviews it and can give a permit to continue testing on a larger scale and determine if the product’s use would be economically feasible. When safety testing is done by the EPA, the economic impact the loss of a chemical would have and the acceptability of alternatives is stacked against the risk of continued use to health and the environment.

Trademan says he feels comfortable with the present requirements the EPA enforces. “If you’re on the ball, there’s no problem; I feel confident that if chlordane is used properly, it’s absolutely safe. In Bhopal, the product that caused all the deaths went into making an outstanding pesticide, but somebody made a mistake. Even so, that chemical has spelled the difference in India’s survival.” Trademan refers to methyl isocyanate, an intermediate used in making pesticides that have been important in boosting India’s green revolution and getting that country’s agriculture back on its feet. A December leakage of that chemical has caused thousands of deaths and injuries.

Tony Mollhagen, director of Texas Tech’s Pesticide Hazard Assessment Project, says the solution to the problems of pesticide poisonings lies in the idea of acceptable risk. “It’s like driving an automobile,” he says. “Most of us accept the risk of dying in an automobile, and it’s far greater than the chances of dying after an exterminator poisons your home. I’m not sure this country is ready to go cold turkey on pesticides. We’d have to reduce our standard of living about 10 percent. If we continue to use pesticides, we aren’t going to eliminate incompetence or accidents. We can knock the chances of that back to an acceptable level. We can determine if the benefits of a chemical outweigh the costs of someone incorrectly applying it. We can tighten up accessibility. We can take the dangerous pesticides out of the hands of the unlicensed. We can enforce requirements for better training of operators.”

The Bergens’ lawyer, James Mills, saystheir suit may come up in court as early asMay, and he’s confident. Says Mills, “Peopleshould realize that they have a right, if they’regoing to have someone treat their home, thatthey’re going to do it in such a way that theyare not going to endanger life.”

Getting the bugs out and keeping your health

IN CASE YOU haven’t gotten our drift by now, it’s unwise-no, stupid-to dial a number out of the Yellow Pages, leave the key under the mat and assume your home will be exterminated safely. We aren’t suggesting you should give up pest control entirely. In this part of the country, roaches are inevitable, and termites, if given a balanced diet, will leave you homeless. Instead, you should be cautious. Even the most careful and conservative pest control company can guarantee no risk and the most reputable among them will insist on making you informed by outlining the risks your treatment will entail and the choices of chemicals you have. Here are some ideas on how to help ensure that your home and family will be safe:

1. Practice preventive medicine. Avoidhaving to exterminate by not making yourhome Club Med for roaches and termites.”Like everyone else,” says Texas Tech’s TonyMollhagen, “they have to have food, shelterand water.” Deny pests access to cracks, fixdripping faucets and sweaty pipes.

2. Be aware that if your home has beentreated for termites at any time after construction, the probability is high that you are breathing several micrograms per cubic meter of the termiticide. The acceptable levels set by the military are not to exceed 1 ug/m3 for heptachlor or 5 ug/m3 for chlor-dane, although Dr. Morris Key advises lower acceptable concentrations in homes with children under 12 and adults under 40.

3.If possible, postpone exterminating until babies are up and walking. If not, at leastbe away from home for several days afterthe house is treated. Don’t have your housetreated if someone in your home is pregnant.

4.Alternatives to some of the more dangerous and persistent pesticides are available.Write the IPM Practitioner, 1307 Acton,Berkley, CA 94706 for information.

5.If you suspect your home already contains dangerous levels of a pesticide, call thecompany that did the treatment and find outwhat they used. Call the Pesticide HazardAssessment Project to find out about safeuses of that product.

6.If you’re concerned about pesticide andtermiticide levels in your home, have sample testing done by a chemical analysis lab.Accurate testing costs $1,000.

– K. D.

Common pesticides: guide for the suspicious consumer

Chloropyrifos (more commonly known as dursban) is a white, crystalline solid discovered by Dow Chemical in 1965. Dursban-an organophosphate-is used to control cockroaches, weevils, ants, ticks and a horde of other insects. Dursban invades surface layers of latex and enamel paints indoors. It can be absorbed into the human body through skin contact, inhalation or in-gestion, but while most of the chemical is excreted through urine, small traces may be detected in the body’s fatty layer. Acute symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, weakness, pinpoint pupils, twitching, nausea and vomiting. Dursban is a prime suspect in the environmental contamination of several houses in California.

Diazinon (often sold under the brand name Knoxout) is another of the organo-phosphates, originally developed as chemical warfare agents. It has a relatively long residual action and is effective against agricultural insects and house and livestock pests. Symptoms of poisoning are similar to chloropyrifos.

Safrotin is a liquid pesticide effective against cockroaches, ants, crickets, silver-fish, spiders, ticks and fleas. Its active ingredient, propetamphos, is an organophosphate compound which can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the eyes or skin. Avoid breathing safrotin’s vapor or mist.

Dursban, diazinon and safrotin should be thoroughly diluted and applied by either low-pressure spray or a paint brush-air contact should be kept to a minimum. The pesticides should be applied to places where insects normally hide: in dark corners; in cracks and crevices in walls; along and behind baseboards; beneath sinks, stoves, refrigerators and cabinets; and around plumbing and other utility installations. Of course, use in kitchens should be extremely limited, and food and utensils should never come in contact with the chemicals. Children and pets should avoid contact with treated areas until the chemicals have dried.

Chlordane, also known as C-100, is a chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticide commonly used to control termites. Banned by the EPA for most uses other than household termite extermination, the chemical comes in liquid and aerosol forms. Chlordane can be absorbed into the human body through skin contact, inhalation or ingestion, and there is no known antidote for human contamination. Like most chlorinated hydrocarbons, chlordane stimulates the central nervous system. It is a suspected carcinogen proven to cause liver, renal and nervous system dysfunction. Your exterminator shouldn’t have to spray your house too often with chlor-dane-it hangs around for as long as 20 years.

Chlordane should be dispersed in the soil underneath and around a house to provide a barrier between the wood and termite colonies in the soil. Methods of application include rodding, trenching and sub-slab injection, all of which require specialized training. Treated soil should be covered with a thin layer of untreated soil. Note: chlordane should not be applied in open air space or crawl space, nor beneath any area intended as an open air space. Also, chlordane should never be directly injected into the wood of the house. Extreme caution must be taken to avoid contamination of structural elements, water and sewer lines and airways, as well as public and private water supplies.

Aldrin is a household insecticide used in situations where a long-lasting effect is needed. Acute dermal toxicity of this chlorinated hydrocarbon in various solvents may range from 6 to 40 times that of DDT. Convulsions have been observed in animals and men up to 120 days following the last of repeated doses of aldrin, a strong indication that the chemical may persist in the body once severe poisoning has occurred.

Pyrethrum is probably the safest of the frequently-used pesticides. Made from the chrysanthemum, the “bug killing daisy,” pyrethrum may have been used in China nearly 2,000 years ago. It was introduced in Europe in 1828 and has been popular in the United States since 1860. Pyrethrum is effective against household and garden insects and as a spray or dip for animals. It has a short-term residual action and breaks down rapidly in sunlight or strong artificial light. Pyrethrum’s toxicity for mammals is low: even if ingested, the pesticide breaks down into compounds which are rapidly eliminated from the body. Injury to man tends to come through allergic reaction as opposed to direct toxicity.

Prolin is a widely-used rat poison. An anticoagulant (meaning it works on the rodent’s bloodstream), Prolin is only effective with repeated doses.

Other common household pesticides include baygon, bendiocarb and malathion. Because so many pesticides are disguised by innocuous-sounding brand names (note C-100 for chlordane, Knoxout for diazinon, and Ficam for bendiocarb,) it may be best to quiz the bug-control man on his chemicals before letting him inside your door.

Barry Fleming

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