Pesticides can be an indoor air pollutant in many buildings because they are widely used to reduce control many household pests, including those associated with indoor plants, pets, and wood and woolen products, and because they are tracked in from the outdoors. Pesticides used in and around the home include products to control insects (insecticides; ants, fleas, flies and roaches killers and moth repellents etc.), termites (termiticides), rodents (rodenticides; rat and mouse poisons), fungi (fungicides), and microbes (disinfectants: bacteria and viruses; bathroom and toilet cleaners).
Pesticides are sold as sprays, powders, crystals, balls, and foggers. Pesticides are produced specifically because they are toxic to specific organisms. Consequently, they have risks as well as benefits, and it is important to use them properly.
Surveys show that 75 percent of homes in the United States use at least one pesticide product indoors per year. Those most often used are insecticides and disinfectants. However, studies suggest that 80 to 90 percent of most exposures to pesticides occur indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes. The reason for this discrepancy is pesticides can get into the air in homes from other sources, including contaminated soil or dust that floats or is tracked in from the outside (lawn and garden products), stored pesticide containers, and household surfaces that collect and then release fumes from the pesticides.
The health effects associated with pesticide exposure include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; damage to the central nervous system and kidneys; and for some, an increased risk of cancer. Exposure to high levels of cyclodiene pesticides, usually due to misapplication, may cause headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, tingling sensation, and nausea. Some believe these pesticides might cause long-term damage to the central nervous system and the liver. Since the main ingredients in pesticides can be organic, they can also affect vision and memory. Health effects resulting from exposure to pesticides are product and formulation specific. General use pesticides, available for homeowner indoor use are usually aerosols (spray cans and foggers), ready-to-use (pumps and liquids), pet products (flea and tick shampoos for dogs and cats) and baits (rat and mouse poisons). In order for a toxic effect to occur, exposure (direct contact by mouth, skin or lungs etc.) must occur. Specific "DOs and DON'Ts" for a pesticide product are on the label under the precautionary statement section . Your best protection from exposure is to read and follow the label. Irritation to eyes, nose and throat can occur with the use of aerosols and foggers if the ventilation directions are not followed. In addition, disinfection of bathrooms, especially toilets, can also result in these irritation effects. Overuse (too much of one product, using one product too often or use of several products at the same time) with the all pesticide products may result in an overexposure.
To reduce risks when you have a pest problem or are using pesticides, take these precautions:
- Identify the pest first. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office and the Maine Forest Service Insect and Disease Lab are available to help with pest identifications and to make recommendations for treatment (chemical and non-chemical)
- Use nonchemical methods of pest control when possible. If a chemical method of pest control is selected, use a pesticide targeted for the identified pest.
- Buy only legally sold, EPA-registered pesticides (An EPA Registration Number is located on the label of all registered pesticides.) To verify the registration status of a pesticide call the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.
- To get information on the toxicity and potential for exposure of a specific pesticide, call the Maine Board of Pesticides Control
- Reread the directions on the label each time you use the pesticide and follow the directions carefully. Use only the amount directed, at the time and under the conditions specified, and for the purpose listed according to label directions.
- Ventilate the area during and after pesticide use according to label directions
- Dispose of unused pesticides safely according to label directions.
Insect identification and treatment recommendations:
University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Pest Management Office
Maine Forest Service Insect and Disease Lab
(207) 287 2431
Maine Department of Agriculture
Pesticide registration, technical information (including toxicity and environmental fate) and enforcement
Maine Board of Pesticides Control
Northern New England Poison Center
Integrated Pest Management (Reducing Risk of Pests and Pesticides in Schools
Maine School IPM Program
Kathy Murray: (207) 287-7616
EPA Office of Pesticides Programs
Extension Toxicology Network
National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)
This service provides information about pesticides to the general public and the medical, veterinary, and professional communities. Medical and government personnel may call 800-858-7377. The US EPA sponsors the NPIC.
Publication: Pesticides: Uses, Effects and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools, U.S. General Accounting Office, Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Resources, Community, and Economic Development. Available on web at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/rc00017.pdf
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency