Common sense allows that anything toxic enough to kill bugs is toxic enough to harm you. Pesticides in the home can not only cause a buildup of residual toxins; they can easily enter your body. Short-term effects of pesticides are runny nose, headache and flu-like symptoms. Long-term effects can include cancer, as known carcinogenic ingredients exist in most pesticides.

So when the Environmental Protection Agency fined 99 Cents Only stores last week for selling illegal pesticides and household products in their stories, they imposed the largest contested penalty in the 40-year history of the agency. The Los Angeles Times reports that the EPA issued a $409,490 fine to the discount store chain for selling nearly 700 bottles of toxic bug spray and cleaners in California, Nevada and Arizona.

One of the products was Bref Limpieza y Disinfeccion Total con Densicloro, a household cleaner and sanitizer imported from Mexico. Translating to Brief Complete Cleaning and Disinfection with Densicloro, the product had pesticide claims written in Spanish on the label. But it was not registered with the EPA. The Los Angeles Times reports that the other products cited were Farmer's Secret Berry & Produce Cleaner and PiC BORIC ACID Roach Killer III. The Farmer’s product is also an unregistered pesticide, while the boric acid product had EPA warning labels that were upside down or inside out.

Jared Blumenfeld is the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. As he told the Los Angeles Times, "What you don't know really can hurt you. You can't take precautions and you can end up using products in very harmful ways. The cost of the product doesn't relate to the magnitude of the problem or the dose of the toxicity of the ingredients." The 99 Cents Only stores have since claimed that they have stopped carrying the illegal products, though no word of a recall has been reported. Meanwhile, the company reports there have been no health issues from consumers who purchased the sprays.

As a bed bug infestation sweeps the nation, some are left wondering if these illegal sprays were an attempt to eradicate the difficult-to-kill bloodsuckers. Bed bugs were more common in the mid-twentieth century and were mostly eradicated by the end of the century. But experts think world travel and the lack of effective pesticides have led to their resurgence. DDT and its cancer-causing agents were credited with the initial demise of bed bugs. But DDT was banned in 1972, and so the bugs have returned.

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