The green bug-off
Be careful of insect repellent containing harmful toxins.
Fri, May 15, 2009 at 04:38 PM
Serious buzz-ness: Tropical mosquitos are spreading diseases farther abroad, due to global warming, as documented in studies by the Harvard Center for the Environment and Public Health. Malaria, West Nile and dengue fever are on the wing in areas that until recently were too cold for their needle-nose vectors. As if itchy bites weren't bad enough on their own!
But unless you're traveling in a disease-ridden area, hold off on the insecticide and killer repellant, which should only be used a last resort, according to the Washington Toxics Coalition. Synthetic pesticides kill and deflect bugs by attacking their nervous systems, which is why they're known as neurotoxins. These include pyrethroids and organophosphates such as dichlorvos, used in many pest strips, home and yard sprays. You don't want a neurotoxin wafting in the air you breathe, paralyzing innocent butterflies and bees, or disorienting birds.
To protect your person, killer repellents containing DEET are highly effective and generally safe when used as directed, but the chemical is neurotoxic and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises using a low concentration of 10% or less on children, and not at all on those younger than two. Why, then, apply it to skin at all? DEET on cap brims, clothing and socks discourages mosquitoes quite well.
And consider the alternatives below.
*Try soybean-oil based green repellents such as Bite Blocker.
*Try less-toxic and very effective repellents such as picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus (though the latter should not be used on children younger than three).
*Outdoors, eliminate mosquito-breeding medium of stagnant water from old tires (and tire ruts) planter saucers, watering cans, empty bird feeders, clogged rain gutters, gardener's clogs, even deflated balls. Make it a game with kids, who have the energy and sharp eyes. Change water in fountains and bird baths at least once a week.
*Fill your windows with screens and make sure they're in good repair and fit snugly.
*Cover up with light-colored clothing, hats and hoodies.
*Try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are their swarmiest and thirstiest.
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This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com.