The health hazards of chemical insect repellents

As temperatures rise and mosquitoes hatch in swarms, the danger of exposure to toxic chemicals in common household repellents looms.

Brisbane resident and Director of Biome Eco Stores, Tracey Bailey, warns people against using chemically-produced mosquito repellents this summer due to the threat they pose to user’s health.

Ms Bailey said N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is a chemical used in most commercial repellents and can reside in the form of liquid, lotion, spray and permeated material. DEET is listed as an insecticide and is part of the toluene chemical group, a chemical used in glues and paint strippers. The most common application for DEET repellents is to apply them directly to the skin which poses a threat to the user’s health.

Research completed by The Medical Sciences Bulletin revealed up to 56 percent of DEET is capable of penetrating the skin when topically applied, while up to 17 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Ms Bailey said mosquito coils were equally toxic. Mosquito coils contain a combination of chemicals including various pyrethroids. When burning they release numerous known human carcinogens, including aldehydes, formaldehydes, small particles and a number of benzene derivatives. Some coils can contain Octachlorodipropylether (S-2) which expose humans to bis-chloromethyl ether (BCME), an extremely intoxicating lung carcinogen.

Studies have revealed one active mosquito coil produces the equivalent particulate matter as burning approximately 75 to 137 cigarettes, with the percentage of formaldehyde emissions equal to burning 51 cigarettes. Chest Research Foundation Director, Sandeep Salvi, said lung damage caused by one mosquito coil is equivalent to inhaling 100 cigarettes.

Ms Bailey said there are effective natural alternatives that pose no threat to user’s health. Essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, geranium, soybean, citronella, fennel, thyme, clove oil, celery extract, neem oil and picaridin are effective at repelling mosquitoes and are available in various application forms. Sandalwood is also an effective natural repellent and provides a safe alternative to mosquito coils.

“Although mosquitoes can be irritating, it is important to protect yourself and your family’s health this summer by reducing the amount of toxic chemicals they are exposed to,” Ms Bailey said.

Here are some handy tips for making your own insect repellent without harmful chemicals.