If you’ve had a spider or ant problem in your home, you may have used permethrin insecticide to kill the bothersome intruders. Permethrin is a member of the pyrethroid family and is a synthetic agent that mimics the pyrethrin of pyrethrum flowers. In short, permethrin is toxic to insects when they eat or touch it. Pyrethroids work by destroying the nervous system of the insect, ultimately resulting in death. Due to its success rate, cities use permethrin to control mosquito populations. Aside from its use as an insecticide and repellent, the compound is also used to treat lice and scabies. Companies market permethrin insecticide under different brand names, including Elimite, Nix, and Stop Lice. Permethrin has a long history and is used by both consumers and business owners around the globe.

History of Permethrin

A British chemist named Michael Elliot invented permethrin in the year 1972. Since permethrin was one of the first insecticides suitable for agriculture (due to its longevity in sunlight), Elliot was considered a pioneer in the insecticide field. The United States government first approved permethrin for use on cotton in 1979. Shortly after it’s approval, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that permethrin was toxic to fish and thus banned its use on cotton. After the heavy testing and establishment of tolerances, the government approved permethrin to be used on a wide array of crops and poultry. Farmers are still banned from using permethrin near aquatic areas because of its toxicity to fish.

Permethrin Products

While there are various permethrin products, one of the most popular is insect repellent. Permethrin is highly sought after because it fights off mosquitos, mites, and ticks. In addition, using a permethrin repellent won’t stain or damage your clothing. Permethrin-treated clothing is popular among hikers, hunters, and mountain climbers to reduce insect bites and prevent yellow fever and West Nile. In tropical areas, the repellent helps to prevent dengue fever and malaria. Aside from repellent, diluted permethrin is also available as an insecticide. Both farmers and commercial property owners use permethrin to control various insects including termites, ants, fleas, and roaches. The most common crops protected by this insecticide include corn, wheat, cotton, and alfalfa.

Not only is permethrin a popular insecticide and repellent, but it’s also an active ingredient in topical creams that treat lice and scabies. These over-the-counter medications are sold with the names Nix and Elimite. With daily use, most of these topical creams can kill the mites within ten days. Medical professionals regard permethrin use in children and adults as a safe and effective way to treat lice and scabies. The ointment is relatively inexpensive, with treatment costs ranging between 25 and 50 dollars. It’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration approves the use of permethrin cream in patients aged two months and older. Parents with children under two months should not use permethrin on their infants, but rather sulfur.

Drawbacks of Permethrin

The good news is, experts consider permethrin to be non-toxic to humans and most mammals. On the other hand, permethrin poses an immediate threat to both cats and fish. Even a small drop of permethrin into an aquarium can kill your fish. What that said, it’s imperative to cover aquariums and fish bowls with plastic wrap to avoid the risk of exposure. Like fish, cats are also susceptible to death caused by permethrin poisoning. Cats can’t break down pyrethrins due to the anatomy of their livers. According to statistics, up to 40% of cats die when exposed to this synthetic insecticide. Permethrin is the leading poison that kills cats. Moreover, researchers have also studied the effects that permethrin exposure has on other animals. After feeding beagle dogs permethrin in capsules for three months, the dogs’ livers increased in weight but there were no mortal outcomes. Mice were also exposed to permethrin but only showed signs of light skin irritation. Based on these studies and other knowledge surrounding permethrin exposure, cats and aquatic animals are the most at risk when it comes to permethrin poisoning.

Many people speculate whether or not permethrin is harmful to humans. While humans should never consume permethrin, it wouldn’t result in death. At worst, one would experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if he or she inhaled permethrin or consumed it orally. If permethrin is directly exposed to the skin, it will cause tingling, irritation, and potentially burning. A common question is: does permethrin cause cancer? There is no evidence that establishes a link between permethrin and cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer dubbed permethrin as “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans” in 1991.

Permethrin Insecticide Around the World

After this Michael Elliot invented permethrin, the insecticide spread to other countries of the world due to its low toxicity and success in agriculture. For example, farmers in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and India us the insecticide. In fact, India is one of the largest producers of permethrin insecticides. Many Indian manufacturers based out of urban centers such as Mumbai and New Delhi export large quantities of permethrin to the United States and other countries with large agriculture sectors. While permethrin is legal for repellent use in Europe, the European Union banned its use in agriculture in 2003. The United Kingdom recently permitted the use of permethrin for wood preservation but has yet to allow the use of it on agricultural products. Lastly, both the US and British army use the repellent to help prevent soldiers from insect bites.

Since its birth in 1972, permethrin has come a long way and is now used by millions of people around the world. Most importantly, this insecticide and medication do not pose a threat to humans. Scientists are continually finding new ways to modify permethrin and combat resistance insects. Whenever you use an insecticide or medication with permethrin, it’s imperative that you follow the directions do not misuse it. There’s no doubt that this man-made compound is an efficient and harmless way to stimulate the cultivation of crops and cure parasitic infestations.