Humans have always wanted to have perfect control over their environment. We want to control the temperature, humidity, light, etc., all of which stems from our need to control the space we inhabit.
This need for control has led to the development of different devices and substances to help keep our personal areas under our control. For that, we have fences and gates that keep other humans and some animals out. And, of course, we’ve developed a wide range of pest control products to keep those pesky pests out.
Sadly, while the chemicals used in these pest control products are helping us exterminate and repel pests, they’ve also been having some side effects on our bodies. But how does this happen?
When we spray these pest control chemicals, humans breathe some of them in. Some will settle on the skin or get in our eyes before being absorbed into the body. Still, others settle on the food we eat or land in our drinking water, so we ingest them orally. These are the four ways that these chemicals can get into our system.
Some of the most common active ingredients used in pest control chemicals include:
- pyrethroids such as cyfluthrin, permethrin, bifenthrin, and deltamethrin,
- baits like hydramethylnon,
- botanicals like pyrethrum,
- low-toxicity options like boric acid and diatomaceous earth, and
- insect growth regulators (IGRs) such as methoprene and pyriproxifen.
Exposure to the chemicals listed above can have some side effects, which can be immediate or can emerge after prolonged exposure. They affect not just humans, but our pets as well.
Let’s start by looking at the side effects pest control chemicals can have on our furry friends.
Side Effects on Pets
Your pets can be exposed to these harmful pest control chemicals in many different ways. For example, they could run around or lie down in treated areas and then lick these chemicals off their fur when grooming themselves.
They could also breathe these chemicals in. You might even apply these chemicals directly to their fur to treat fleas and ticks. Either way, our pets are also very exposed to these chemicals.
Some of the side effects your pet is likely to exhibit include:
- decreased appetite,
- increased heart rate,
- increased salivation,
- muscle tremors,
- difficulty breathing, and
- loss of coordination.
Your pet can exhibit any of these side effects. They could also just be restless or behaving funnily. This behavior can show up within hours of exposure or take days to appear. If exposed, your pet will probably need veterinary treatment.
It’s important to note that continued exposure to these chemicals can lead to further health complications. Sometimes, they can even lead to the death of the pet. So, be careful and be aware.
Side Effects on Humans
Pest control use, whether in the home, in the yard, in the field, in the farm, or even on pets, requires human involvement, which also implies human exposure to the chemicals. When looking at the side effects that humans can suffer, we’ll break them into three parts: immediate side effects, side effects after prolonged exposure, and other possible side effects.
Immediate Side Effects
These are the side effects that can occur immediately after human exposure to a pest control chemical. Of course, these symptoms will vary from person to person. Some of the most common immediate side effects include:
- skin irritation (burning, itching, and/or a rash),
- mouth irritation,
- sore throat,
- chest pain,
- stomach cramps,
- eye irritation/watering, and
- blurred vision.
Remember that doses can vary. One person could briefly encounter a very light dose of the chemicals while another might find themselves with intense exposure to a very large dose of the chemical. The side effects suffered in those two cases wouldn’t be the same.
After heavy exposure, you can experience tightness in the chest along with heart rate changes. Breathing difficulties can occur as well as twitching and/or difficulty walking in a coordinated manner. This exposure could also result in pupil constriction or even a loss of control over urination. If the symptoms get much more severe, the individual could lose consciousness or suffer a seizure.
Side Effects After Prolonged Exposure
An individual could be exposed to these chemicals in very small amounts without any immediate side effects. But, as the deposit of toxic substances builds up in that individual’s body, there will come a time when some side effects may begin to show.
Some of the side effects that may show up after prolonged exposure include a general feeling of being unwell, fatigue, constant weakness, and an inability to concentrate or to remember things.
These side effects are, of course, a sign of deeper, underlying conditions. The extent to which different people exhibit these side effects will depend, to a large extent, on factors like their age, their health condition, and the type and extent of the chemical exposure.
Other Possible Side Effects
Now, we’ll look at conditions that are currently strongly linked to pest control chemicals, based on some evidence. Though these are not necessarily 100% confirmed, there are strong indications that these claims may not be far from the truth.
Some of these side effects include skin conditions, respiratory disorders, organ failure, cancer, brain damage, sterility, infertility, and birth defects.
- Skin Conditions: With these harmful chemicals settling on the skin, skin conditions like rashes, cutaneous toxicity, and infections are likely to appear. When there is a huge quantity of toxic materials absorbed into the body from the skin, serious toxic reactions could occur. These, in turn, can set off more serious health complications.
- Respiratory Disorders: Constant exposure to pest control chemicals has been linked to increased respiratory disorders, which include difficulty breathing, chronic bronchitis, wheezing, asthma, and more.
- Organ Failure: Multiorgan failure can be an effect of acute pesticide exposure. A review of epidemiological literature found a relationship between agricultural work involving pesticides and chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka, India, and the United States. Another study found a correlation between pesticide exposure (including the insecticide permethrin) and kidney disease.
- Cancer: Many factors have been linked to cancer. There is also sufficient evidence to show that exposure to pest control chemicals may be a major contributor to the formation of cancerous cells in various organs in the body.
- Brain Damage: There is evidence that prolonged exposure to some pest control chemicals can lead to mild cognitive dysfunction (MCD) and general long-term brain damage. This makes farmers and gardeners who use pesticides high-risk individuals. In addition, the evidence links some developmental issues and even brain damage in children to certain pest control chemicals. The most notable of these is chlorpyrifos, which California has banned and which will no longer be manufactured after 2020.
- Sterility and Infertility: Scientists are now linking low sperm count and general infertility in women and men to prolonged exposure to these chemicals. While people who work on farms are thought to be at higher risk, eating foods with pesticide residue on them has also been linked to infertility.
- Birth Defects: There is now serious concern that the use of pesticides in the home may have damaging effects on the fetus. It’s now thought that exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy could increase the risk of birth defects. These birth defects include heart defects, oral clefts, and more.
All of us, including our pets, are at risk of exposure to pest control chemicals. In regards to the health implications of this exposure, some people are more susceptible than others. The elderly are more likely to be hit hard if exposed to these harmful chemicals than younger people.
Another higher-risk group includes nursing and pregnant women. Exposure to these chemicals may have a stronger effect on them than others. Lastly, these chemicals can affect the developmental process in infants and children.
There’s no doubt that these chemicals cause some health issues. It may not be totally realistic to do away with them completely, at least for now. Until then, we should be careful when using these chemicals. This is the only way we can reduce the possibilities of their entering our bodies and those of our loved ones, whether human or pet.