Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is resisting calls from its own staff and state health agencies to ban sales to homeowners of automatic pesticide misting systems marketed for combating West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Experts contend the systems risk harmful insecticide exposures to children and neighbors, as well as killing pets, wildlife and beneficial insects, while helping mosquitoes build resistance to pesticides.
Sold by companies with names such as “Skeeter Beater” and “Mister Mosquito,” the automated misting systems are being sold to homeowners as a way to “reclaim the outdoors” by minimizing exposure to West Nile Virus. Fed by drums of insecticide mixture ranging in size from 25 to 250 gallons, the systems dispense insecticide in timed pulses from fixed nozzles.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control identified 97 cases of human illness linked to automatic insecticide dispensers. Yet, these misting systems are sold without prominent health warnings or training requirements, leaving the distinct impression that the systems are safe for backyard use. In fact, EPA has gotten calls from confused homeowners asking whether they are supposed to stand under nozzles dispensing powerful pesticides.
EPA’s own pesticide specialists, as well as their state counterparts, have been unsuccessfully urging the agency to disallow any residential outdoor misting system using insecticides until EPA “has adequately addressed the human health and ecological risks, and the myriad of other issues that have been raised by the Regions, States and others,” states one internal email. While EPA managers admit the validity of the concerns, they have informed staff that the agency does not intend to directly regulate the use of home misting systems.
“EPA has come to mean Encouraging Pesticide Applications,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA has authority to ban or restrict pest control devices. “Here is yet another instance where EPA management is deaf to public health pleas from its own experts.”
Although these misting systems can be used with any insecticide, the principal agents used (pyrethrins and permethrin), are now undergoing EPA review for a 15-year registration renewal for commercial sale. Ignoring calls for strong action by its staff, EPA is poised to issue only mild restrictions on these agents through labeling instructions that, in the estimation of its own staff, are unenforceable and will make it “next to impossible to prohibit pesticides for use in [automatic] misting” systems.
The deadline for public comments to EPA on permethrin is tomorrow, September 26.
See the PowerPoint presentation on misting systems from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture
View some websites for home mosquito misting system vendors:
Read the State-FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG) Issue Paper
Look at EPA staff comments urging tougher regulation
Learn about EPA’s authority to regulate pest control devices