Is Propoxur the Way to Not Let the Bedbugs Bite?
The Huffington Post
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
More than 80,000 chemicals are produced, used, and present in
the United States. This is one of their stories.
When it comes to stopping bedbugs, Ohio wants to choose its
THE RETURN OF THE BEDBUG (UNFORTUNATELY, NOT A SUMMER
After a decades-long absence from the American bed, bedbugs are
back with a vengeance. From New York to Los Angeles, the
little, nighttime, creepy-crawly bloodsuckers have been moving
beyond household digs, spreading their wings (so to speak, as
they are wingless, flightless critters) to hotels, movie
theaters, offices, department stores. Wherever they can find little
nooks to settle into.
Why the return? There are lots of hypotheses but no definitive
reason so far. Some blame the ban on DDT. But others argue not
likely -- bedbugs developed a resistance to DDT before the ban
(see here, here, andhere); and the chemical's
phaseout in the 1970s has not led to a similar resurgence
in mosquitoes or other pests. Others blame the comeback of bedbugs
on their resistance to DDT's many substitutes (e.g., malathion,
diazinon, lindane, chlordane, dichlorovos and now pyrethroids). And
still others argue that the current recrudescence can be traced to
bedbug-hitchhiking on foreign travelers' clothes and bags -- hence
their initial appearance in major cities.
THE DOPE ON THESE BLOOD-SUCKING FREAKS
Whatever the reason, bedbugs are no slumber party. Hiding in
daytime in little creases, crevices and cracks in beds and walls,
the little guys come out at night to feast on their slumbering
human hosts' blood. They're insidious in their attacks -- injecting
a local anesthetic before biting so as to avoid awakening their
victims who can arise in the morning to find their sheets
bloodstained and their bodies itchy and marked with bites. (More on
bedbugs in this video.)
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that bedbugs
do not appear to carry or transmit disease. Still, as
the Centers for Disease Control warns, they can "cause a
variety of negative physical health, mental health and economic
consequences," ranging from mild to severe allergic reaction to the
bites (including in rare cases anaphylaxis) as well as skin
infections. Not to mention the anxiety, psychic terror and stigma
associated with the little vampires.
WHAT'S A BEDBUG HOST TO DO?
For sure, if you've got 'em, you want to get rid of 'em. And
there's the rub -- that's not so easily done.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency,more than 300
registered products are designed to fight bedbugs, and most can be
used directly by consumers (e.g., Temprid SC, Phantom, and
But some of these compounds are slow-acting -- and all require
repeated treatments and a coordinated, no-holds-barred attack to
rid every nook and cranny of the infested household of the vampiric
pests. Such an offensive often requires that folks essentially live
out of plastic bags for weeks to prevent re-infestation of
Don't want to do this by yourself? Hiring an exterminator's an
option, but I've heard doing so can cost upwards of a thousand
Think you can wait them out -- maybe hole up with friends or
move to your house in the Hamptons for the season? Won't work:
While bedbugs typically feed on blood every five to ten days, they
are capable of surviving more than a year without feeding.
IS THERE A SILVER BULLET?
What a drag! At this point some of you are no doubt scratching
your heads (figuratively, I hope), thinking: "Come on, there's
gotta be an insecticide capable of offing these guys, and, if not,
why can't the pointy-headed geniuses at the chemical companies make
As it turns out, they have. It's called propoxur, a fast-acting
insecticide used to kill fleas and ticks on pets, ants, etc., but
it's not approved by EPA as an indoor residential spray.
In 2007 EPA accepted voluntary withdrawal of "all indoor
spray uses for propoxur that may result in non-occupational
exposure for children [pdf]," given that even low exposures
have been linked to brain development problems in kids. Propoxur is
a probable human carcinogen, based on bladder tumors in male rats,
and EPA categorizes its acute toxicity as moderate to slightly
toxic [pdf] depending on the route of exposure. But the World
Health Organization reports that "propoxur is not considered
mutagenic, embryotoxic, or teratogenic (WHO, 2003)."
And according to the CDC, "propoxur does not accumulate in
blood or tissues and is eliminated rapidly from the body." So
there's not a universal consensus that the propoxur spray ban
is called for.
Enter the state of Ohio and its budding bedbug population. While
the state had previously been granted exemptions to use propoxur
sprays indoors, last year EPA turned an exemption down due to
concern that children's exposures would be "too high -- far
too high -- and potentially expose children to nervous-system
damage" given current formulations and intended-use plans. At the
same time, EPA indicated that "further information on exposure
rates or changes to the state's proposal for the way it would use
Propoxur could result in approval."
But the folks from the Buckeye State are itching to blast their
bedbugs into oblivion. The State House of Representatives
has passed a resolution, by a vote of 97-0, asking Congress to
urge EPA to approve an emergency exemption for propoxur. And U.S.
Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH) has introduced legislation
that would force EPA to allow Ohio to use propoxur indoors.
So, when it comes to choosing between poison or infestation, it
would appear that Ohio has chosen the former. I know what I'd
choose. How about you?