With all the harsh chemicals out there today, people want all natural pest control products for their homes. Generally, natural pest control chemicals are safer for humans than synthetic ones. But not always. This article explores the toxicity of organic insecticides & how we should and shouldn’t use them.
Does All Natural Equal Non-Toxic?
A toxic chemical is anything that can cause harm by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin.
Acute Toxicity vs. Chronic Toxicity
You might be afraid that pesticides will make you sick, burn your skin, or irritate your eyes. These are examples of acute toxic effects. Acute toxicity refers to short term injury or harm resulting from exposure.
Other folks seek natural pest control products because they’re worried about the long term effects of pesticides. Chronic toxicity refers to carcinogenic, mutagenic & teratogenic or other effects and ailments that develop over time. People who don’t regularly handle pesticides are not likely to experience chronic health effects (from neither natural or man-made chemicals).
Natural Pest Control Scenario:
Let’s say you are completely overrun with spiders in and around your home. But you want organic all natural pest control because you’re concerned about toxicity to yourself and your small dog.
The Dose Makes The Poison
The plant nursery sells you an organic pesticide spray called “Best Spider Repellent”. Which contains 2.5% thyme oil and a few other natural ingredients. It was advertised as all natural, so you’re good to go right?
Using All Natural Spider Repellents Outdoors
The “Best Spider Repellent” will help repel spiders outdoors. The thyme oil is full of volatile organic compounds like thymol that repel spiders and can kill them on contact. You will have some spider control relief directly after you spray outdoors. In the breeze over a few days or weeks these VOC’s will vaporize and drift away, becoming ineffective.
Using All Natural Spider Repellents Indoors
Now you’re thinking “I’ll just apply my organic all natural spider repellent inside along my baseboards.” So you spray about 10 oz. of the 2.5% thyme oil solution along the baseboards. You spray a little in your basement, living room and bedroom where you’ve seen spiders.
At 2.5 percent, you release about a quarter ounce of pure thyme oil into your home.
The odor may surprise you.
Just a quarter ounce of pure thyme oil sprayed indoors is equivalent to about 15 aromatherapy sessions at once.
Some essential oil products that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers “minimum risk pesticides” contain over 20% thyme oil. Yikes!
Importantly, neither the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates organic essential oils labeled for use in aromatherapy or other non- food, medicine, cosmetic, or home-made pesticide usage.
Are Essential Oils Toxic?
Yes. We measure lethal doses by measuring the substance’s concentration that is lethal (usually orally) to 50% of the affected population. The oral LD50 of pure thyme oil is 2840 milligrams per kilogram. So for an 80kg (176lbs) adult person, 227,200 mg of pure thyme oil might kill half that drank it.
That’s almost exact 8 ounces or a whole cup. But it seems unlikely an adult could physically consume that much thyme oil. Nevertheless, all natural pesticides with essential oils have the potential to be toxic if ingested or inhaled in large quantity.
Minimum Risk Pesticides
Minimum risk pesticides, or 25(b) exempt natural pesticides don’t undergo any of the extensive testing that EPA registered pesticides do. So natural pest control products for the home is essentially an unregulated industry.
Who Regulates Natural Pest Control?
- The EPA registers most pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
- Natural pesticides are considered 25(b) exempt because they are generally considered safe.
- Some of the active ingredients of 25(b) pesticides appear on the FDA “GRAS” (Generally Regarded As Safe) list. Which means that they are commonly used in food products.
- However, some natural, organic pesticide ingredients appear on the EPA’s TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) list.
On organic farms, USDA National Organic Program oversees the use of natural pesticides.
OMRI is a private non-profit that reviews pesticides and fertilizers for their toxicity.
When is it Safer to use Registered Pesticides?
If you have a persistent pest issue in the home like bed bugs, fleas, cockroaches, rats or ants, don’t attempt to get control with natural pest control products. You will end up using more chemicals (albeit natural), and increase your family’s toxic exposure.
This is especially true if you have birds, fish or people with respiratory conditions in the home.
One unfortunate customer seriously injured her bird pets by using a lemongrass oil product for bed bugs which offgassed potent chemical vapors.
EPA registered pesticides do not have fumes or vapors, unless that is their mode of action.
Use caution as with any pesticide. Sometimes EPA registered pesticides are more appropriate for certain pests like ants and rats. Unfortunately nature doesn’t provide the exact kinds of chemicals we rely on for acceptable levels of control of rats and ants.
Always do your research and learn IPM to reduce pesticide usage.
Alternatively, for spiders there are a multitude of effective all natural pest control products available for your IPM strategy.
To get a customized IPM strategy for your Portland rodent, spider or ant control issue, don’t hesitate to call. We have the ecological restoration & IPM experience to get rid of pests. While safely managing any hazard to people, pets and pollinators.