Protecting the Nation from Dangerous, Illegal Pesticides: What Consumers Should Know

By Marcia Anderson

This month EPA Region 2 is conducting nationwide training for state and federal inspectors and for Customs and Border Protection Officers on how to distinguish between legal and illegal pesticides. This effort is to keep dangerous, illegal pesticide products from entering the United States and reaching consumers. Despite all of our efforts, our borders and ports are extensive and sometimes lethal products do slip in. Here is what consumers should know:

By definition, pesticides are designed to kill. If the label says that it kills, destroys, mitigates or repels any pest (including microbes), it is a pesticide. (With the exception of products used exclusively in or on the human body.)

Under federal pesticides law, all pesticide products sold in the U.S. must be registered with the EPA. Before a pesticide product is registered, the producer of the product must provide data from tests done according to EPA guidelines to ensure that the product does not make people sick, when directions on the label are followed. If a product is not registered, the EPA cannot be certain of the toxicity and efficacy of the product. Illegal products have not been tested and their labels have not been reviewed for use directions and safety warnings. Second, illegal pesticides may contain unknown ingredients and may be harmful to people and/or the environment, and may be banned for use in the United States.

Consumers should pay close attention to the pesticides that they use in and around their homes. These illegal pesticides can easily make their way into New York City stores and markets. An easy way to tell if a product is likely to be legal: Its label must be in English. Labels can be bilingual, but English must be one of the languages. Second, it must have an EPA Registration or Establishment Number clearly on the front panel of the label. If you see a dead bug illustration, if the product is in another language, and you do not see EPA numbers, take a photo of the product, jot down the address where you found it and contact your EPA regional pesticides office.

Beware! Four of the most dangerous pesticides sold on the streets:

  1. Tres Pasitos (“Three Little Steps”) is a rodent poison produced in the Dominican Republic or Mexico. Swallowing even a very small amount of Tres Pasitos can be dangerous, especially to children, and can cause vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and death due to paralysis of the nervous system.  The active ingredient: Aldicarb, is not approved for use as a household pesticide in the U.S. because of its toxic effects on people and pets.
  2. “Cat be Unemployed” is a rodenticide from China. The active ingredient is brodifacoum, the most lethal of the second generation anticoagulants.  It is classified as extremely toxic, and the illegal product has 60 times more concentrated active ingredient than the maximum allowable in any registered U.S. product! It is highly lethal to children and pets. Just by touching it, (dermal exposure) it will easily penetrate intact skin.
  3. Insecticide chalk, also known as “Miraculous Chalk” or “Chinese Chalk” is sold in small stores or on the street for about $1 and looks like regular school or play chalk. Exposure to Deltamethrin, the active ingredient, can cause vomiting, stomach pains, convulsions, tremors, coma and death due to respiratory failure.
  4. Chinese Rodenticide containing Tetramethylenedisulfotetramine (TETS) is a highly lethal neurotoxic rodenticide. TETS is an odorless, tasteless, white powder that is potentially many times more toxic to humans than potassium cyanide and strychnine.  TETS exposure can cause seizures, coma, blindness and death.  Severe poisonings are usually fatal within three to 13 hours after consumption.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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