Scourge/Resmethrin Insecticide

Q. What is Scourge?

A. Scourge is an insecticide used to kill adult mosquitoes. Its active ingredients are Resmethrin and piperonyl butoxide which act together to kill mosquitoes. About one-fourth of the Scourge formula is "inert ingredients," including petroleum by-products.

Q. Why should I be concerned about the use of Scourge?

A. Scourge is harmful to both the environment and humans.

Ecologically, it is harmful to trout, shrimp, and other marine life. Its label warns: "THIS PRODUCT IS TOXIC TO FISH AND BIRDS. DO NOT APPLY TO LAKES, STREAMS OR PONDS." There is still much that remains poorly understood about the ecological damage caused by Scourge. According to EPA studies, however, one thimbleful of Scourge is enough to kill the trout in an average one acre shallow pond. Scourge is applied at about three times this rate.

Q. What are the human health effects of Resmethrin?

A. Public health is seriously threatened by Scourge. The label of Scourge warns that inhalation is the greatest hazard for humans. "AVOID BREATHING, VAPOR OR SPRAY MIST." Unpublished data by the manufacturer reveal that Resmethrin is cancer-causing, with specific risk of liver and thyroid cancers. Unless homes are air-tight and windows are closed at the time of spraying, all residents living in the vicinity of Scourge applications are at risk from inhalation.

Q. Are the so-called "inert ingredients" of Scourge hazardous?

A. Yes, the inert ingredients in Scourge are of great concern. The EPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have emphasized that the inerts used in Scourge are frequently contaminated with the potent carcinogen benzene, a well documented cause of leukemia and other malignancies. There are many case reports on these inert ingredients causing respiratory problems including irritant and allergic responses, asthma and conjunctivitis following inhalation or skin exposure to Scourge.

Aside from the dangers of Resmethrin and the inerts, there are no data on the cancer-causing effects of Scourge itself. This does not mean it is not cancer-causing, only that research has not been conducted. There is reason for concern, however, because chemical hazards often have additive effects. Recent studies published in the reputable and peer-reviewed journal Science have shown that some pesticides, when used together, have 1000 times the adverse human health effects of either alone. Scourge has not been examined for these types of "synergistic" effects.

In addition to cancer-causing effects, there are unresolved questions about the reproductive and developmental problems that Scourge can cause.

Q. What about my children? Are they more vulnerable to Scourge?

A. Children have more skin surface for their body weight and breathe more rapidly than adults do. For this reason, they are likely to have higher exposures to these chemicals than adults. Recent research has shown that this increased exposure can not only raise their risk of cancer and other chronic disease, but can place them at risk for neurological and behavioral problems during this important phase in mental development. Some have even suggested links between Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and exposure to pesticides.

The elderly, and those with health problems are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of Scourge and other toxic chemicals. When immune system functioning is low, toxics can have more dramatic effects.

Q. Are there safe alternatives to Scourge for controlling mosquito populations?

A. Mosquito control is often justified because mosquitos can carry disease, such as encephalitis. However, the use of Scourge and other toxic adulticides is never justified for nuisance control. There are two alternative approaches for controlling risk of mosquito-borne illness.

The first approach is based on public education and personal protection. It includes remaining indoors at dawn and dusk, installing and maintaining window and porch screens, wearing protective clothing, and minimal application of mosquito repellents to the exterior of clothing (not skin).

The second approach involves eliminating mosquito larvae in stagnant waters where they breed. By eliminating breeding areas with open marsh management procedures that are sensitive to wetland integrity, mosquito populations can be reduced. The most effective and long-term method for marsh water management is drainage of stagnant standing water in culverts, ditches, on public grounds and in residential areas.

Non-toxic larvicides are more effective than toxic adulticides for mosquito control. Selective application of small amounts of larvicides can achieve a great reduction in mosquito populations in contrast with the large amounts of adulticides needed to penetrate massive air space. Larvicides include: the application of larvicide oil which in thin films block larval breathing tubes; predators or parasites which under controlled ecological conditions can be used to keep larva populations down, and some natural insect toxins which can be applied to poison larvae without harming the surrounding ecosystem.

As the New York Department of Public Health emphasized in 1989: "Unless specific public health threats exist -- the benefits (of adulticide spraying) are outweighed by its potential adverse effects on health and the environment.

The information above is adapted from the testimony of Dr. Samuel Epstein at the Open Forum of the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District, Cook County, Illinois on September 30, 1996.

Q & A from
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition

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