â€œBug bombsâ€ â€” pesticide products intended to fill a home or workplace with insecticide, killing cockroaches, flying insects, fleas and other pests â€”have been in use in American households since World War II, but federal and state authorities are now warning that the products could be dangerous, and the state is moving to allow only professional exterminators to handle the bug-killing devices.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study of illnesses and injuries related to bug bombs â€” technically known as total release foggers â€” in eight states from 2001 to 2006. New York was one of the states in the study, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The study found 123 cases of bug bomb-related illness or injury in New York State (including 58 in New York City alone) from 2001 to 2006. The most commonly reported acute health effects from bug bombs were respiratory problems and gastrointestinal reactions, including nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In the study, the C.D.C. also said that the injury and illness figures were most likely underestimated.
The stateâ€™s Department of Environmental Conservation said that in each of the past few years, the foggers have caused â€œat least four to eight serious explosions in apartments in New York City,â€ including one last month in Manhattan that sent six people to a hospital.
â€œFortunately, we have the authority to address these hazards and protect New Yorkers,â€ said Alexander B. Grannis, the state commissioner of environmental conservation, whose department will move to classify foggers as a restricted-use product, meaning that only certified pesticide applicators â€” rather than the public â€” would be able to obtain them.
The state and city health commissioners said they supported the move.
â€œThe C.D.C. study makes it clear that we cannot wait for the federal government to restrict the use of foggers,â€ said Dr. Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner.
â€œThere are far safer and more effective methods of controlling pests that do not put peopleâ€™s health at risk,â€ said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city health commissioner, whose department publishes a guide to safe pest control.
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However, the Consumer Specialty Products Association, a national trade group, raised concerns about the proposed change. Gretchen Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the association, noted that pesticides were already regulated under federal law and that before any of them can be sold to consumers, the Environmental Protection Agency must ensure that they do not cause health or environmental problems when correctly used. She suggested that the main problem was improper use of the pesticides, not their availability to consumers.
â€œIt is critical that consumers read and follow the label instructions to help protect themselves while also controlling pest infestations in the home that can often lead to health problems,â€ Ms. Schaefer said in a statement. The so-called bug bombs were invented by Dr. Lyle D. Goodhue during World War II to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the tropics, but their potential for consumer use was quickly exploited.
An article in The New York Times on Sept. 18, 1945, quoted an official at Westinghouse, which developed the technology for the Army, who said each bomb contained a pound of aerosol of fine mist, enough to â€œde-bugâ€ 150,000 cubic feet, about 10 to 15 average-size homes at that time.
By SEWELL CHAN
Published: NYTimes.com, October 20, 2008