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Pesticides and Air Quality

Pests

Pesticides can have a great effect on air quality without occupants even realizing it.  It starts out with finding unwanted guests in our home.  I use the term “guests” in jest because I am referring to pests and rodents.  With these unwanted creatures, one is led to wonder about what pesticides to use and how they might affect our indoor air quality.

I don’t know about you, but I can always tell when we are approaching autumn in Chicago.  Is it the chill in the air?  Is it the fiery leaf colors on the trees?  No, it is one of the most unwanted “guests” that my wife and I can anticipate: mice!  It seems to be a never-ending battle to get rid of these pests.  At the end of this blog, I will share one of my best methods.

Pesticides and indoor health

A natural inclination when finding insects, termites, roaches, or rodents is to use a pesticide to get rid of the things.  Pesticides seem to be a ready answer and many times they can be.  But it is important to do your homework and know what you are dealing with.  Pesticides carry a wide variety of chemicals that can be harmful to indoor air quality.

Health issues can be exacerbated by pesticides.  Children and small pets have greater exposure to these poisons due to their close proximity to the ground, but adults can be affected as well.  According to the EPA, exposure to pesticides can include:

  • Irritation to eye, nose, and throat
  • damage to the central nervous system and kidneys
  • increased risk of cancer

Many households use at least one pesticide indoors.  

What are pesticides?

The “cides” in pesticides means “to kill” (think homicide).  They are generally made up of chemicals designed to kill the pest or rodent in question.  They can come in foggers, sprays, liquids, powders, and crystals.  In addition to the poisons used in the material, the EPA reports that there are other chemicals known as “inerts” which may not be dangerous to the pest, but can still incur possible harm to those indoors.     

How to use pesticides

Again, the EPA is a great source of information in regards to the proper use of pesticides.  They recommend reading the instructions very carefully and strictly following their limitations.  Another recommendation is to properly ventilate indoor areas to help dilute the air.  Whenever possible, properly dispose of whatever chemicals are used away from your indoor living area.  Even the act of storing the pesticides with other household items like cleaners, stains, and paint cans can further exacerbate the levels of poor indoor air quality.

Why isn’t there more testing for pesticides by indoor air quality professionals? 

You will typically not find many consultants testing for pesticides.  The reason is explained well in this video by Ian Cull.  The takeaway from the video is that pesticides are everywhere.  You may not even use the materials in your home and it may still show up in the test.  Furthermore, labs often lack the capacity to do the proper testing and it can be a very expensive endeavor.  

A far better approach is to figure out why the pests and rodents are there in the first place and target that source.  

What to target

All living things need water to survive and grow.  If there are leaks in the roof or from the plumbing, it can often attract insects, termites, and rodents to that location.  Keeping the indoors dry is a great way to keep pests away. 

Extensive cleaning is also important because the pests are constantly on the search for food sources.  Dirty dishes or unclean surfaces such as tables and counters are nothing more than invitations to these critters.  

Finally, it is also important to properly seal your home from the outside world.  It is sometimes difficult to seal off an older home entirely due to cracks and crevices that eventually work their way into foundations and walls.  It is especially difficult if you live in an apartment building where your neighbors may be less interested in cleaning and maintenance.  However, it is still important to seal your home as best you can to lessen the entryways available to these creatures.

The conclusion to pesticides and air quality

Pesticides can have an important role in reducing household pests, but whenever possible it’s best to use non-chemical methods.  Try to deal with the source first and then use these items.

In dealing with my mice issue I have found that pesticides and poisons are not the best methods.  I’ve read the warnings on the boxes and I just don’t feel comfortable leaving these materials out in close proximity to my children.  So my solution?  I am old fashioned and still use the spring-loaded mouse traps.  The trick (at least for me) was in selecting the best bait to place in the trap.  I have had the best luck wrapping a walnut or cashew with freshly chewed gum.  The nut is a delicious bait.  The gum provides an attractive scent and makes the mouse work to dislodge the nut, thus setting off the trap.

As with anything, do your research on the pesticides that you do use and carefully follow their instructions to the letter.  In addition to keeping a dry, clean, and well-ventilated living area, this will help to reduce these pests and keep your indoor air healthy.

Ian Cull

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”