The Dangers of Insecticides
Millions of Americans watch it or read about it everyday. The Shell No‑
Pest Strip is being heavily advertised in the summer season as an effective and harm‑ less insecticide “when used as directed.” From women’s magazines to the “Today” show (where Barbara Walters touts it), the No-Pest Strip is shown as the homemaker’s answer to flies and other flying insects.
But the people and Barbara Walters are not getting the full story from Shell. Against this barrage of mass advertising, the rating by Consumer Reports last August, that the Shell No-Pest Strip and two other lesser-selling brands were “too hazardous for household use,” reached far fewer consumers.
What Consumer Reports and other technical critics are concerned about is that the vapor emitted by these No-Pest Strips to go after insects also presents risks to humans which must not be ignored.
When Shell submitted this insecticide to the federal government for registration over a decade ago, officials of the Public Health Service objected. They stated that people should not be continuously inhaling a vapor in their homes which is toxic enough o kill insects, unless there was a strong countervailing benefit. They did not believe that reducing the number of in-house flies, which could be done in far more safe and sanitary ways (including prevention of entry), could ever justify such hazards and other unknown risks.
Shell lobbied hard and obtained a government registration amidst controversy and charges of conflict of interest. In 1970 the FDA mustered the courage to require Shell to add the following warning to the label: “Not to be used in nurseries or rooms whereinfants, ill, or aged people are confined.” Also required is a caution that the Strip is not to be used where food is prepared or consumed.
Yet Shell’s current TV ads do not spell out these warnings and in fact encourage people to disregard them. One ad shows a housewife hanging up a Strip in a home nursery where small children are playing. Shell also has been singularly unconcerned that its products are being used in restaurant and home kitchens where food is directly exposed to the vapor.
Dr. Samuel Epstein of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland believes that the concentrations of vapor (technically from Dichlorvos [DDVP] and other related compounds which make up the No-Pest Strip) in hot, poorly ventilated rooms can exceed the limits set for worker safety standards. In his thorough analysis of the scientific literature, he reports studies showing effects of these vaporized chemicals to be adverse to nervous systems and genetic material as well as presenting hazards to unborn fetuses and cancerous risks. He also cites reports of people complaining of headaches, abdominal cramps and nausea following use of the Strip. Although the Strip is harmful if it touches the skin, the product bears no such warning.
A British publication, The New Scientist, reported more serious effects on household ets such as caged birds, goldfish and lizards.
Shell’s strategy is predictably irresponsible if not worse. The company knows that very year that the No-Pest Strip stays on the market is another year of great profits. So its policy is delay by shifting the burden of proof on others to show that the Strip is conclusively dangerous.
Shell has matters upside-down. As a producer and seller of the insecticide, it has the burden of proof to show that the product is safe and that it is not misleading consumers into especially hazardous use patterns. Not only has the company not conducted thorough inhalation tests on laboratory animals to determine the extent of numerous risks, but it goes about promoting the exposure of such vapors to millions of unknowing adults and children without telling them the health hazards in everyday language. For what? To reduce in this way the number of in-house flies. This is a most tragic trade-off.