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Can Pesticide Foggers Be Dangerous?

Written by Stuart Lieberman on Wednesday, 18 April 2001 7:00 pm
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Recently a Trenton, New Jersey woman was badly burned after she used one of those "fogger" products to eliminate insects from her apartment.

According to fire department officials, fumes from the fogger accumulated at explosive levels, which were then ignited by a kitchen stove pilot light. The explosion left the apartment building and two adjacent buildings uninhabitable.

News reports suggested that the fogger was misused. Local officials believe that at least six -six ounce cans of the product were allegedly used in the apartment. This is at least the second fogger related explosion that I recall hearing about. So, I wondered whether officials were concerned.

As it turns out, there have been several explosions apparently relating to the use of these products and there have been reported deaths as well. For 12 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been looking at, suggesting, considering, proposing again, and internally deliberating proposals to require that these products be labeled to reflect a possible fire hazard.

This is a classic case of government inaction. Instead of promptly doing something, it appears as if the government effectively did nothing while Americans were at risk. It ended with rules that went into effect in 1999, calling for labels stating the products are "highly flammable." In a prior proposal, the label would have warned that the products are "extremely flammable." This was yet another compromise.

The EPA believes that many fogger accidents result from product overuse. Overuse results in the introduction of an excessive amount of material into the air and a dangerous buildup of flammable vapors. Generally, the EPA advises that one six ounce or eight ounce fogger is sufficient for an average size room. Smaller sizes are available for apartments. Foggers should not be used in very small spaces such as closets or cabinets.

There is an equation that people can use to calculate fogger use. One ounce of product should cover 1000 cubic feet of living space. But many people in this country cannot follow the instructions on a voting ballot, so what do you think are the chances that people are going to do this math -- and get it right?

Ignition sources that can pose a danger include open flames, pilot lights, and sparks from electrical equipment that cycle on such as refrigerators and air conditioners.

Foggers are cheap and generally effective. For these reasons, and because humans generally hate home-bound critters, these products will continue to be in demand. But, how many users of these products really take these cautionary label provisions to heart?

People often use more pesticide product than labeling instructions warrant. They are desperate to get rid of the bugs and the cans are inexpensive. Plus, they are inconvenient to use. You must leave the room for some time after they are used. So people may be inclined to over apply to ensure the job is done.

And how many people do you believe turn will off their stove or oven pilot light -- if that is necessary. Roaches are often found in kitchen areas, and kitchens are often not that big. If you have to turn off your pilot flame, do you also have to turn off the gas supply? USERS NEED TO CONTACT THEIR GAS SUPPLIER TO FIND OUT. But, how many people do you believe really take these measures?

In short, foggers work and are effective. Putting aside any human health concerns associated with the use of these products, people really need to appreciate that there are fire and explosion risks associated with the mis-use of these products. Read the labels very carefully. Call your gas suppliers and other appropriate officials if you have questions. Just because you can readily buy these products does not mean they can be irresponsibly used.

For more articles by Stuart Leiberman, please press here .

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