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09 February 2017

Looming health hazards of synthetic chemical repellents

As temperatures rise and mosquitoes hatch in swarms, the danger of toxic chemicals loom in common household repellents. 

Chemically produced mosquito repellents pose a threat to user’s health and the environment.

N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is a chemical used in most commercial repellents and can reside in the form of liquid, lotion, spray and permeated material. DEET is listed as an insecticide and is part of the toluene chemical group, a chemical used in glues and paint strippers. Rather than killing insects, DEET works by making it difficult for them to sense humans. The most common application for DEET repellents is to apply them directly to the skin which pose a threat to user’s health.

Our skin is the largest organ of our body, therefore almost anything applied to it has a significant chance of being absorbed and carried through the bloodstream. Research completed by The Medical Sciences Bulletin uncovered up to 56 per cent of DEET is capable of penetrating the skin when topically applied with up to 17 per cent being absorbed into the bloodstream.

It is not only topical repellents that are dangerous, mosquito coils are equally toxic. Mosquito coils contain a combination of chemicals including various pyrethroids and when burnt release numerous known human carcinogens including aldehyde, formaldehyde, small particles and several benzene derivatives. Some coils can contain Octachlorodipropylether (S-2) which expose humans to bis-chloromethyl ether (BCME), an extremely intoxicating lung carcinogen.

Studies have revealed one active mosquito coil produces the equivalent particulate matter as burning approximately 75 to 137 cigarettes with the percentage of formaldehyde emissions equal to burning 51 cigarettes. Chest Research Foundation has revealed the lung damage caused by one mosquito coil is equivalent to inhaling 100 cigarettes.

There are effective natural alternatives that pose no threat to user’s health. Essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, geranium, soybean, citronella, fennel, thyme, clove oil, celery extract, neem oil and picaridin are effective at repelling mosquitoes and are available in various application forms. Sandalwood is also an effective natural repellent and provides a safe alternative to mosquito coils.

Although mosquitoes can be irritating, it is important to protect yourself and your family’s health by reducing the number of toxic chemicals they are exposed to.

Related: Why is BPA the only concern?; What toxic chemicals are in your toothpaste?; What is in your sunscreen? 

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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