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Indoor Air: Pesticides in the Home - Additional Information

This information will help you gain a better understanding of questions homeowners may have about pesticides in the home. The sections below provide more information on this topic.

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What are pests?

  • Pests are living organisms, both plant and animal, that occur where they are not wanted and can cause damage to humans, crops, and animals.
  • The following pests may be found within the home:
    • Insects such as roaches, ants, and termites.
    • Other bugs such as millipedes and centipedes.
    • Rodents such as mice and rats.
    • Microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

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What are pesticides and where are they used?

  • Pesticides are any substance or mixture of substances that are used for preventing pest infestations, repelling or destroying pests, or mitigating pest problems.
  • According to a recent survey, 75% of U.S. households use at least one pesticide product in the home (EPA).
  • Another study suggests that 80% of most people's exposure to pesticides occurs indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes (EPA).
  • Common pesticides that may be found in the home include rat and rodent poisons, roach traps, roach and ant spray, kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants that kill mold and mildew, and flea and tick products used on pets.
  • Learn more about pesticides.

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What are the health effects of pesticides?

Pesticides emit pollutants such as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). These pollutants can contribute to health problems that may affect residents, the neighborhood, and the community.

  • Exposure to pesticides may cause the following:
    • Irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat.
    • Damage to the central nervous system and kidneys.
    • Increased risk of cancer.
  • Chronic exposure to some pesticides can result in damage to the liver, kidneys, endocrine, and nervous systems.
  • Symptoms of exposure to pesticides may include:
    • Headache.
    • Dizziness.
    • Muscular weakness.
    • Nausea.
  • Both the active and inert ingredients within pesticides can be organic compounds, which could add to the levels of organics inside home. Some health effects associated with organics include:
    • Eye, nose, and throat irritation.
    • Loss of coordination.
    • Nausea.
    • Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
    • Symptoms of exposure to organics include:
      • Irritation of the eye.
      • Nose and throat discomfort.
      • Allergic skin reaction.
      • Nausea.
      • Difficulty in breathing.
      • Declines in serum cholinesterase levels.
      • Vomiting.
      • Nosebleed.
      • Fatigue.
      • Dizziness.
  • The inert ingredient that carries the active ingredient in a pesticide may not be toxic to the targeted pest, but may cause human health problems.
  • The inert ingredient may be organic compounds that are volatile liquids or gases at ambient conditions. All of these compounds are considered to be VOC.
  • Remember that the "-cide" in pesticides means "to kill". When not used properly, pesticides may be dangerous to humans.
  • EPA has fact sheets available for different ingredients of pesticides that provide general information related to each ingredient.
  • The National Pesticide Information Center Exit EPA Disclaimer has developed facts sheets on the toxicity of ingredients found in pesticides.
  • Learn more about protecting children and pets from pesticides.
  • EPA has developed a Web page that contains additional information about the health effects of pesticides.

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Why can homes have an increased level of pesticides in the air?

  • When sprayed from a can, pesticide droplets settle onto surfaces such as rugs, furniture, and counters. Overuse or incorrect use of pesticides can lead to a buildup of residue that can be harmful to humans and pets if they touch, inhale, or ingest the residue.

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How can homeowners reduce their exposure to pesticides in the home?

  • Where possible, use non-chemical pest controls.
    • Prevent pests from entering the home by:
      • Removing moisture where possible.
        • Remove standing water from plant trays.
        • Fix leaky pipes and faucets.
        • Remove or dry out water-damaged materials and wet materials.
      • Removing or blocking off indoor hiding places for pests.
        • Caulk cracks or crevices to control access.
        • Bathe pets and the mats or beds regularly to control fleas.
        • Avoid storing newspapers, paper bags, or boxes.
        • Check boxes and other packages for pests before carrying them into the house.
          • Blocking pest entryways.
          • Install screens on all floor drains, windows, and doors.
          • Block any passageways through the floor.
          • Place weather stripping on doors and windows.
          • Caulk and seal openings in walls.
          • Keep doors shut when not in use.
    • Use nonchemical pest controls.
      • Beneficial predators such as purple martins, bats, and spiders can eat pests that may impact your home.
      • Parasitoids lay their eggs inside pests. The offspring kill their insect hosts.
      • Microscopic pathogens can control pests.
      • Biochemical pesticides such as pheromones and juvenile insect hormones interfere with communication and reproduction of pests.
    • Use manual methods.
      • Flyswatters are an effective means of controlling periodic flies and other creatures that make it into your home.
      • Set traps for rodents such as rats and mice as well as some insects.
    • Learn more about the benefits of using integrated pest management (IPM).
    • EPA has developed a Citizen's Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety (PDF) (54 pp, 2.4 MB) that has more detailed information about how to use both nonchemical and chemical means of pest control.
  • Use only pesticides approved for use by the general public and then only in the recommended amounts. NEVER use pesticides that are restricted to use by state-certified pest control operators.
  • Read the label and strictly follow its directions. It is illegal to use any pesticide in any manner inconsistent with the directions on its label. Learn how to effectively read a pesticide label.
  • Buy only the amount of pesticide that you for that particular task.
  • Mix or dilute pesticides outdoors. When mixing or diluting, only prepare the quantity you will need for a particular task.
  • When using indoors, increase ventilation. Also, take plants or pets outdoors when applying.
  • Do not store unneeded pesticides in the home. Instead, keep them outside and safely locked away. If possible, safely dispose of unneeded pesticides. Check with your local agencies to determine if they have a hazardous materials disposal/recycling center.
  • If storing pesticides, keep them in their original container. DO NOT store in unmarked containers.
  • To avoid having to use pesticides, keep your home clean, dry, and well ventilated to avoid pests and odor problems.
  • If you use a pest control company, select it carefully.
  • Store clothes with moth repellents in separately ventilated areas, if possible.
  • Carefully follow directions on pesticides used to treat your pets for fleas and ticks.
  • Use caution when using total indoor foggers.
  • Know what to do in case of a pesticide emergency.
  • Learn more pesticide safety tips and the safest way to use pesticides.

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