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Illegal Indoor Use of Methyl Parathion

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Current as of: May 1997
(modified January 2000)

On This Page:

  1. What is EPA announcing?
  2. Why did EPA sign this agreement and what should the public expect as a result of it?
  3. What is methyl parathion, and is it sold under other names?
  4. What are the health effects associated with short-term exposure to high levels of methyl parathion?
  5. Are there long-term health effects associated with exposure to high levels of methyl parathion?
  6. Does methyl parathion affect the health of animals?
  7. What are the terms and conditions of this EPA/Registrants Agreement?
  8. What is meant by a "restricted use pesticide"?
  9. How are people getting methyl parathion if it is a Restricted Use Pesticide?
  10. Why is methyl parathion being used illegally?
  11. What steps did EPA take to stop the illegal use of methyl parathion?
  12. How do I know whether my home has been sprayed with methyl parathion?
  13. What should I do if I have been exposed to methyl parathion?
  14. What precautions can I take to prevent the illegal application of methyl parathion in my home?
  15. What actions are being taken by EPA to address situations like this?
  16. Should individuals whose homes were treated with methyl parathion in the past still be concerned about exposure or poisoning from methyl parathion?
  17. Have adverse health effects/illnesses been reported in association with the illegal use of methyl parathion?
  18. Have those individuals who illegally used methyl parathion been caught and prosecuted?
  19. What are the penalties for illegal use of methyl parathion?
  20. If methyl parathion is so hazardous, why is it allowed to be used on food crops?

  1. What is EPA announcing?
  2. The Agency is announcing a Memorandum of Agreement (Agreement), signed on December 30, 1996, between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the registrants (manufacturers) of certain pesticide products containing the active ingredient methyl parathion, (O,O-dimethyl-O-(p-nitrophenyl) phosphorothioate). This Agreement is in effect as of January 15, 1997.


  3. Why did EPA sign this agreement and what should the public expect as a result of it?
  4. EPA and the registrants have entered into this Agreement because of the Agency's concerns about the illegal indoor use of methyl parathion emulsifiable concentrate ("EC") products in homes and other structures. This use poses potentially significant health risks to persons who live in or frequent these indoor areas and has already resulted in significant relocation and cleanup costs in several states. The Agency expects that the steps set forth in this Agreement will make the illegal diversion of these products to indoor uses much more difficult and unlikely.


  5. What is methyl parathion, and is it sold under other names?
  6. Methyl parathion is a man-made pesticide that may only be used lawfully on certain agricultural crops in open fields to control insects. It is most commonly used on cotton. Other major uses include field corn, peaches, wheat, barley, soybeans and rice fields. Together these uses account for about 95 % of methyl parathion used in the U.S. It is also registered for numerous other economically important minor uses.

    Methyl parathion is a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide first registered in 1954. It has been classified as a "Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP)" [see RUP definition in Q/A #8] since 1978 based upon its potential acute toxicity to humans and birds. Methyl parathion is a brownish liquid that turns milky white when mixed with water; smells like rotten eggs; and can leave a yellow stain on indoor surfaces where it has been sprayed. It is illegal to use methyl parathion inside residences or other buildings.

    Methyl parathion formulations subject to the EPA-Registrants agreement have been marketed under the following product names: Nitrox; Dithon 63; Ketokil 52; Seis-Tres 6-3; Metaspray 5E; and Paraspray 6-3.


  7. What are the health effects associated with short-term exposure to high levels of methyl parathion?
  8. Short-term exposure to high levels of methyl parathion, an organophosphate, may affect the nervous system by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called cholinesterase. At normal levels, cholinesterase breaks down a chemical called acetylcholine, which helps transmit signals in the nervous system. When cholinesterase is inhibited, an excess of acetylcholine builds up and impairs the proper functioning of the nervous system.

    Signs and symptoms of direct exposure to high levels of the more concentrated forms of methyl parathion may include headache, dizziness, loss of coordination, muscle twitching, tremor, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and general weakness, blurred vision, excessive perspiration and salivation. These symptoms may result from a single exposure or from repeated exposures occurring over several days. Exposure may occur through inhaling the pesticide, absorbing it through the skin, or swallowing it. At higher levels of exposure, methyl parathion poisoning can lead to respiratory failure and death. Even diluted methyl parathion used indoors can lead to serious poisoning, especially in children and household pets.

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  9. Are there long-term health effects associated with exposure to high levels of methyl parathion?
  10. A small percentage of those poisoned at the same high dose levels that cause short-term symptoms (see Q/A #4 above) may experience long-term effects, including persistent neurological problems, such as visual disturbances (double or blurred vision), muscle weakness, mental confusion, short-term memory loss, depression, or difficulty concentrating.


  11. Does methyl parathion affect the health of animals?
  12. Yes. Cats, dogs, and other animals may be easily exposed to methyl parathion on floors and other treated indoor surfaces when they come in contact with contaminated areas. Local veterinarians in Lorain County, Ohio, reported deaths of household animals due to exposure to methyl parathion. Due to small body weights, exposed household pets may quickly exhibit signs of methyl parathion poisoning, and therefore may serve as an early warning that identifies the buildings have been sprayed. Animals experience the same type of health effects as humans and are more likely to receive lethal doses due to their relatively smaller size and higher exposures.


  13. What are the terms and conditions of this EPA/Registrants Agreement?
  14. The manufacturers (registrants) of methyl parathion EC pesticide products will do the following:

    New product registration will be granted by EPA once registrants have complied with all the above conditions. EPA will then approve registrants' requests for voluntary cancellation of the existing methyl parathion EC pesticide products.

    Additionally, as a condition of registration, the sole U.S. manufacturer of methyl parathion, Cheminova Agro, will implement a product stewardship campaign and conduct an educational program which will include:


  15. What is meant by a "restricted use pesticide"?
  16. Restricted use pesticides are those pesticides that can only be sold or distributed to, and used by, or under the direct supervision of, Certified Pesticide Applicators. Certified applicators must be trained and certified by their State, and recertified periodically.

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  17. How are people getting methyl parathion if it is a Restricted Use Pesticide?
  18. The Agency is aware that at least one of the individuals involved in illegally using methyl parathion in homes and other buildings (in Mississippi) held a private applicator certification card which allowed him to purchase this pesticide legally. (His certification only gave him authority to apply restricted use pesticides like methyl parathion to agricultural crops produced on land he owned or rented, or as part of a bartering arrangement.) Illegal diversion of methyl parathion products appears to have been involved in some other instances.


  19. Why is methyl parathion being used illegally?
  20. The Agency believes that individuals may be using methyl parathion illegally indoors as a treatment for cockroaches because some have found it to be effective against these pests; it is a relatively inexpensive pesticide; and it persists (lasts) for such a long period of time when used indoors that frequent retreatments may not be necessary. However, this toxic chemical's persistence indoors is one of the key reasons that individuals may experience adverse health effects. When used according to its registration -- only in open fields (outdoors) -- methyl parathion breaks down and dissipates more rapidly.


  21. What steps did EPA take to stop the illegal use of methyl parathion?
  22. OPP actively entered into discussions with Cheminova after EPA's Region 5 office documented misuse in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. As a result, the company issued a fact sheet a year ago alerting all retail distributors of methyl parathion to the problem and of the need to prevent diversion and misuse. Upon learning about the latest incidents in mid-1996, EPA issued a nation wide alert to consumers with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and worked with Cheminova to achieve the comprehensive agreement announced on January 15, 1997.


  23. How do I know whether my home has been sprayed with methyl parathion?
  24. If you are concerned that your home may have been sprayed with methyl parathion, you should contact the pest control operator who performed pest control service in your home, and request information and copies of the label/labeling on the pesticides used in your home.

    Individuals should always have the pest control operator (the individual who treats your home) provide you with the name of the pesticide product and the active ingredient, along with the complete label and labeling information of any pesticide planned for use in and/or around your home. Before allowing any pesticide treatment to be made -- or before applying any pesticides yourself -- always read and follow the entire label/labeling information.

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  25. What should I do if I have been exposed to methyl parathion?
  26. Individuals who believe they have experienced adverse health effects from exposure to methyl parathion should contact their personal physician promptly, as well as their local Poison Control Center and local and/or State Department of Health.


  27. What precautions can I take to prevent the illegal application of methyl parathion in my home?
  28. Individuals should always hire ONLY pest control operators licensed (certified) for commercial and/or residential structural application to treat homes for pest control. Always ask to see licenses, certifications and picture identification cards, and make sure that they are current. These individuals should be insured and should provide written proof of insurance. Ask if the company's employees are bonded (meaning that the company reimburses you for any loss or damage caused by its employees). You may want to contact your State pesticide agency to verify the pest control operator's license and any information provided about the company. Always have the licensed pest control operator provide you with the label and labeling information of any pesticide products that will be applied in and/or around your home; and, always read the entire label/labeling to ensure that it contains EPA establishment and Registration Numbers and is used and applied strictly according to the label/labeling.

    Never purchase pesticide products from other than established retail businesses (stores). Purchase ONLY pesticide products in unopened, original pesticide containers that are fully labeled and contain an EPA Registration Number.

    Before purchasing any pesticide service and/or product, take the following steps to reduce pesticide risks: choose a reputable pesticide service and/or the right product and the right amount for the job, and read the entire product label. Use the product according to label directions; always store pesticide products in locked cabinets out of the reach of children and pets; and dispose of pesticide products according to label directions.

    Before using or allowing pesticides to be used in the home, if there are ANY questions or concerns regarding the pesticide products being proposed for use, individuals should contact the County Cooperative Extension Service (listed in your telephone book), local pesticide dealers, the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) Exit EPA disclaimer    at 1-800-858-7378 or the State pesticide regulatory agency for assistance.


  29. What actions are being taken by EPA to address situations like this?
  30. Besides the Agreement between EPA and the registrants of methyl parathion EC products being announced, the Agency is currently developing a comprehensive program to detect past and ongoing illegal indoor applications of agricultural pesticides and to prevent future applications of these pesticides indoors. Other initiatives include industry's Best Management Practices Task Force which has activities planned and/or underway in an effort to deter the misuse of pesticides, and the Public Service Announcements and educational program under development by Cheminova, as specified in the agreement. The task force will target formulators, distributors, dealers/retailers, certified applicators, and growers with educational materials focusing on the importance of keeping restricted use materials out of the hands of uncertified applicators and preventing the illegal diversion of agricultural pesticides to indoor use. The materials will discuss the important responsibilities of the target groups in preventing these problems, including specific actions they can take to avoid misuse and diversion of pesticides in the future.


  31. Should individuals whose homes were treated with methyl parathion in the past still be concerned about exposure or poisoning from methyl parathion?
  32. Yes; some homes that were treated as long as three years ago still contain levels of methyl parathion contamination high enough to warrant relocation and clean-up [also see Q/As #12, #13, and #14].

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  33. Have adverse health effects/illnesses been reported in association with the illegal use of methyl parathion?
  34. Yes; there have been many reports from residents of illegally sprayed locations (in Mississippi, Louisiana and Ohio) of extreme nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. EPA and the states relocated approximately 4000 residents while their homes were decontaminated. Eight day care centers, one restaurant and two hotels illegally sprayed with methyl parathion in Jackson County, Mississippi have been closed. Extensive cleanup operations are nearly complete.


  35. Have those individuals who illegally used methyl parathion been caught and prosecuted?
  36. Yes. To date, nine individuals in Mississippi have been arrested for illegally selling and/or using methyl parathion for indoor use; trials have not yet been held. In Ohio, the individual responsible pled guilty to violating state laws by spraying methyl parathion in more than 200 homes in two Ohio counties in the 1990's. He was convicted on 13 counts ranging from vandalism to applying restricted use pesticides without a license and sentenced in July 1996 to serve 3-5 years in jail.


  37. What are the penalties for illegal use of methyl parathion?
  38. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), individuals may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties for pesticide misuse. The penalties assessed depend on the nature and extent of misuse. Civil penalties under FIFRA range up to $5000 per offense, and criminal penalties may include fines up to $25,000 and up to one year in prison. Penalties may also be assessed under state laws.


  39. If methyl parathion is so hazardous, why is it allowed to be used on food crops?
  40. Methyl parathion is an important insecticide for agricultural crops; and, as stated in Q/A #10 above, when used according to its registration -- only in open fields (outdoors) methyl parathion breaks down and dissipates quickly. As is the case with many other pesticides, EPA is continuing to review methyl parathion as part of its reregistration program for older pesticides. The goal of reregistration is to bring the data supporting pesticide registrations first granted before November 1984 up to date with current science and ensure that all pesticide uses meet today's more stringent safety standards.

    On August 2, 1999, EPA announced a cancellation agreement and risk reduction strategy that eliminates specific uses of methyl parathion on certain fruits and vegetables to reduce the dietary risk to children below EPA's level of concern. Certain other uses were canceled to further reduce dietary risk and risk to workers and the environment. EPA may impose addition risk reductions on methyl parathion in the future, if warranted. At this time, the Agency does not believe that the remaining registered uses of the pesticide pose unreasonable risks because it degrades and dissipates when properly applied outdoors to agricultural crops. There are no legal indoor uses of methyl parathion.

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