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Clothing Factory-Treated with Permethrin

October 1, 2012

Insect repellent factory-treated clothing

Currently, the only insect repellent used for factory treatment of clothing is permethrin. Permethrin is a broad spectrum, non-systemic, synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that targets adults and larvae of many diverse species of biting, chewing, scaling, soil, and flying invertebrates.  Permethrin is registered by the EPA as an insecticide for use in a variety of settings.  When used to pre-treat clothing, it is an insect repellent.

Permethrin has been registered since 1979 and was first registered in 1990 for use as a repellent on clothing by the military. At about the same time, the consumer use of permethrin applied as a spray on clothing and gear, and the commercial factory treatment of clothing and various types of gear were also registered. In 2003, the EPA registered Buzz Off (now Insect Shield, LLC) factory-treated clothing products, which are the first consumer-oriented, permethrin factory-treated clothing products.

Safety of permethrin in factory-treated clothing

Permethrin factory-treated clothing is registered in the U.S. by the EPA. In evaluating these products, we follow normal risk assessment procedures to determine safety.  Our 2009 revised exposure and risk assessment evaluated multiple exposure scenarios for permethrin factory-treated clothing, including toddlers wearing or mouthing the clothing, and military personnel who wear permethrin-treated uniforms on a daily basis. All exposure scenarios showed that permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant acute or chronic hazard to people wearing the clothing.

The amount of permethrin allowed in clothing is very low, and scientific studies indicate that human exposure resulting from wearing permethrin factory-treated clothing also is low.  Available data show that permethrin is poorly absorbed through the skin.

Safety of permethrin as a factory-treated fabric for women who are pregnant or nursing

Based on our review of scientific studies, there is no evidence of reproductive or developmental effects to mother and child following exposure to permethrin.

Effectiveness of factory-treated clothing

We require manufacturers of all pesticides to generate efficacy data demonstrating that the product will work to control pests as claimed on the label.  In the case of pests of public health concern, such as mosquitoes and ticks, the manufacturer is required to submit these efficacy studies for review and approval by the agency. We have reviewed these data for permethrin factory-treated clothing and found that the clothing is effective in repelling target pests.

Safe Use of permethrin factory-treated clothing; Follow the label

Permethrin factory-treated clothing is considered to be a pesticide product and, as with any pesticide product, it is required to be marketed with a pesticide use label.  Permethrin factory-treated clothing comes with a pesticide use label in the form of a "hang-tag,” which is typically attached to the outside of the clothing.  As with any pesticide product, consumers must follow the directions and precautions on the "hang-tag" label that accompanies this clothing. 

Use of factory-treated clothing in conjunction with insect repellents

When wearing permethrin factory-treated clothing to repel insects, only the skin surface covered with the factory-treated clothing is protected from the pests listed on the label. Other exposed parts of the body should be treated with an insect repellent labeled for use on human skin for more complete protection.

Reasons for washing the clothing separately

Small amounts of permethrin can come off in the wash, as shown by available scientific studies. Only outer clothing is treated with permethrin, as outer clothing is most likely to come into direct contact with the listed pests. Permethrin repellent products used for factory-treatment of clothing or as spray-ons for clothing are not to be applied to certain clothing such as underwear.  For this reason, the label instructs consumers to wash permethrin-treated clothing separately from other non-treated clothing.

Meaning of EPA registration and status of permethrin

Federal law requires that before selling or distributing a pesticide in the United States, a person or company must obtain a registration, or license, from the EPA. Before registering a new pesticide or new use for a registered pesticide, we must first ensure that the pesticide, when used according to label directions, meets the safety standard set by law. To make such determinations, we require many different scientific studies and tests from applicants. Where pesticides may be used on food or feed crops, we also set tolerances (maximum pesticide residue limits) for the amount of the pesticide that can legally remain in or on foods.

In evaluating pesticides for registration, we require the manufacturers to provide a variety of studies on the health and environmental effects of each chemical and product.  We use these studies to make decisions on whether a product and its intended uses meet our safety standard and whether specific use restrictions are warranted for the safe use of the product.  As part of the review and risk assessment process, we consider individuals of varying ages who can potentially be exposed to a pesticide under different use scenarios.

The EPA periodically reevaluates all registered pesticides to ensure continued compliance with current scientific and safety standards.

For more information

Permethrin page -- www.epa.gov/pesticides/chemicalsearch/

Permethrin registration review docket -- EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0039

Mosquito Control including mosquito repellents -- http://epa.gov/mosquitocontrol/

Pyrethroids and Pyrethrins -- http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reevaluation/pyrethroids-pyrethrins.html 

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