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Most homes in US found to harbor lingering pesticides

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A recent survey reveals alarming numbers of lingering pesticides in US homes…

By Eartheasy Posted Jun 19, 2009

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency has found that most floors in occupied homes in the U.S. have measurable levels of insecticides that may serve as sources of exposure to occupants. Even pesticides which have been banned from use for years continue to persist in homes, and may pose a health risk in particular to children and pets.

The following pesticides have been identified as most likely to be found on kitchen floors. They are listed in order of degree of presence found in test results:

  1. Permethrin (found in 89% of homes tested)
    A general use pesticide for residential and agricultural applications, and an insecticide found in some head lice treatments, pet flea and tick products and other insect repellents. Permethrinis a neurotoxin. The U.S. EPA has classified permethrin as a carcinogen because it causes lung tumors in female mice and liver tumors in mice of both sexes.
  2. Chlorpyrifos (found in 78% of homes tested)
    Chlorpyrifos is a potent nerve poison which has been commonly used for decades as an insecticide for home use and as a termiticide in new home construction. Chlorpyrifos was sold as Dursban until 2001.
  3. Chlordane (found in 74% of homes tested)
    A pesticide similar to DDT, Chlordane was used on agricultural crops and residential lawns, and was widely used to eradicate termites from homes. Chlordane is a cumulative poison which absorbs through the skin, and long-term exposure may result in severe liver damage. It was banned for all uses in the US in the 1980s due to environmental and human health concerns.
  4. Piperonyl butoxide (found in 52% of homes tested)
    PBO is a pesticide synergist. It does not, by itself have pesticidal properties. However, when added to insecticide mixtures, typically pyrethrin, pyrethroid, and carbamate insecticides, their potency is increased considerably. PBO formulations are used to kill wasps, ants, fleas and ticks, lice and other pests. While toxic to aquatic species, its oral and dermal toxicity in mammals is considered to be low.
  5. Cypermethrin (found in 46% of homes tested)
    A synthetic pyrethroid insecticide found in some Raid products and other ant and roach killers. Pyrethroids like cypermethrin may cause adverse effects on the central nervous system. New studies in animals and humans show that pyrethroids can alter the production of hormones and harm sperm production.
  6. DDT (found in 42% of homes tested)
    DDT is an insecticide widely used for decades to kill mosquitoes and other insect pests. DDT was banned in 1972. Studies in rats have shown that DDT and DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, can mimic the action of natural hormones and in this way affect the development of the reproductive and nervous systems. The EPA has determined that DDT and DDE are probable human carcinogens.
  7. Fipronil (found in 40% of homes tested)
    A broad-spectrum insecticide used especially for ants and cockroaches, and for topical flea control on dogs and cats. Fipronil is the active ingredient in some Frontline, Maxforce, and Combat products. It is also the active ingredient of Termidor, used as a barrier treatment for termites. There have been very few studies undertaken with human subjects.
  8. Diazinon (found in 35% of homes tested)
    Classified as an organophosphate, Diazinon is one of the most common pesticides used on lawns. As an insecticide it is used widely to kill ants, roaches and other pests, until household use was banned in 2004. Diazinon is classified as moderately to practically nontoxic to small mammals on an acute oral basis. It is highly toxic to birds, bees, fish and marine invertebrates.

It should be noted that toxic effects to humans are linked to the amount of exposure to these pesticides, and these residual amounts found in homes surveyed are less likely to harm people and pets than results reported in lab studies may indicate. However, even a cursory review of the toxicity of these pesticides should alert the consumer to use discretion in deciding how to deal with insect pests in the home environment.

Information on non-toxic pest control:
Natural Insect Pest Control – nontoxic methods of controlling insect pests in the home
Natural Pest Control – nontoxic products for controlling insect pests in the home

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  • samantha

    Do you know if vinegar solution (half water/half vinegar) applied to ceilings, walls, floors, etc will break down pesticide residues??

    Our early 1980s townhome complex was recently tented with Sulfuryl Fluoride (Vikane) and Chlorpicrin (tear gas, the "warning agent") to treat for drywood termites (against all our best efforts to have them switch to heat instead).

    We have stayed out for two months and are trying to clean it before moving back in (apparently Sulfuryl fluoride can offgas up to 45 days or more, depending on the materials you leave in your home while being tented).

    Do you reckon vinegar is good at breaking down pesticide residues?

    • Greg Seaman

      Vinegar is effective at removing agricultural pesticide residue from produce, and therefore should be at least partially affective at cleaning your home. We do not have information describing the effectiveness of vinegar on the specific chemicals which have been used for your home treatment.

      • samantha

        Thank you, Greg, for your speedy reply. Please do let us know if you can think of anything better to use to wipe down the ceiling and walls with.


        • Greg Seaman

          A mild bleach solution will also remove pesticide residues. Mix 1/4 cup bleach with 4 liters of water and use this solution for cleaning.
          The vinegar solution is also effective but you shoud take care using this on painted surfaces which may be discolored. Always to a test patch in a spot that is not visible.
          I assume you covered your furniture with sheets before the fogging was done. This is a standard precaution when indoor pesticides are applied.

          • samantha

            Thank you, Greg, for your further advice and comments. We moved all our stuff out before the whole complex was tented (different from being fogged) since the Vikane penetrates everything and then off gasses for at least 45 days (and much longer if you leave your stuff in your home, and according to and depending on the materials making up all your stuff and the percentage of stuff filling your space because it will adsorb the Sulfuryl fluoride differently and off-gas at diff rates..) and we wanted to be able to move back in sooner rather than later for obvious financial and life reasons….

            Thanks for the suggestion re: mild bleach solution. We may test patch that, too, on our walls. Is it actually milder than the vinegar?

            We did a bunch of test patches of the vinegar/water solution on our paint/walls (AFM safecoat) and it did fine.

            Any other thoughts? Can't tell you how helpful your replies have been.


          • Greg Seaman

            I think you'll be fine with the measures you're taking. Your use of test patches is the right way to go about it.
            If there were a young child living in the home, I would consider adding a top coat of the AFM to the child's room.

    • Nancy Kay Vocals

      sufuryl fluoride per this scientist I’ve bothered many times leaves a residue on the walls. Chloropicrin is what off gases, leaving an odor but sometimes, pesticides are there whether you can smell them or not. I had a professional company get rid of all VOC’s in my townhouse but I’m still concerned about being in my home. The pesticides lasted over two years here. I kept closing off rooms that smelled and were unsafe. I wish they would ban vikane gas. I have a lot of cleaning to get done but I can’t camp any longer – it’s getting too cold outside. Good luck.

  • CommercialAgGuy

    Vinegar is a weak acid and does not have any real value as a cleaning agent for pesticides. In fact, vinegar is used as an organic herbicide. Chlorine bleach works to clean only about 1/2 of the known pesticides. Ammonia is recommended by most state agencies for cleaning pesticide tanks and surfaces. Ammonia is very destructive to other chemicals.

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