New York City Presses EPA to Ban Insect Foggers

Published July 1, 2009

The New York City Bureau of Environmental Surveillance and Policy has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the use of insect foggers. If the city prevails, consumers will no longer have access to one of the most effective, inexpensive means of indoor bug control.

In a March 12 letter to EPA’s director of pesticide programs, Assistant Commissioner Daniel Kass sought “to restrict the use of structural insecticides formulated as total release foggers, and to consider additional labeling changes to ensure public health and safety.”

Roughly 50 Incidents Per Year

Kass declined a request for interview. His letter asserted a need for EPA to regulate based on “344 fogger exposures [that] were reported to our Poison Control Center between the years of 2000 and 2006.”

Kass reported nearly 29 percent of those incidents resulted in “moderate to severe health effects” and “the use of foggers results in regular catastrophic events [and] cause[s] between four and eight explosions each year in NYC.”

The letter also states, “failure to read, understand or follow label instructions is widespread,” and the resulting health problems to users include coughing or choking, throat irritations, vomiting, nausea, vertigo, headache, and difficulty breathing.

‘Greatly Exaggerated Concern’

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, says the fact that a few people mishandle the product does not justify government intervention. To do so is political knee-jerk reaction, he said.

“This is a greatly exaggerated concern, … and my instinct is that it’s over the top,” London said. “One big problem is when you have government regulation, it’s hard to know where to stop.”

Even an EPA official admits the numbers don’t show a need for the regulation.

“As far as what [the NYC department] wants us to do, that doesn’t look real likely,” said Jim Roelofs, a state liaison in EPA’s Virginia office. “To do that would require the EPA to issue a major rule. … It would take years, and the evidence on the numbers side isn’t that compelling.”

More likely, EPA will require better warning labels on the cans, Roelofs said.

State’s Request ‘Quite Unusual’

Roelofs said it is “quite unusual” for the agency to receive petitions requesting outright bans of certain products. EPA is moving forward with an investigation.

According to Dale Kemery, press officer for EPA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, the agency expects to issue a response in the next six to eight weeks.

“We have been reviewing data, … we have met with a representative of the agency that submitted the petition, … [and] we are planning to meet with fogger manufacturers to discuss options for label improvements and changes in marketing practices that might reduce the risk of misuse of foggers,” Kemery said.

If EPA issues restrictions, all cities and states—not just New York—would be required to comply.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 journalism fellow with The Phillips Foundation.