New York State Proposes Ban on Insect Foggers

Published January 1, 2009

New York is poised to become the first state in the nation to ban insect foggers—often known as bug bombs—from store shelves and require the devices be operated only by certified pesticide professionals.

For the average homeowner facing cockroach or other insect problems, that means a simple, effective, and inexpensive treatment option will no longer be available.

Safe When Used Correctly

The proposed ban comes by way of Pete Grannis, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, who decided to ban the foggers after a U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report chronicled several minor injuries between 2001 and 2006 when people disregarded application instructions or remained in the room while the fogger discharged.

A typical case reported by CDC is one that occurred in August 2007, when a “man aged 54 years in California simultaneously set off nine [foggers] in his small … 6,000 cubic foot home” even though “each 1.5 ounce can was designed to treat 5,000 cubic feet.”

Most sufferers reported short-term respiratory ailments, including temporary coughing or burning eyes, and most who were treated at hospitals were released within hours.

Despite the evidence that foggers are safe when used correctly, Grannis and his supporters, including New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, argued the regulation is needed to protect people. Under the proposal, the foggers will be reclassified as restricted-use products as their registrations come up for periodic review in the coming months.

Unnecessary Overreach

“This is just another silly nanny-state regulation,” said Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “When used properly, these products are a safe means of ridding homes of unwanted and potentially dangerous pests.”

That a small percentage of people choose to disregard directions and thereafter suffer minor, temporary discomfort does not justify prohibitions against personal use, nor further intrusions of government upon individual rights, Logomasini said.

Unintended Consequences

Gilbert Ross, medical director for the American Council on Science and Health in New York, suggested politics might be at play in the decision.

“Naturally, Frieden is very enthusiastic about banning the bug bomb in New York City,” Ross said. “The NYC Department of Health has been very activist during the Bloomberg administration, and Dr. Frieden’s approach is often ‘government needs to intervene first, other options later or never.'”

Other examples of Frieden intervening unnecessarily in personal decisions include the “fruitless ban on transfats and the forced listing of calorie counts in chain restaurants,” Ross said.

Such government overreaching may result in serious health risks, Ross said. If homeowners are forced to hire costly contractors and experts to rid their residences of bugs, many might avoid action, he explained.

That would be a problem, he said, because insects spread disease and other problems.

“It is known that insects contribute to rising incidences of asthma, and bedbugs are now becoming an epidemic in New York City as well.” Ross noted. “This ban would exacerbate these problems, at minimal benefit to public health.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.