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As I was browsing my Google Alerts emails covering multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) yesterday I came across what looked like a very interesting article in the New York Times which looked like it would be useful for those suffering from MCS and environmental illness (EI).
The article is titled 'An Environmentally Friendly Mosquito Repellent?' so I thought, great, this sounds like great news and perfect material for my blog tomorrow. Unfortuately when I actually read the article this morning it was not what I was expecting at all.
First off, the author talks in considerable length about how during her childhood in New Jersey she would chase farm machinery spraying the highly toxic pesticide DDT (note pesticide, as in kills pests, it is not an insect repellant), breathing it in and having her clothes and skin covered in it. The fact that as far as she knows her expsoure to DDT in this way caused no ill health seems enough to convince her that this toxic organochlorine compound is harmless to anyone - although she paradoxically admits it is harmful to wildlife and its subsequent ban was positive for this reason.
DDT was banned in most developed countries during the 1970s and 80s and far from being harmless it has been linked to many serious diseases including:
- Neurological Disorders
- Thyroid Disorders
- Developmental Disorders
- Infertility, Increased miscarriage risk, and lower sperm quality
- Cancer (particularly breast, liver and pancreas)
Many of the toxic effects of DDT are due to its actions as an 'endocrine disruptor'; it interferes with the normal functioning of hormones within the body, by activating or blocking their receptors for example.
Of course, there are also many cases of environmental illness which patients report were triggered by pesticide exposure but these still fly under the radar of the medical establishment and those who compile medical statistics. Some epidemiological studies on pesticide exposure and incidence of MCS, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and other environmental illnesses would be nice...
Still, I held out hope that despite her personal scepticism about the human health effects of DDT, the NY Times authour was actually about to report on a study that had proven the effectiveness of a truly non-toxic insect repellant that everybody, even those of us with EI, could use without worry. Sadly I was wrong again, the study being reported on had found a pair of chemicals that blocked mosquitos ability to detect carbon dioxide - they home in on our exhaled breath. Unfortunately the chemicals are listed as 2,3-butanedione and 1-hexanol. Although these are much less toxic than DDT and other organochlorines and thus better for the environment and a step in the right direction, they are still sure to cause problems for EI patients.
So, that turned out to be a great disappointment. I have to admit I was amused by a comment left by a visitor who rightly pointed out that DDT was a pesticide not an insect repellant but suggested a safe insect repellant already existed - DEET. For those unaware, recent research found that DEET acted in the same way as pesticides and nerve gas to disrupt neurological function. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor - a class of chemicals strongly linked to Gulf War syndrome. I reported on this research in a news article last month - DEET Insect Repellant has Effects on Nervous System
To learn how to truly protect yourself from mosquitos and other insects safely please see my follow-on post - Truly Non-toxic and Natural Insect Repellants
Following on from my previous blog about a NY Times article that didn't live up to its promise of offering a safe way to combat mosquitos I wanted to provide some genuine advice on non-toxic insect repellants and techniques for avoiding the troublesome pests.
After a quick internet search I came across a fantastic article on About.com written by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., the site's chemistry guide.
Helmenstine explains that mosquitos use complex mechanisms to detect hosts so the most effective way escape becoming such a host is to avoid things that attract them and also use truly non-toxic repellants at the same time.
What do Mosquitos Find Attractive?
Carbon Dioxide - As mentioned in my previous blog, mosquitos find hosts by following their trail of exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2). You give off more CO2 when you are hot or have been exercising so either avoid being outside or make sure you have other sources of CO2 to distract them such as candles or a fire.
Dark Clothing - Apparently mosquitos find dark clothing attractive so best bring out those light and bright colours from your wardrobe/closet!
Lactic Acid - Lactic acid is produced during exercise when muscles switch to anaerobic metabolism. You also produce more after eating certain foods including those high in salt (e.g. processed foods) and potassium (e.g. bananas). Some of the lactic acid is expelled through the skin.
Strong Fragrances - Mosquitos are attracted to strong fruity or floral fragrances according to Helmenstine. This includes perfumes, scented soaps and sun lotions, as well as laundry detergents etc. Obviously for those of us with environmental illness this is a non-issue as we already avoid all of these!
Moisture - Mosquitos are attracted to any moisture, whether it is standing water such as a lake or even just a puddle, or the moisture us humans give off when we're hot - sweat. Best avoid the heat and exercising in mosquito country if you want to avoid being bitten.
Natural Insect Repellants
Helmenstine recommends making your own insect repellant from natural oils, mainly various volatile essential oils. Now, I know these can be as much of a problem for MCS sufferers as synthetic chemicals but for others they offer a much safer alternative than DEET so I've chosen to include the list here.
- Citronella Oil - Lemon Eucalyptus Oil - Cinnamon Oil - Castor Oil - Rosemary Oil - Lemongrass Oil - Cedar Oil - Peppermint Oil - Clove Oil - Geranium Oil - Possibly Oils from Verbena, Pennyroyal, Lavender, Pine, Cajeput, Basil, Thyme, Allspice, Soybean, and Garlic
It's recommended that as many as possible are combined and reapplied to the skin frequently (every 2 hours) as they all work in slightly different ways and each species of mosquito also detects hosts differently.
Please visit About.com for the original article.