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Q. What is Scourge?
A. Scourge is an insecticide used to kill adult mosquitoes. Its
active ingredients are Resmethrin and piperonyl butoxide which
act together to kill mosquitoes. About one-fourth of the Scourge
formula is "inert ingredients," including petroleum by-products.
Q. Why should I be concerned about the use of Scourge?
A. Scourge is harmful to both the environment and humans.
Ecologically, it is harmful to trout, shrimp, and other marine
life. Its label warns: "THIS PRODUCT IS TOXIC TO FISH AND
BIRDS. DO NOT APPLY TO LAKES, STREAMS OR PONDS." There is
still much that remains poorly understood about the ecological
damage caused by Scourge. According to EPA studies, however, one
thimbleful of Scourge is enough to kill the trout in an average
one acre shallow pond. Scourge is applied at about three times
Q. What are the human health effects of Resmethrin?
A. Public health is seriously threatened by Scourge. The label
of Scourge warns that inhalation is the greatest hazard for humans. "AVOID
BREATHING, VAPOR OR SPRAY MIST." Unpublished data by the manufacturer
reveal that Resmethrin is cancer-causing, with specific risk of
liver and thyroid cancers. Unless homes are air-tight and windows
are closed at the time of spraying, all residents living in the
vicinity of Scourge applications are at risk from inhalation.
Q. Are the so-called "inert ingredients" of
A. Yes, the inert ingredients in Scourge are of great concern.
The EPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health have emphasized that the inerts used in Scourge are frequently
contaminated with the potent carcinogen benzene, a well documented
cause of leukemia and other malignancies. There are many case reports
on these inert ingredients causing respiratory problems including
irritant and allergic responses, asthma and conjunctivitis following
inhalation or skin exposure to Scourge.
Aside from the dangers of Resmethrin and the inerts, there are
no data on the cancer-causing effects of Scourge itself. This does
not mean it is not cancer-causing, only that research has not been
conducted. There is reason for concern, however, because chemical
hazards often have additive effects. Recent studies published in
the reputable and peer-reviewed journal Science have shown that
some pesticides, when used together, have 1000 times the adverse
human health effects of either alone. Scourge has not been examined
for these types of "synergistic" effects.
In addition to cancer-causing effects, there are unresolved questions
about the reproductive and developmental problems that Scourge
Q. What about my children? Are they more vulnerable to Scourge?
A. Children have more skin surface for their body weight and breathe
more rapidly than adults do. For this reason, they are likely to
have higher exposures to these chemicals than adults. Recent research
has shown that this increased exposure can not only raise their
risk of cancer and other chronic disease, but can place them at
risk for neurological and behavioral problems during this important
phase in mental development. Some have even suggested links between
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and exposure to pesticides.
The elderly, and those with health problems are also particularly
vulnerable to the effects of Scourge and other toxic chemicals.
When immune system functioning is low, toxics can have more dramatic
Q. Are there safe alternatives to Scourge for controlling mosquito
A. Mosquito control is often justified because mosquitos can carry
disease, such as encephalitis. However, the use of Scourge and
other toxic adulticides is never justified for nuisance control.
There are two alternative approaches for controlling risk of mosquito-borne
The first approach is based on public education and personal protection.
It includes remaining indoors at dawn and dusk, installing and
maintaining window and porch screens, wearing protective clothing,
and minimal application of mosquito repellents to the exterior
of clothing (not skin).
The second approach involves eliminating mosquito larvae in stagnant
waters where they breed. By eliminating breeding areas with open
marsh management procedures that are sensitive to wetland integrity,
mosquito populations can be reduced. The most effective and long-term
method for marsh water management is drainage of stagnant standing
water in culverts, ditches, on public grounds and in residential
Non-toxic larvicides are more effective than toxic adulticides
for mosquito control. Selective application of small amounts of
larvicides can achieve a great reduction in mosquito populations
in contrast with the large amounts of adulticides needed to penetrate
massive air space. Larvicides include: the application of larvicide
oil which in thin films block larval breathing tubes; predators
or parasites which under controlled ecological conditions can be
used to keep larva populations down, and some natural insect toxins
which can be applied to poison larvae without harming the surrounding
As the New York Department of Public Health emphasized in 1989: "Unless
specific public health threats exist -- the benefits (of adulticide
spraying) are outweighed by its potential adverse effects on health
and the environment.
The information above is adapted from the testimony of Dr. Samuel
Epstein at the Open Forum of the North Shore Mosquito Abatement
District, Cook County, Illinois on September 30, 1996.
New Study Feeds Pesticide Debate, Chicago Sun Times
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
c/o University of Illinois at Chicago
School of Public Health, M/C 922
2121 W. Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60612