DIY Bed Bug Treatment Kills Infant

By Chris Williams on March 2, 2015.

bed bug shed skinsAfter a mom in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada treated her apartment for bed bugs, her five children started vomiting and exhibiting diarrhea. They were taken to a regional health center. A family member also brought a bottle of tablets to the center which the mother had recently brought back from Pakistan. Authorities contacted her family in Pakistan and determined that the bottle contained illegal phosphine tablets.

Pesticide Used for Bed Bugs Was Illegal and Deadly

Phosphine is a fumigant that, once released in an enclosed space, is capable of killing every living thing. It comes in the form of powder or pellets that react with moisture and release deadly phosphine gas. Phosphine is a restricted-use pesticide in both the U.S. and Canada that is mainly used to fumigate bulk grain in storage. It cannot be legally used inside structures to kill bed bugs or any other pest. It is not available to the general public.

The process of fumigating to kill pests requires special equipment, professional training, the use of a restricted chemical (Vikane – which is legal but also not available to the public), a special license from the state, extensive safety precautions, special locks to prevent unauthorized entry, and specified aeration procedures, including air sampling using sophisticated fumigant detection equipment to ensure that the area is safe to reenter.

Fumigating is Not the Same as Fogging

Sometimes people confuse fumigating with fogging. Fogging (or “bombing”) is the release of a fog or mist of insecticide that kills insects on contact. It will kill insects out in the open but does not penetrate deep into hidden areas and the hiding places of pests. You can buy bug bombs in retail stores. A fumigant, in contrast, is a restricted-use gas whose molecules penetrate every nook and cranny and can kill every living thing within the space. You cannot legally buy a fumigant.

“It could have been [worse] if [the phosphine] was in the hand luggage and it got wet on the airplane, you could have had a whole airplane full of dead people,” said University of Guelph toxicologist Keith Solomon.

The phosphine pellets were mainly found in one bedroom but the fumigant could be detected throughout the apartment unit. Children are especially susceptible to the effects of fumigant gas since it remains low to the ground where children are crawling. An eight-month-old girl died in the hospital and the other four children remained in critical condition. Residents of the four-story apartment building were evacuated until air quality tests determined there was no threat to others.

Make Sure the Pesticide is EPA-Approved

Please do not use pesticides that are not registered in the U.S. by EPA. Beware of pesticides sold by street vendors or imported products sold in ethnic neighborhood shops (see Beware of Illegal Pesticides!) Our Environmental Protection Agency works very hard to ensure your safety when using pesticides or when exposed to applied pesticides. Look for an EPA Registration Number (EPA Reg. No.) on the product label to be assured that the pesticide has passed EPA’s testing criteria and is safe when used according to label directions.

Photo credit: louento.pix / Foter / CC BY-ND

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