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EPA pulls bug killer,
nerve destroyer off the shelf

by Ramona Smith
Daily News Staff Writer

If you want to know how nasty a pesticide really is, talk to a professional
bug killer.

The guys at Steve's Bug Off on Frankford Avenue will explain that Dursban -
the most commonly used pesticide in the country - is so dangerous that they've
practically stopped using it.

The nerve-damaging chemical, which has wiped out millions of roaches
and other bugs in Philadelphia, belongs to "the most dangerous category
of pesticides
" - the organophosphates, relatives of the deadly nerve gas
- says general manager John Kraus.

But today, as the Environmental Protection Agency announces new
controls on the chemical's use, the shelves in groceries, drug stores
and garden shops remain stocked with products containing the poison.

Starting today, those retail shelves will be the target of environmentalists
who say Dursban holds a special threat to the developing nervous
systems of children.

Though the EPA is barring Dursban from hundreds of home and garden
products, it apparently is not ordering leftover stock to be pulled from
the shelves.

"If this stuff is dangerous enough to be removed from store-shelf products,
why aren't the products that are on the store shelves right now dangerous
enough to remove?" asks Mike Casey, spokesman for the Washington-
based Environmental Working Group. The group is pressing drugstore
and home supply chains not to pass their stock along to consumers.

Already aware of doubts about the safety of the pesticide, "our technicians
don't use it," said Kraus at Steve's Bug Off, where other chemicals and
other tactics replaced Dursban - with rare exceptions - nearly a year ago.

Until yesterday, though, Bug Off was selling pint containers of Dursban
to customers who wanted to dilute it and use it. It appeared the EPA's
ban might put an end to such sales.

Retail consumers can avoid Dursban easily, said Kraus. The telltale sign
is the chemical name "chlorpyrifos" on a pesticide product's label. The
word "Dursban," the Dow Chemical trade name, rarely appears.

What's wrong with the stuff, in widespread use since 1965?

A new "risk assessment" to be detailed this afternoon by the EPA points
to possible toxic effects at extremely low levels of exposure after
routine use.

The chemical effects the nervous system - as nerve gas does - and may
damage the brain or cause chemical sensitivity, the Environmental
Working Group said.

It said 1,000 cases of Dursban poisoning are reported by poison control
centers each year. Chemical residue can linger in rugs, upholstery or
stuffed toys

Despite that, more than 15 million pounds of the chemical are used
annually in agriculture, professional pest control and home and garden
use. Dow maintains its product is safe.

Today's steps by the EPA also aim to eliminate Dursban residue on
apples and grapes to protect children; forbid use of the chemical on
tomatoes; bar its use in all household products except childproof ant
traps, and end most applications by exterminators, with exceptions
including golf courses and spot treatment of heavy termite infestations.

The chemical is found in more than 800 products, including Ortho
Lawn Insect Spray, Real Kill Wasp & Hornet Killer II and Spectracide
Dursban Indoor & Outdoor Insect Control.

The Philadelphia School District and city Health Department don't use
Dursban, spokesmen said.

Instead of Dursban, Steve's Bug Off now uses two sprays (Conquer
and Cynoff) that are not organophosphates.

But exterminators do much less spraying than they did in the old days,
Kraus said.

Their rare use of Dursban is with a small aerosol can and narrow tube
to treat crevices heavily infested with termites.

"All the progressive pest control companies . . . have already been
changing over to
baiting systems
," said Kraus, referring to lower-
toxicity baits that ants or roaches take back to share with their nests.


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