The formaldehyde that is released from one mosquito coil can be as high as 51 burning cigarettes. Are repellents really safe to use?
A carpet of neem flowers on the balcony and terrace of my home is the official announcement of summer. But in the last few years, another indicator has been the increase in mosquitoes, cockroaches and other insects in our home.
Climate change could be one answer - frenetic human activity has increased our planet’s temperature and humidity. Research on mosquitoes and its habits show that the slightest increase in temperature and humidity can increase the size of the swarm, intensity and frequency of their attacks.
For example, relentless construction activity and fewer trees have created an heat island effect in all big metros. The increased temperature makes our homes an ideal environment for the mosquito swarm to flourish.
Concurrently we see a rapid increase in the range of anti-mosquito products available in stores today; unfortunately each is a new cocktail of chemicals. Of course all of these insect-kill products claim usage of some natural ingredient. They assert that they are perfectly safe for humans and somehow, at the same time, wage a brutal war on the insects that plague our home.
The balance between claiming your home for yourself and learning to co- exist with insects is a tricky one. While doing this you must use safe products that don’t have side-effects on your family.
All modern pest control methods fail this test and fall on one extreme. By design, they are virulent and broad spectrum, attacking every living thing in their radius, including pets, our children and ourselves. Take the ubiquitous mosquito coil; the emission of formaldehyde alone from one burning conventional mosquito coil can be as high as the formaldehyde released from 51 burning cigarettes! Piperonyl butoxide, another common ingredient in mosquito coils, has been linked in a 2011 study to delayed mental development in young children (36 months) when their mothers were exposed to it during their third trimester of pregnancy. Children who were highly exposed scored 3.9 points lower on their mental development Index than others. And this is just the research available from studying one form of insect repellent used in our homes.
If we add the many chemical cleaning products we use at home, without due diligence, we arrive at not just a long list of compounds that can affect our health but also how much our urban activity is poisoning the atmosphere around us.
For example, the high level of phosphates in chemical detergents finds its way through the sewerage system either to the sea or in some cases to other water bodies like lakes and ponds. Through a mechanism called eutrophication, a source of potable fresh water becomes a dead zone.
It is important to keep our home clean and insect-free using safe, natural methods. In the coming weeks, we will be delving into plant-based alternatives to replace our mosquito repellents and cockroach killers and explore easily available natural ingredients that can help us create our own detergents and floor cleaners.