Insecticide related freak-out
September 30, 2013 2:44 AM   Subscribe

Worrying about long-term exposure to insecticides in my home - what to do now?

In early 2011, my boyfriend and I had our place treated by Rentokil to get rid of bed bugs. They sprayed the bedroom and lounge with pesticide, came back a couple of weeks later and sprayed again. We are not sure exactly which pesticide they used. This is in Germany, btw.

They told us that we should clean the apartment between sprays with an alkaline cleaner and should wear masks and goggles while we did so. We weren't quite sure what they meant by 'alkaline cleaner' but we don't speak German that well so we didn't really get it when we asked them to clarify. We looked it up and it seems like alkaline cleaners are mostly bleach or ammonia. We were worried about damaging the wallpapered walls of our rented apartment with these, so instead we used a commercial cleaning product that looked pretty strong but didn't seem to damage the walls - we're not sure if it was an alkaline cleaner or not.

We cleaned the apartment thoroughly twice with this cleaning product and water, taking the necessary safety precautions and going over every item and surface that could have been exposed to chemicals. We threw out our old bed and couch and got new ones. Thankfully the treatment was effective and we thought the problem was dealt with. But then we started noticing that if we happened to brush up against the walls, our skin would go a bit dry or itchy. Nothing extreme, but a noticeable redness and itchy feeling. Since we are idiots, we ignored this problem for ages - over 2 years. We had lots of stress going on in other parts of our lives and we just didn't want to deal with it and it seemed like it only happened occasionally when we touched the walls, so we just tried not to touch the walls too much.

Last night we were talking about it and I kinda started freaking out. What if we didn't manage to get rid of all the chemicals? Have we been breathing in crazy amounts of hazardous chemicals all this time? How could it have affected our health? Googling suggests that Rentokil probably used an insecticide containing Permethrin, which apparently has "low mammalian toxicity", but is not exactly safe either (note: we do not have pets and are never around them because of my allergies, no kids living here or visiting either). Can anyone confirm if this is what they would have used? What else are they likely to have used if not that?

Should we treat our walls with a bleach solution - is this safe? Or what specific product should we use instead? Should we go to the doctor and get checked out? What kind of health effects do we need to get checked out for? It's like I blocked this from my mind for ages and now it is all hitting me and I'm panicking and worried about long-term ill health. For what it's worth, neither of us has been noticeably sick other than the skin reactions, which are always mild. We don't even get colds very much. I have allergic asthma but it predates the bed bug treatment and is under control with a preventative inhaler.

If you could help me stop panicking and figure out the next steps, I would be eternally grateful.
posted by guessthis to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Permethrin has a half-life (the time it takes for half of the compound to break down) of less than 20 days indoors (see this document). After 800 days, there's not going to be any meaningful residue left in your home.

My guess would be that the powerful cleaning products you've used on your walls have left traces of detergents, which are known irritants for people with sensitive skin. Wiping your surfaces down with clean water might remove some of that.

Your doctor is going to file you under 'worrier who reads too much on the Internet' unless you have obvious symptoms.
posted by pipeski at 3:49 AM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

As one of many thousands of hunters who spray Permethrin directly on our pants every time we go walking through chigger infested fields, and have done this for decades, I think you can relax a little. You can buy huge cans of the stuff over the counter in the States, sold to spray on clothing. You need to re-spray a lot because it doesn't last very long. It says not to spray it on skin (and I don't) but I can say confidently that a two year old spray of this stuff is not what ails you...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:23 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did you wipe the cleaning product off the walls after you used it? Maybe there is some residue from it irritating your skin.
posted by yohko at 11:23 AM on September 30, 2013

Response by poster: This is what I needed to hear, thanks a lot folks. Keeping thread unresolved in case anyone has any more insight into exactly which pesticide Rentokil would have used, so I can look it up and indulge myself in more reading too much on the internet.
posted by guessthis at 1:02 AM on October 1, 2013

« Older How to prevent vision deterioration from excessive...   |   Detroit historical tour of area where 1967 riot... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.