Chad Love: How Bad is DEET?

There probably isn’t anyone reading this blog who, when blindfolded, couldn’t recognize the following scents: Hoppe’s #9 (naturally), burnt gunpowder, … Continued

There probably isn’t anyone reading this blog who, when blindfolded, couldn’t recognize the following scents: Hoppe’s #9 (naturally), burnt gunpowder, the original Fish Formula, wet dog and, of course, OFF.

Virtually everyone grew up soaked in the stuff. It’s as much a part of the childhood outdoors experience as hissing lanterns, blackened marshmallows, and sunfish. But in recent years there have been persistent questions about the safety of DEET, and as with so many other formerly-benign childhood icons, many people have begun limiting its use, especially on children.

The findings of the latest study to weigh in on DEET were published just last week.

From the story:

ScienceDaily (Aug. 6, 2009) — The active ingredient in many insect repellents, deet, has been found to be toxic to the central nervous system. Researchers say that more investigations are urgently needed to confirm or dismiss any potential neurotoxicity to humans, especially when deet-based repellents are used in combination with other neurotoxic insecticides.

And hot on the heels of that report were rebuttals from industry websites such as this one issued from deetonline.org:

“Reports of a French study to examine the effects of DEET on the nervous system of insects has little relevance for the widely used repellent ingredient’s effects on humans, according to independent scientific experts, including those at the U.S. National Pesticide Information Center,” said Susan Little, director of the DEET Education Program, Washington, D.C. To suggest that DEET is unsafe when used according to label instructions is irresponsible, she noted, especially since the study in no way reflects the way that consumers use insect repellents that contain it. Experts cited by the BBC and other news organizations agree. “The experiments that were conducted were mainly done on insects or on individual cells in test tubes, and generally not under conditions that accurately reflect how DEET is used as an insect repellent in the real world,” said Daniel Sudakin, M.D., M.P.H., with the U.S. National Pesticide Information Center, in a BBC News story. Dr. Sudakin is a widely published medical toxicologist and co-director of Integrative Health Science Facility Core at Oregon State University. “This makes it very difficult if not impossible to interpret the relevance of their findings to humans,” he said.

As always, consumers are left to sift through the rhetoric, scratch their heads and make a choice as to whom to believe.

Here are my questions: have you reduced your use of DEET-based repellents, especially with children? If so, what are some of your favorite homemade alternatives?