"It's d j vu all over again." In the Horticulture and Home Pest News, April 3, 1991, we included an article about the hazards of using illegal "insecticide chalk" for household pest control. The problem is still out there, as indicated in this the California Environmental Protection Agency news release (modified).
WARNING ISSUED ON "CHALK" PESTICIDE:DANGER TO CHILDREN
The California Departments of Pesticide Regulation and Health Services today warned consumers against using illegal insecticide chalk. "These products are deceptively dangerous. Children could easily mistake them for common household chalk," said State Health Officer James Stratton, M.D., M.P.H., "Consumers should avoid them." "Obviously, making an insecticide look like a toy is dangerous--as well as illegal," said DPR Chief Deputy Director Jean-Mari Peltier."
The products -- sold under various trade names including Pretty Baby Chalk, Chinese Chalk, and Miraculous Insecticide Chalk -- are hazardous for two reasons. First, they can be and have been mistaken for common household chalk and eaten by children, causing several illnesses. Second, the products are unregistered, and the ingredients and packaging are unregulated. These products are typically manufactured in China and illegally imported. The packages instruct consumers to draw chalk lines on the floor to kill insects that crawl over the pesticide.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken action against one of the distributors and has issued an order to Pretty Baby Co., in Pomona, Calif., to "stop selling an unregistered product that is harmful to public health." Pretty Baby actively markets its unregistered product to consumers and schools on the Internet and in newspaper advertisements.
"Products like this can be very dangerous," said Peltier. "The manufacturer can -- and does--change the formula from one batch to the next." For instance, three samples of a product labeled "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk" were analyzed by DPR last month. Two contained the insecticide deltamethrin; the third contained the insecticide cypermethrin.
Deltamethrin and cypermethrin are synthetic pyrethroids. Overexposure can produce serious health effects, including vomiting, stomach pains, convulsions, tremors, coma, and death due to respiratory failure. Serious allergic reactions are also possible.
The colorful boxes typically used for these products have been found to contain high levels of lead and other heavy metals in the packaging. This can be a problem if children place a box in their mouths or handle the boxes and transfer the metal residue to their mouths.
Reports of isolated illnesses in children have been linked to ingestion or handling of the chalk. The most serious occurred in 1994, when a San Diego child was hospitalized after eating insecticidal chalk.
Consumers who have purchased these illegal products should not use them. Dispose of the product at local household hazardous waste facilities.
This article originally appeared in the February 5, 1999 issue, p. 11.