Drywood termites are a major wood destroying insect that cost consumers many millions of dollars in damage and control. One estimate suggested Californians spend $250 million dollars a year on this insect.
For many years the primary method of controlling drywood termites was to use sulfuryl fluoride (Vikane) as a fumigant. The house had to be wrapped and sealed and the gas injected. It was and still is a major inconvenience for homeowners as they had to do a lot to prepare for the fumigation as well as stay out of the house overnight. It was thought that once the house was cleared that the fumigant would dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere. A recent study by the University of California at Irvine has destroyed that myth. It turns out that sulfuryl fluoride is a major greenhouse gas that can last about 30 years in the atmosphere and may last up to 100 years. This study can be found at (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090121144059.htm). Another study by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography confirms Irvine’s findings. It can be found at
(http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/Releases/?releaseID=965. The Scripps study says researchers calculated that one kilogram of sulfuryl fluoride emitted into the atmosphere has a global warming potential approximately 4,800 times greater than one kilogram of carbon dioxide. That is pretty impressive.
Also homes and commercial buildings are built differently now than when sulfuryl fluoride was in its prime. The homes made today are constructed much tighter to control energy and that can impede the flow of gas throughout the building leaving some areas untreated. This is one reason why fumigation has a higher re-infestation rate than orange oil treatments.
Vikane is the trade name for sulfuryl fluoride gas. Vikane is extremely hazardous and carries the skull + crossbones poison label. If you are exposed, respiratory irritation and CNS depression may occur first; Excitation may then appear, followed by loss of motor control and cognition; Severe exposure (>400 ppm) or repeated lower exposure can cause significant organ damage; Convulsions and respiratory arrest can be the terminating event.
Information on the number of human deaths as a result of fumigation with sulfuryl flouride is not accessible to the public. Nor is any information available to the public on the number of people who became sick, but didn’t die, from exposure to the gas. You have to ask yourself why this information isn’t available.
There are some incidents worth mentioning. The San Diego Union-Tribune, on March 10, 2005 reported that a 39 year old woman was in a tented building that was fumigated with sulfuryl flouride. She screamed for help and was removed from the building but she died.
In another case two families (eleven people in total) in an adjacent house to the fumigation were not evacuated in advance of the fumigation and had no reason to suspect anything was amiss as sulfuryl fluoride, the highly toxic gas used, is odorless and colorless. The only person to have remained at home throughout the duration of the fumigation started to feel ill by the evening, experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and itchiness. The 39 year old father of three was admitted to hospital the following day but after three hours stopped breathing and died of heart failure shortly after. The remaining ten people who had been in the adjacent building all experienced symptoms of poisoning.
Finally two fatalities occurred when the owners of a home re-entered after the dwelling had been fumigated with 250 pounds of sulfuryl fluoride. The concentration to which the occupants were exposed was not determined. The man died within 24 hours, and the woman expired 6 days after exposure. Signs of intoxication included severe dyspnea, cough, generalized seizure, cardiopulmonary arrest (in the man), and weakness, anorexia, nausea, repeated vomiting, and hypoxemia.
These three incidents occurred over a number of years and only one was in California. However, the common denominator in all incidents was the use of sulfuryl flouride to control drywood termites or a wood boring beetle. Sure the incidents are rare, but why would anyone want to take a chance on having their family exposed to this kind of extremely dangerous product when safer and effective alternatives are available? To me it amazing that the use of sulfuryl flouride is even permitted in California or anywhere else.
If you are still having trouble making up your mind, please read this letter I was given by a newspaper. The fellow who wrote the letter is the manager of a national pest control company. He wrote the letter to a colleague and copied it to the paper. I assume he wanted it printed. I was going to run it in my column but the paper didn’t want to because the letter is so incoherent. They were right of course. However, I believe it is necessary for anyone thinking of having their house fumigated to read it. It is so poorly written it is funny (and scary). I won’t mention the writer’s name or the name of his company. Here is the letter with my comment following it:
“I believe when the hype dies down, and in a few years the swarms come again; it will be different, We even use traditional methods very well – Termidor etc; of course I could use a little Orange Mist Spray : Aerosol with citrus odor along with ProCitra-DL a botanical-based insecticide but why when Termidor is doing all the work…..That is what some companies do they use Termidor or a non repellent, along with the Orange Oil.
How can one kill all infestations That are hidden ?? I am just honest and sell with integrity and don’t worry. But this false and misleading concept must stop. It is even in the Rules ad Regs at the (Structural Pest Control Board) SPCB and they have not fined anyone or have they? I think People That write these articles should also do their own research, maybe the fume industry can use the press to their advantage??
There is a time and place for a local treatment and a time and place for a fumigation with Vikane, the consumers read and hear this and if t is out of sight it is out of mind. What about behind the walls that a humane being cannot reach? Lets say a 5 Story building with lots of hidden wood ? with sub floors, roof sheathing and it is all buttoned up how do you kill anything with Orange Oil”
My comments: That letter is hard to follow. I am not sure what the writer means in the first paragraph as it is pretty much incomprehensible. If a homeowner has subterranean and drywood termites the company would use Termidor and orange oil. That makes sense so I do not know what point he is trying to make.
The next paragraph is more serious. The fumigation industry has been trying to put the orange oil industry out of business and they even had a regulation put in place that prohibits the orange oil folks from comparing orange oil treatment to fumigation or from saying that orange oil is a viable alternative. They obviously want the SPCB to become more involved in protecting their industry. Of course that regulation is nonsense as orange oil is a perfectly acceptable alternative to fumigation.
The last paragraph is characteristic of the misinformation they put out. A good orange oil treatment will work in a five story building. Imagine the cost of tenting and fumigating such a building. I showed this letter to one of the orange oil companies in California. The owner told me that when they treat such buildings, they inspect everywhere. He said: “The inspection on a 40,000 sq. ft. commercial building we treated took 8 hours and a 200 unit apartment complex took 3 days! Essentially, an effective and complete inspection relies on a very experienced inspector who knows what to look for and where to look. With re-infestation rates running at a quarter of the industry average, we are clearly able to both find every infestation and eliminate it”. Imagine the hassle of tenting and fumigating a 200 unit apartment complex and uprooting all those people.
Finally it is pretty clear that this fellow is a spokesperson for the fumigation industry (maybe self-appointed). If he represents the fumigation industry then there is nothing I have written or could write to make that industry look worse. How can you trust an industry that is supposed to check your home prior to fumigating it and then check it afterward to make sure it is safe if they can’t even run spelling and grammar check before sending a letter to a newspaper?
There have been other methods of control tried but most only allow spot treatments. Microwaves, heat, cold and electro guns are a few. Heat has actually progressed to where it is considered sufficient to control termites in the entire house. There is a lot of preparation needed for heat treatment and the time and labor cost is reflected in your bill for the treatment. It takes six to eight hours to heat a piece of wood internally to 125° Fahrenheit. In addition, the pretreatment preparation required of the homeowner is extensive and, if not completed properly, heat can be extremely damaging to property, such as plastics, electronics, and many other items and there was at least one instance of a house exploding because of the heat and propane gas. I can’t recommend this treatment.
Approximately a dozen years ago orange oil became a player in the termite control game and a very good player indeed. While there are several kinds of orange oil available to the pest control professional, one brand, XT-2000 stands out. It is the only orange oil formulation that can be used to treat entire homes. The others are only good for spot treatments. Orange oil is unique in that the capillary action of the product works in many ways like fumigation, but without the same risks! XT-2000 Orange Oil moves through wood like a gas, along the path of least resistance, filling up the treated piece of wood until the termites have no place to hide. Unlike fumigation, XT-2000 Orange Oil treatments are specifically targeted to the area of infestation, so you do not need to move out of your home during the treatment. Because of sophisticated optical equipment such as the borescope, inspectors have the ability to located otherwise hidden termite problems and treat them. Since orange oil has come on the scene, over 500,000 buildings have been treated. This includes homes, churches, schools, apartment complexes, and assorted commercial buildings. There has been a very low callback rate with this treatment which demonstrates the effectiveness of the orange oil.
There are several studies that recently came out that are flawed. One, a Technical Release, by Dow Chemical, manufacturer of sulfuryl fluoride (http://www.askthebugman.com/images/Newsletter/2009.pdf) is terrible. That paper cites a study done by Dr. Vernard Lewis of Berkeley. In Dr. Lewis’ study he lists the products they use and where he obtained them. When he gets to XT-2000 (92% d-limenone) he says he got it from Formulated Solutions in Woodside, NY That isn’t possible as XT-2000 was only made at that time by Speers Chemical Company in Memphis, TN and a single distributor has all the rights to it. They are XTermite, Inc from San Diego. I went to Formulated Solutions website, http://www.formulatedsolutions.net/index.htm and they don’t mention orange oil of any kind. Dr. Lewis eventually conceded that he didn’t get the XT-2000 from Formulated Solutions. However, he never said where he did get it, if in fact he really used it.
As for XT-2000, the company that distributes it is very selective as to where it goes. Any company that wants to use it has to go through a vigorous training program first and have annual training updates. Very few pest control products are as vigorously controlled by private industry.
Years ago we had DDT, chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin and many other pesticides that were thought to be ideal in how they controlled pests. I have used all of those products myself and I have fumigated many homes with sulfuryl fluoride. As time went by these products were determined to be far more detrimental to use than previously thought and they were eventually removed from use. Sulfuryl fluoride is in that category. It has been used in thousands of fumigations, most of them successfully, but we now know that sulfuryl fluoride is a serious greenhouse gas as noted earlier. The chemical’s annual use in California creates emissions equivalent to the carbon dioxide produced by 1 million cars and California accounts for 60% of the sulfuryl fluoride used in the world. If this isn’t bad enough they are contemplating expanding its use to farming.
Another important fact about sulfuryl fluoride is that when it breaks down it leaves fluoride in the soil, your home and on your food. Flouride has been linked to a number of deaths, particularly to children and the elderly. Inhaled fluoride has been implicated in acute respiratory failure.
It is about time that Dow Chemical pulls Vikane off the market. Dow is not a bad company. They have a lot of very good products and services, yet like any company they have made mistakes. They would be doing their customers, society and the environment a service by removing sulfuryl fluoride from use and putting it in the museum alongside DDT, chlordane and the others. Sulfuryl fluoride is the past in drywood termite control and orange oil is the future.
They use chloropicrin to make sure the house is empty. Years ago, it occasionally happened that the fumigation crew forgot to inspect the house before fumigating and sometimes killed people or animals that were in the house. Should they be using chloropicrin? Not in my opinion. The chloropicrin vapor is a powerful tear gas. Inhalation causes nausea, eye watering, vomiting, bronchitis, and pulmonary edema. The liquid irritates and burns skin and causes severe burns of eyes. Ingestion causes severe irritation of mouth and stomach. It is a powerful irritant affecting all body surfaces, and is more toxic then chlorine. It can be shocked into detonation. When heated to decomposition, it emits highly toxic fumes of chlorine gas and nitrogen oxides.
How toxic is it? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated in 1995:
Chloropicrin is a lacrimator and a severe irritant of the respiratory system in humans; it also causes severe skin irritation on contact. When splashed onto the eye chloropicrin has caused corneal oedema and liquification of the cornea.
Exposure to concentrations of 15 ppm cannot be tolerated for more than 1 minute, and exposure to 4 ppm for a few seconds is temporarily disabling.
Exposure to 0.3-0.37 ppm chloropicrin for 3 to 30 seconds causes tearing and eye pain. Exposure to 15 ppm for a few seconds can cause respiratory tract injury.
Exposure to 119 ppm in air for 30 minutes is lethal; death is caused by pulmonary oedema.
Examples of industrial exposure in humans: 27 workers in a cellulose factory who were exposed to high levels of chloropicrin for 3 minutes developed pneumonitis after 3 to 12 hours of irritated coughing and difficulty on breathing; they subsequently developed pulmonary oedema, and one died.
It is impossible to eliminate all risks associated with the use of this product. Personal injury (possibly including death), property (including plant) damage, lack of performance, or other unintended consequences may result because of such factors as use of the product contrary to label instructions, abnormal conditions (such as excessive wind or aeration), the manner of application, or other factors.
Why on earth would anyone want this material used in their homes? It would be much better if the companies just completely inspected the home prior to fumigating it instead of pumping in this highly toxic material.
It would be even better if you used XT2000 orange oil to solve your drywood termite problem. Then you would have the refreshing smell of oranges in your home instead of two toxic gases.