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Home arrow Current Events arrow Environmental arrow Earth Talk Q & A arrow Earth Talk Q & A arrow Are there ways to minimize fleas without resorting to chemical concoctions?
Are there ways to minimize fleas without resorting to chemical concoctions? PDF Print E-mail
May 09, 2010 at 09:02 PM

Americans spend some $1 billion each year on products designed to combat fleas. Many of these products do their jobs handsomely, but two of the most egregious chemicals widely used in flea collars, tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur, have been shown to cause damage to our brains and nervous systems, and are known human carcinogens. Residues containing these chemicals can stay on a pet’s fur—and whatever he or she rubs up against, including your rugs, furniture and children—for weeks on end.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other nonprofit groups convinced the federal government to ban six chemicals formerly common in flea collars, but two dangerous pesticides, tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur, are still used and are unsafe for humans and pets alike.Dear EarthTalk: I’m told that, despite improvements in recent years, pesticides in flea collars are still harmful to pets and humans. Are there ways to minimize fleas without resorting to chemical concoctions? And is anything being done to ban these dangerous products from store shelves?

– Nancy Trouffant, Lancaster, PA

Americans spend some $1 billion each year on products designed to combat fleas. Many of these products do their jobs handsomely, but two of the most egregious chemicals widely used in flea collars, tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur, have been shown to cause damage to our brains and nervous systems, and are known human carcinogens. Residues containing these chemicals can stay on a pet’s fur—and whatever he or she rubs up against, including your rugs, furniture and children—for weeks on end.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that residue levels produced by some flea collars are 1,000 times higher than which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for children to be around. Previous campaigning by NRDC and other nonprofit groups convinced the federal government to ban six other dangerous pesticides formerly common in flea collars, but tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur are still wreaking havoc on the environment and human and pet health.

In light of these dangers, what’s a concerned pet owner to do? For starters, ditch the collar and buy a flea comb. NRDC reports on its GreenPaws.org website that regular combing of a pet can help reduce fleas while allowing owners to monitor the extent of a given flea problem. Fleas caught in the comb should be drowned in soapy water. Also, vacuum frequently to rid your carpets, floors and crevices of fleas and their eggs. Dispose of any used vacuum bags immediately so fleas don’t escape and re-infest the room.

In the case of an extreme infestation, a professional steam carpet cleaning might be your best bet. As for your pet, frequent soapy baths are a great way to control fleas. Pet bedding should also be washed weekly in hot water. Outside of the house—where your pet romps and frolics—keep your grass and shrubbery clipped short to increase dryness and sunlight, which inhibits fleas. Nematodes—all-natural non-chemical biological agents available at most garden stores—will get rid of fleas in problem areas outdoors.

Of course, all this diligent work might still not be enough to keep fleas at bay, so you may need to turn to products formulated with essential oils that repel insects but do not harm pets or people. Be sure to start with small doses and monitor pets and family for allergic responses. Another non-pesticide option is S-Methoprene, a so-called Insect Growth Regulator which halts the growth of chitin, the substance that creates an insect’s exoskeleton, and won’t harm humans or pets. S-Methoprene is best used as a tool in preventing an extended infestation since adult insects are unaffected by it.

With the federal government apparently uninterested in banning tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur from flea products, NRDC is taking the issue straight to the people. Via its GreenPaws.org website, users can customize a letter to PETCO and PetSmart, the nation’s two largest pet supply retailers, asking them to stop selling products containing such dangerous chemicals. And whether or not these companies will heed the call may well depend on consumer behavior, so the more you buy safer alternatives, the better.

CONTACTS: U.S. EPA, www.epa.gov; NRDC, www.nrdc.org; GreenPaws.org.


User Comments

Comment by Paolita on 2012-03-29 14:02:07
Not the local made pussy-cat flea sprays, or the flea carlols for moggies, not the flea and tick water proof' pussy drops and also not the cat powders, which kept fluffing up in my face! So ultimately I recommended we import a USA kind of Flea Sprays. I actually have no idea what they put in it! But ultimately one day the solution came! One evening, an old college mate of mine, from twenty-nine years back, approached me again! After plenty of chatting and hours on the telephone, he mentioned that he also had a kitty now and after enlightening him about the issues we where having, he let us know that he used this one type of flea and tick control he lately found out about, and actually liked, now what was it's name? Ah, yes, Frontline And Flea and Tick Control for Cats.'He further said he had just got a pussy-cat for his darling fiance, but he'd been new to the cat-thing and did not know where to turn for a moggy flea and tick protection! When their Pussy-cat had come back home with fleas his girl had gone nuts and needed to throw the kitty right out again! And he'd been desperate to get a flea and tick control to stop all his pussies fleas and ticks from living and biting him and his squeeze! When he had looked online, he announced he had found masses of flea and tick controls for cats that all said they'd do the miracle of murdering all of the fleas within just a few hours or thereabouts but which of them truly worked? He announced that his head hurt from every one of them! He did not want to have to spend 1 or 2 thousand bucks trying them all out until he found a right one! He asked his fiance, if there had been any good site online where he find out where to buy the right flea and tick control for moggies, that would not just be selling him on some flea control that failed to even work! She claimed there likely was and directed him to to read online about it.

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