Termite fumigation is a process of fumigating an entire structure to eradicate termites from the property. It can be a very effective way to get rid of termites, but it comes with some risks as well.
Fumigants used to treat termites are powerful chemicals that have been shown to cause side effects such as headaches, nausea, and eye irritation when inhaled. In addition, these fumigants can also damage vegetation, harm pets and cause property damage if not properly handled during the application process.
The most common fumigants used for treating termites include Vikane, Dowicide, Chloropicrin, and Zythor.
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This guide is here to help people learn about fumigation and the risks that come with it. Fumigation is a way to get rid of termites, but it can also make people sick if they breathe in the fumigants.
Understanding How Termite Fumigants Work
Fumigants work by penetrating the outer surfaces of a structure and permeating into the wood and other materials to reach termites that may be hidden in the cracks and crevices. This process is known as “diffusion” and it allows fumigants to spread quickly throughout an entire structure.
Termite fumigation is an effective method of controlling termite infestations by using fumigants to penetrate the entire structure.
Fumigants are toxic chemicals that work by suffocating and killing termites through inhalation.
The Risk Potential to People & Pets
Termite fumigation chemicals can be dangerous for people, pets, and plants that are in the same place where fumigation takes place.
When fumigation is applied, people and pets can be exposed to fumigants in the air. Inhalation of fumigants can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and eye irritation. In severe cases, fumigation may also irritate the skin or cause respiratory disorders such as asthma. If a person inhales too much fumigant, they may even experience convulsions or coma.
In addition to the risks to humans, fumigants can also be harmful to pets if they are exposed to them. Pets can suffer from similar symptoms as humans when exposed to fumigants – such as nausea, dizziness, and irritations – and in more serious cases may experience seizures or organ damage.
Fumigation Side Effects on Humans
Both short and long-term exposure to sulfuryl fluoride and other termite fumigants have been shown to produce the following effects on people:
- Respiratory irritation and breathing problems
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Itching/burning of the eyes
- Unusual fatigue
- Abdominal cramps
- Numbness in the limbs
- Twitching muscles
- Skin irritation
- Pulmonary edema
- Central nervous system depression
- Slurred speech
Fumigation Side Effects on Pets
Our pets do not have the ability to verbally communicate how they are feeling, so pet owners need to be vigilant in monitoring their pets when they are reintroduced to a fumigated area.
Pet owners should watch for the following signs and readily call their local veterinarian in the event any of the following occurs:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Watery eyes
- Excessive salivation
- Passing out
The Risk Potential to Plants & Vegetation
Fumigation can harm vegetation if it is not done correctly. Fumigants used for termite control have been known to damage plants and crops if they come into contact with them – either directly or through airborne fumigants.
Fumigated soils can also become contaminated with fumigant residues that may have adverse effects on vegetation over a longer period of time.
Fumigation Side Effects on Plants & Vegetation
Sulfuryl fluoride, the most common form of termite fumigant is considered to be 4,800 times more potent than Co2 or carbon dioxide. Plants and vegetation (including indoor plants, garden herbs, vegetables, and seedlings) can suffer chemical burns or get killed due to exposure to sulfuryl fluoride.
While plant and tree bodies may have ample protection from these chemicals, their surrounding foliage remains vulnerable to damage by termite fumigation due to the harsh properties of airborne chemicals.
Preventative Measures & Considerations
In order to protect people, pets, and plants from the fumigation process, homeowners need to take several preventative measures before fumigating:
- Inform neighbors of the fumigation in advance so that they can take precautions.
- Cover air intakes and HVAC circulation vents to prevent chemicals from lingering in air filters and equipment.
- Seal cracks or gaps along the edge of windows and doors to prevent fumigant drift into other areas.
- Remove pets from the fumigation area and take them to a safe place for the duration of the fumigation process.
- Remove all food from the affected area prior to fumigation.
- Protect garden plants, landscaping materials, and any other vegetation using plastic sheeting prior to fumigation in order to prevent contact with fumigants.
- Remove all potted plants should be removed from the fumigation area as well as any stored items that could absorb fumigation chemicals, such as blankets, clothing, draperies, etc.
- Review all safety precautions, instructions, and directions provided by the fumigator – whether that is a licensed professional or a product you are applying yourself.
Planning Ahead of Termite Fumigation
It is critically important to review and plan ahead.
Regardless of who conducts the fumigation process, you should have instructions available that will provide details on how long a fume-restricted area needs to remain closed off after fumigation has been completed (usually at least 24 hours) before it can be safely entered again.
Finally, homeowners should always wear protective gear such as a face mask and gloves when entering a recently fumigated space after the recommended period of time has passed in order to avoid contact with potentially harmful chemicals still present in the air or surfaces.
To avoid lingering dangers, make sure to follow safety rules like wearing a face mask and gloves before entering the fumigated area even after the recommended period of time has passed.
Re-Entering a Fumigated Area
The best way to avoid inhaling fumigation gas is to avoid the area until it is safe to enter. If you cannot do that for a specific reason though, you must protect yourself as best as possible.
We recommend that you wear appropriate personal protective equipment, or “PPE” including a respirator, chemical-resistant gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing such as a chemical-resistant suit.
Even after the required time based on the fumigation application has passed, caution should be exercised when re-entering a fumigated area.
We recommend eye protection, long sleeves, and a respirator or filter mask to limit the impact any lingering airborne particles or chemicals may have on you. From there, it is important to begin cleaning and sanitizing all areas to ensure your home or property is safe for other occupants.
Returning After Fumigation is Complete
Time and again, research has shown that increasing the aeration time before occupying a fumigated home reduces the chances of sulfuryl fluoride poisoning.
With that in mind, our recommendations start there:
- Open all windows, doors, and methods of ventilation to allow fresh air to circulate inside the home (or building). This helps to eliminate any remaining gas from the fumigation.
- Fans, including ceiling fans, box fans and similar can all be used to help assist with the aeration process.
- Some termite fumigation companies also work in close association with cleaning companies. Even if you’ve performed the fumigation yourself, a professional cleaning company likely has the experience and products necessary to adequately clean homes after fumigation has been performed.
- If you don’t go the route of hiring professional cleaners, vacuuming all carpeted areas thoroughly – and perhaps several times is strongly encouraged. Remnant chemicals are able to settle into the fibers of carpets posing a longer-term danger to children, pets, and others that may spend time on the floors.
- Furniture, especially fabric sofas, chairs, and loveseats will require the same depth of cleaning.
- Hard surfaces, including hardwood floors and tiled areas such as in most bathrooms, need to be mopped thoroughly. The cloth or the mop used to clean the surfaces should also be discarded after use.
- All other areas that are not vacuumed, such as medicine cabinets, countertops, washer, and dryer, should be wiped down two or more times with a damp cloth soaked in a water and vinegar solution. The cloth used to wipe down these areas should be thrown out as well.
- Wash and change the bedding as well as the covers that you might have used to cover the furniture and other fixtures. Buying new pillows is often recommended, but if you don’t want to get new pillows, make sure to put them in the washer.
- You should also consider shampooing carpets after they are vacuumed. Other cloth items that should be thoroughly washed include any fabric curtains, tablecloths, placemats, etc.
- Edibles or food items that were left uncovered before the fumigation should be thrown out.
- Any container with any item of food that was opened should be put in the trash.
- Consider replacing any bathroom or personal care items that were not properly stored during the fumigation process. This includes toothbrushes, razors, bottled or bar soaps, and detergents as well to be completely safe.