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The dangers of fumigation have been a widely discussed topic in the scientific and health industry. As effective as fumigation is against pests, when it comes to human safety, there are some consequences involved. It is mainly because the gas or fumigants used in the process are poisonous and toxic to humans and other life forms.
Fumigation is one of the many methods used to control pests, including termites. It is typically done by sealing or covering the area with a tent so that the chemicals can be pumped into the soil or a building in a sealed and controlled environment. This is the reason why fumigation is also called tenting.
This post aims to provide all the answers to thoroughly understand the dangers involved with the process of fumigation.
Here’s a rundown of what I’ll provide in this post about the dangers of fumigation.
- First, I will talk about the side effects that result from termite fumigation.
- Next, I will briefly touch upon what happens and what to do after inhaling fumigation gas.
- Then, I will provide practical tips on what you should do after fumigation is completed.
- Finally, I will discuss how long after fumigation, you can bring your pets to the treated area.
So, let’s get started.
Dangers of Fumigation – Termite Fumigation Side Effects.
An estimated 95% of fumigation in the United States uses sulfuryl fluoride, which is sold under the trade names Vikane and Termafume. Sulfuryl fluoride is an inorganic compound that is colorless and odorless, which is lethal for all life forms. Methyl bromide was also widely used in the past, but its use has drastically decreased since it was banned by the EPA in 2005.
According to one study published on sciencedirect.com, the concentration, as well as the duration, works in combination to make fumigants lethal. This justifies why termite fumigation is executed by sealing the area to be treated. The dosage of this inorganic compound for typical dry wood termite fumigation is about 6-16 oz per 1000 cubic feet (28.32 m³).
Sulfuryl fluoride is registered as a rodenticide and an insecticide with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But since this gas is classified as a central nervous depressant, when it comes to humans, plants, and animals, side effects are associated with its use. According to one report, about 59 incidents of illness related to sulfuryl fluoride were reported between 2003 and 2014 in the state of California alone.
In this section, I will focus on the side effects of termite fumigation.
1) Effects on Humans
Fumigants such as sulfuryl fluoride are highly toxic to humans. This means that you cannot be in the house when the termite treatment is performed. In fact, you should also not remain on the property without the proper PPE. The side effects of fumigation gas are more severe in people who have a history of chronic respiratory illness.
Short term and long term exposure to these gases can result in health issues including:
- 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
2) Effects on Animals
Fumigants are also toxic to animals. While this makes it fantastic for pest management, it can have adverse effects on the other animals, which include pets such as cats, dogs, and birds, among others.
The side effects of termite fumigation on pets manifest a bit differently from that of humans, but they can be nonetheless concerning. Distress signs in pets to watch out for include:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Watery eyes
- Excessive salivation
- Passing out
3) Effects on Vegetation
The side effects of termite fumigation on the plants and the surrounding vegetation can be devastating as well. Sulfuryl fluoride is considered up to 4800 times more potent than Co2 or carbon dioxide.
Plants and vegetation, including indoor plants, garden herbs and vegetables, seedlings, and even seed, can suffer burns or get killed due to exposure. Surrounding foliage also is vulnerable to damage by termite fumigation.
4) Effects on the Environment
Fumigants are not known for being ozone-friendly. This is the main reason why the EPA banned methyl bromide. Its adverse effects contribute to air pollution as well. Since these gases trap heat a thousand times faster and efficiently than carbon dioxide, they accelerate the greenhouse effect and contribute significantly to global warming.
The severity of the termite fumigation effect on the environment depends on the level of concentration of the chemical/gas as well as the duration of exposure. But the consequences can be no less devastating, as sulfuryl fluoride has a lifetime of 36 years after it is aerated and gets released into the atmosphere.
Inhaling Fumigation Gas.
As I have discussed the side effects of termite fumigation in the above section, inhaling these gases is not ideal or recommended. In fact, chronic inhalation can be fatal. Most fumigants are odorless, which means that you may not be aware that you are inhaling the gas.
This is the main reason why applicators and pest management experts put on Personal Protection Equipment, including overalls, respirators, gloves, goggles, and boots. You should never be present on the site of fumigation unless you are part of the pest management crew and wearing the proper PPE.
To avoid inhalation of fumigation gas, here are some practical tips to follow:
- If you must enter a fumigated area before the place is considered safe for entry, make sure you wear the right proactive gear.
- If you don’t have access to PPE, but you are required to enter a fumigated area, cover your mouth and nose with a thick cloth. You should also wear long-sleeved garments and cover up your skin as good as possible.
- If you are not donning the right protective equipment, including an industrial-grade respirator, goggles, and gloves, do not attempt to attempt a rescue. Instead, call for help right away.
In the case of fumigation gas inhalation, you can do one of the following:
- If the inhalation is mild, make it a point to go away from the fumigated area. Breathing fresh air for a few minutes is usually enough to remedy this type of inhalation.
Symptoms of mild inhalation of fumigation gas include tightness in the chest, nausea, and ringing in the ears.
- If the level of fumigation gas inhalation is moderate, drink a glass of milk immediately. Milk is a nutritional fatty diet that works as an anti-dote and can reduce the level of toxicity in the body. However, you should also seek medical help as soon as possible.
Symptoms of moderate inhalation of a poisonous gas include vomiting, fainting, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea in some people.
- If the level of gas inhalation is severe, seeking medical help is the best.
Symptoms of severe fumigation gas inhalation include dizziness, slurred speech, and change in the color of the skin to bluish-purple, unconsciousness, and death in the worst-case scenario.
However, the symptoms of gas poisoning may not manifest after several days, which can be fatal. Any suspicion of exposure to fumigation gas, it is vital to consult a doctor.
What to do after Fumigation?
Assuming that your house was recently fumigated, it is natural to ask what you should do after the process is completed. There are a few critical steps that you need to follow after the fumigation is completed. The single most important safety tip is to follow the instructions given to you by the pest management expert that performed the fumigation.
You should only consider returning home after the pest professional certifies that the aeration period is over and your home is safe. A typical aeration period for most termite fumigation is about eight hours, but it can be longer. Reputed pest control companies usually have their technicians check that the home is safe and free from fumigation gas.
To be totally safe, try not to return back to your property for at least 24 hours after the aeration period is over. If you have small children or a family member with respiratory illness, this is especially helpful.
If you want to double-check your home’s safety, you can inspect your home with a gas detector before settling in. Most fumigant gas has a penetrating property, so they can settle on things such as clothes.
Things to do after you return home after fumigation is completed.
- Open all windows, doors, and ventilators for fresh air to circulate inside and let out any remaining gas from the fumigation. Research has shown that increased aeration time before occupying the fumigated home reduces the chances of sulfuryl fluoride poisoning.
- If you have fans, aerating fans or normal ones, it is an excellent time to turn them on.
- Some reputed fumigation companies also work in close association with cleaning companies, so you can check. These professional cleaning companies are familiar with cleaning homes after fumigation has been performed. You can also choose to hire one yourself.
- If you choose to do the cleaning yourself, start by vacuuming every inch of your home. Be aware that you will pick by dead bugs and termites, so you need to discard the vacuum bag. You should also wear disposable gloves before you commence the house cleaning. Note: Some experts say that deep cleaning your home is not recommended within one week of fumigation to avoid tampering with its efficacy. You should check with the professional pest working on your home for the best results.
- You should also vacuum all the drawers and cupboards that were opened prior to fumigation. Chairs and couches should also be vacuumed.
- Hard surfaces, including tiled areas such as the bathroom, should be mopped thoroughly. The cloth or the mop used to clean the surfaces should also be discarded.
- All other areas that are not vacuumed, such as medicine cabinets, countertops, washer, and dryer, should be wiped down twice 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. Some people swear by also vacuuming the mattress and getting new pillows altogether. If you don’t want to get new pillows, make sure to put them in the washer.
- You should also consider shampooing and vacuuming the carpets and rugs. Other items that may require cleaning include curtains and table cloths as well.
- 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 the items in the bathroom. This includes toothbrushes, razors, soaps, and detergents to be completely safe.
How Long After Fumigation Is It Safe For Pets?
Like humans, the homeowners and pets can suffer the consequences of termite fumigation if they are brought home before the aeration is over. Therefore, it is recommended that you wait at least 24 hours before you bring your pet to a recently fumigated home. If you have a special needs pet or one that is senior, you might want to wait longer.
After you bring the pet home, let him or her stay in a well-ventilated area. Until you get the house thoroughly cleaned after the aeration time is over, refrain from allowing the pet to roam freely inside the home.
Fumigation is very useful in pest and termite control. The gases used in the process are characterized by such properties including high penetration, dispersion, and lethal toxicity.
While these are a perfect combination that makes it a potent treatment for termites, it can have adverse effects on other life forms, including humans. So it is paramount to follow the safety guidelines and be smart so as not to get exposed to these toxic gases.