Supplement 1 - Personal Non-Toxic Mosquito Protection
Mosquitoes are not just a nuisance. They can also spread disease. Several common species (such as Culex and Aedes) that are found on Long Island can carry the West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and other diseases that impact humans. West Nile Virus usually produces mild flu-like symptoms, or no heath reaction, but in some cases it can have more serious manifestations that can even be fatal. However while seeking protection, we should avoid exposing ourselves and our families unnecessarily to chemical hazards.
Personal repellents often contain the chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). DEET is acknowledged as a very effective mosquito repellent, although it is also a neurotoxin that can cause symptoms including slurred speech, restlessness, irritability, and skin irritation. There have been a small number of cases of seizures, including some deaths associated with DEET in the U.S., although the EPA did not determine conclusively that exposure to DEET was the cause (www.epa.gov).
Although we are very concerned with the use of DEET, we must acknowledge that several health organizations including the prestigious Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the World Health Organization currently do recommend DEET as an effective means of repelling disease bearing mosquitoes weighed against the risks of adverse health effects. (wwwnc.cdc.gov). However, when following the "Precautionary Principle," it is advisable to use safer effective alternatives to a highly toxic substance, if such alternatives exist. Fortunately, DEET is not the only option recommended for mosquito prevention by the CDC, the Consumers Union and other health organizations and universities. The Sustainability Institute has reviewed authoritative reports and recommendations and we have compiled a list of safer preventative measures and repellents that we recommend so that you and your family can enjoy the outdoors without fear of either mosquitoes or DEET.
Before reviewing the alternative products, a few additional points must be addressed regarding DEET. As with many chemicals, "the dose makes the poison." Consumer Reports found products with a concentration of 30% DEET to be effective for more than 8 hours, and concluded it is unnecessary for any person to ever expose themselves to higher concentrations which are more toxic. (www.consumerreports.org) When used, DEET should only be applied to the outside of clothing and exposed skin that will not be covered by clothing. Also avoid the hands and faces of children. Wash it off before getting under bedding or into a sleeping bag. Often bad reactions to DEET are a result of treated skin being covered by clothing or bedding. DEET can also degrade plastic and synthetic materials like polyester.
Wearing long sleeves, pants, closed toe shoes will cut down on bites. Cover up if possible when outdoors, especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are particularly active. Look for mesh clothes if you are frequently outdoors in hot weather and want to be protected from biting insects, but still stay cooler. Do not wear perfumes, or fragranced lotions as they can attract mosquitoes.
After a review of authoritative sources, the Sustainability Institute recommends the use of mosquito repellents that contain certain specific plant-based ingredients, which have no or minimal expected adverse effects to humans.
The first such product oil of lemon eucalyptus is recognized and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as effective as low concentrations of DEET for repelling mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. (Sometimes oil of lemon eucalyptus is listed in ingredients as p-Menthane-3,8-diol or PMD, the active ingredient in the essential oil which has been isolated or synthesized.) (wwwnc.cdc.gov.) Consumer Reports also recommends lemon eucalyptus, which it found effective for up to 7 hours. This botanical ingredient can be found in the Repel Natural, Cutter brands, and Off! Botanicals line. (Off! and Cutter brands both also offer products that contain DEET, so be sure you are buying the product you intend to. Check labels and ingredients.) Products containing lemon eucalyptus carry a warning not to use it on children under three, because there has not been sufficient testing to determine its safety on small children. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), these products contain ingredients that could be potential allergens (www.ewg.org).
According to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, referenced by WebMD, "soy-based Bite Blocker for Kids was the most effective natural alternative to DEET. This natural bug repellent offered more than 90 minutes of protection, better than some low-concentration DEET products" (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12097535. USDA researchers found soybean oil effective for 5 to 8 hours against specific mosquito species. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) Soybean oil is on the EPA's list of 'minimum risk' pesticides, made up of mostly food-based ingredients. The EWG lists soybean oil as having no potential human allergens. (www.ewg.org)
Another non-DEET ingredient recommended by both CDC and Consumer Reports is picaridin, a synthesized chemical similar to a compound found in black pepper. It is classified by the EPA as a conventional repellent, not a bio-pesticide, but the EWG concludes that it has many of the advantages of DEET without the same disadvantages. Picaridin is found in Natrapel, Sawyer Pidaridin, as well as some products from Cutter and Avon.
Many of these products are also effective against other insects, including biting flies, gnats and most importantly, ticks that may carry Lyme disease.
Review the photo of these products on this page to become familiar with what you should look for at the store. Below you will find website links, and information about the availability of these products at stores on Long Island. Be sure to stock up before you plan a day on the boat, at the park or your next family barbeque so you are prepared ahead of time.
Availability of Lemon Eucalyptus
*Repel 94109 at Amazon for $5
Target in Farmingdale, Levittown, Copiague, Hicksville, Westbury
Walmart-Can be picked up in Massapequa, ordered to Levittown (not online)
REI Stores in Carle Place, Norwalk, Yonkers
*Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus on Amazon for $5
Not available on REI, Target
Walmart-Available in Uniondale, Massapequa, Farmingdale, can be ordered from Levittown,
*Coleman Botanicals on Amazon for $7.50
Coleman Botanicals on Kohls.com for 8.54 (online-only) REI Stores in Carle Place, Norwalk
Not available at Target, No store information on Walmart.com
Picaridin, a DEET alternative similar to black pepper
On Amazon for $7
If you prefer to make your own, there are many recipes online for personal repellents. Essential oils, citronella, eucalyptus, need, and soybean oil are recommended constituents of any homemade blend. According to recent studies, eucalyptus and soybean oil have more lasting effects than citronella. Neem, a Native American herb, hasn't been studied extensively but could provide relief from mosquito bites. A general rule of thumb is 10-25 drops of oil for every 2 tablespoons of the carrier oil (coconut, soybean, alcohol) and shaking before application. We have provided three recipes below, as well as studies and more DIY solutions in the links below.
Purification Essential Oil Recipe (Makes 4 ounces)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 drops of Purification essential oil (or 1 drop each of citronella, lemongrass, tea tree, myrtle and rosemary essential oils)
Place salt and oils in a 4 ounce spray bottle. Let sit until the oil soaks into the salt. Fill remainder of bottle with water. Shake to combine. To use: spritz over skin, avoiding eyes, before going outside.
Natural Survival Mosquito Spray Recipe
- 1/2 litre of alcohol (this is approximately 17 oz)
- 100 gram of whole cloves or approximately 3.5oz
- 100 ml of baby oil or similar (almond, sesame, chamomile, lavender, fennel etc) 3.4 oz
Leave cloves to marinate in alcohol four days. Stir every morning and evening and after 4 days add the oil. When ready to use, gently rub a few drops into the skin of the arms and legs. Observe the mosquitoes fleeing the room. This is excellent to repel fleas on pets too.
Mosquito Repellent Recipe for a Dog
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 8 drops cedar
- 5 drops eucalyptus
- 4 drops lavender
- 4 drops rosemary
- 1 drop peppermint
- 1 drop cinnamon
- 1 drop clove
Mix the oil with these essential oils in a spray bottle. Spray liberally on your dog, especially around the legs.
Essential oils can be found at Whole Foods and other health food stores.
Research and reviews of various repellents
- Environmental Working Group
- Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
- Consumer Reports
- Essential Oils as a Mosquito Repellent: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov and www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Use of Citronella, Basil, and Tumeric Oils as Mosquito Repellent
- More Bug Repellents
- Repelling mosquitoes: A guide to what works and what doesn't
- WebMD Safer Mosquito Repellents
- Natural Repellents that Bite Back
In the summer of 2014, Newsday reported that officials on Long Island asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help fighting the Asian tiger mosquito. Mosquitoes can no longer be ignored. (www.newsday.com)
Please share this information with family and friends to get the word out about non-toxic protection from mosquito bites.
Long Island Organic Landscapers
Although it's easy for the average homeowner to maintain their lawn organically, some may too busy and wish to hire a professional. In that case there are thousands of landscapers on Long Island to choose from, but only a small but growing number of experts who can maintain your lawn and landscape without the use of chemical pesticides. They can be found here.
To see all the previous steps in the series, please visit 12 Steps to an Organic Lawn