I’m so happy that summer is here but it’s the pesky bugs that drive me crazy. I think I am a main course for mosquitoes! I need something to keep those little buggers away, but I’ve heard that a lot of bug sprays can be worse for you than the bugs. Help!
—Margo, Summit Cove
Though most of Summit County is relatively mosquito free, some of us are yummier than others! I think you know who you are … Not all bug sprays are created equal and many bug sprays are known to contain DEET. Though it is an effective way to repel insects that may carry West Nile virus and Lyme disease, it does come with health and environmental concerns that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Not to worry. There are a lot of great alternatives!
Bug bites are no fun due to the itch, but bites can be dangerous because of the diseases that many insects can pass on to us. It is important to wear bug spray whenever you’re out hiking, grilling or playing Frisbee in the park. Mosquitoes love to lay their eggs in stagnant water. Make sure you and your family wear bug spray when outside after rainstorms or when near puddles or standing water.
DEET is a pesticide found in many high-test bug sprays these days, and though it does effectively keep away those buzzing bugs it comes with a cost. DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of the central nervous system enzyme acetylcholinesterase, not only in insects but in mammals, too. This enzyme plays a key role in muscle control, and exposure to strong doses of DEET can cause neuromuscular paralysis.
Many outdoorsy folks who expose themselves to DEET on a regular basis experience side effects such as those reported by Everglades National Park employees: insomnia, mood disturbance and impaired cognitive function — which are no laughing matter. Health Canada has banned bug sprays with more than 30 percent DEET.
One recent national survey found that 75 percent of streams tested in 30 states had trace amounts of DEET. This can be harmful to aquatic life and to animals who drink from the contaminated water. Cold-water fish such as rainbow trout, tilapia and freshwater zooplankton are especially susceptible to contaminants such as DEET.
Do not fret, though. There are plenty of options that can do the job without the bad side effects. Do-it-yourself repellent recipes are easy to make, inexpensive and very effective. One of my favorites is “Shoo Spray!” which is an old Steward family recipe. (See accompanying graphic.)
Shoo Spray! doesn’t have the nauseating smell of many DEET bug sprays and you can use it on children. There are plenty of natural products that can serve as great alternatives for those looking to avoid DEET. Eucalyptus, citrus and garlic are some of the most popular anti-bug ingredients. Use essential oils to create your own shoo-bug lotion, eat more garlic and look for store-bought products that have these essential ingredients. California Baby Bug Repellent and Jason Natural Insect Repellent Spray are great options that are easy to find and can be used without worry.
So when those pesky bugs start nibbling, think twice before using a bug spray containing DEET. If you do use DEET, try to use it only on the outside of your clothes, away from your face and wash immediately after use.
Better yet, use a natural bug spray with recognizable ingredients, or make your own!
Once you’re covered, hit the beautiful trails of Summit County and enjoy your summer chemical free.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.