Inert-ia | Seventh Generation
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Author: the Inkslinger

Hornet's NestMy household's dirty little secret hides on a shelf in the shed: An aged can of insecticide that I bring out once a season to spray the wasp nest that invariably gets built under our deck and prevents my allergic wife from venturing out and enjoying the view. Most of the nests that pop up I can get at with a stick. But sooner or later the impossible-to-reach center boards become home for flying bombardiers, and a quick squirt is required to make things habitable for humanity.

The decision didn't come easy. I argued. I resisted. I fought. I "forgot." Until a stung daughter led to a 2-against-1 refusal to use our home's most prime real estate. With my best natural attempts failing to discourage the winged beasts, I resorted to the dreaded chemical solution.

I chose a pyrethrin product. Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers. While not without their hazards, these chemicals have a relatively low toxicity profile where nature and people are concerned. They affect bugs and fish, but little else. They biodegrade quickly and don't travel far or build up in our bodies. And a little could go a very long way where my needs were concerned.

The can I bought contains just 0.25% pyrethrins and 1.05% piperonyl butoxide, another (relatively) safe chemical which is added to boost the performance of the pyrethrins. Both ingredients are found in lice shampoos – in greater amounts. So I felt like mine was a solid choice. Plus, a full 98.7% of the formula consisted of inert ingredients, a catch-all term for all the other things that help the product work but aren't involved in killing insects.

"Inert" looks great on a product label. It sounds friendly. Feels safe. After all, this is a word literally defined as "having no inherent power of action, motion, or resistance." That's just the kind of thing you want to spray under your deck. Except for one tiny problem: those "inert" ingredients are anything but. They are just as synthetic and can be just as ugly as the "active" ingredients. They don't do any of the actual bug killing, which is why they're legally allowed to be lumped together and given a happy name that makes kittens purr and parents smile.

Inerts don't have to be listed individually on product labels, and most pesticide safety testing only concerns itself with the active ingredients and not the remaining 98.7% (or whatever it may be) of the formula or what happens when all that stuff gets mixed together and sprayed around the house. What that 98.7% does to our health and our world is a complete mystery where most products are concerned, and in my book a mysterious product is one that I leave sitting on the store shelf.

Someday we'll get what's needed: mandated full disclosure of all the ingredients in every chemical product. Until then, we should keep any product that insists on deception and/or secrecy out of our shopping carts and out of our homes.

As for me, I'm taking my once trusty can of insecticide to the hazardous waste drop-off in town and going out into the woods to see if I can find a much longer stick...

photo: Hans Suter


MoonSage picture
That's our solution for getting rid of wasps; A supersoaker filled with natural organic dishsoap reaches hard to reach spots and knocks the wasps dead. It's saved us quite a bit of battling with those wasps that were out to get anyone who was working around the house; mostly my poor husband. Give it a try! It's an inexpensive solution and using the supersoaker makes it fun too even though we're not big into killing. Peace, love and understanding, MoonSage
cynthia1957 picture
Just because things are "organic" or "natural" doesn't mean they are safe.
valber picture
I too have found mint oils (both peppermint and spearmint) to be very effective insect repellents..for many types of insects, including ants and mosquitos. I will mention here the most wonderful mint oil products, that I learned of from the Organic Consumers Assn, (OCA), from the Crosby Mint Farm. These mint oils are totally delectable, and can be used for so many things..they send a brochure with their product listing all the uses. I dab a little under my nose (diluted) just to inhale the deliciousness of it! but, the bugs don;t seem to feel the same.. Crosby Mint farm is a family owned (since something like 1938) farm, and is fighting against foreclosure. Whatever you buy from them (and prices are very reasonable) will help them. VB Palatine IL
Joseph Laur picture
Joseph Laur
Victor, the mousetrap people, have a product that is pure mint oil and a propellant- I've used it on wasp nests from 15 feet away and it works great. They also make an ant spray. Mint is a neurotoxin to insects. I only spray the nests that are near our doors or when someone gets stung. I lea=ve the high nests alone and have not problem. And the mud dauber wasps are gentle and don't sting anyway- it's the white face, paper wasps and yellow jackets that are more reactionary.
snow.angel22 picture
They have fake wasps nests that you can hang near the normal location that the wasps choose. Just put it out before the wasps show up, and their territorial tendencies will take over and they will leave you alone. Another idea is that you can just leave them be. Wasps will not sting unless they feel threatened, just like any other creature. We have four different types of wasps around my house. Mud daubers, paper wasps, hornets, and a strange looking black kind. I also have three little children. These wasps hang out right by my front door. We have never ever been stung, even once. The closest that has ever happened is that a wasp landed on my husband. It walked on him for a second, and then flew off. The point is to not be afraid, and to allow the wasps to get used to you. If they recognize you as a regular part of their world, they won't bug you (literally). The no fear is the biggest part of the "trick". If they sense fear, they will come over to investigate why. Then the person panics, and starts overreacting. Next, the wasp acts to protect itself, and voila! person is stung! Also, in case you didn't know just because something is natural doesn't make it good for you. Belladonna is natural, and it's highly poisionous. Pyrethrins are biotoxins that do work on people as well, it all depends on a person's exposure amount. And I am sure that it doesn't readily biodegrade, and with frequent use, are you even aware of how much you have been exposed to? You should also remind you that this isn't pyrethins in their normal state. They have been altered in order to work with the chemical makeup of the insecticide. Altering anything takes it from a natural possibly inert state and changes it into something else. Anthrax is a good example. In it's natural state, its a sheepherder's disease, that doesn't always kill. But what about weaponized?!? Exactly. Naturally derived is still a chemical. Just because it wasn't born in a lab, doesn't mean that it didn't spend its childhood there. . . .
heatherllevin picture
I just did a product review on an organic insect killer, EcoSmart. Here's the link. I thought for sure the stuff wouldn't work. Everything in it is natural, and the main ingredients are rosemary oil and cinnamon oil. But when I sprayed it on a wasp nest at home, they died. Instantly. And the stuff smelled GOOD. It was nothing like nasty chemical insecticides. And because everything in it is certified organic and natural, it was completely safe. Anyway, I was really impressed with the brand and wanted to let other people know about it. I think they're a smaller company, and don't advertise or anything. You can also kills wasps naturally by filling up a child's water gun with soapy water and spraying them. Wasps and hornets breathe through their skin, and this smothers them. They'll fall to the ground and you can step on them. Good luck!