My 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...