The dangers of DEET
Research published in the journal BioMed Central Biology several years ago revealed the terrifying truth. That DEET works in the same way as the nerve gases used as weapons in war. Some experts continue to insist that DEET is safe, but they follow those claims with cautions against applying DEET to cuts or irritated skin and to use the minimum necessary to cover yourself. If it’s so “safe,” why the warnings?
Other experts…those that didn’t have their heads in the sand… of course saw the research for what it really was. They saw it as a more serious caution against the use of DEET (especially considering that it’s estimated that over 8 billion doses of the stuff have been applied since its release in 1957). Some have even called for warning labels about its potential neurological harm.
At the cellular level, DEET blocks an enzyme that controls one of the main chemical messengers of the nervous system. And you don’t have to be an expert to know that’s not a good thing. Researchers also found that it boosts the toxicity of another chemical used in agriculture.
And, to make matters worse, it appears that the DEET we apply today might one day affect the children of tomorrow. More recent animal study showed that the effects of environmental toxins, including DEET, can lead to disease in later generations. When pregnant rats were exposed to DEET, their offspring had reproductive problems without ever being exposed to the chemical themselves.
Still, some say it’s worth the risk considering the benefits. They point out that millions of people have used products containing DEET with no problems. But do we really know there haven’t been problems? Or have we just not made the right links between DEET and all of its consequences yet? We shouldn’t continue rolling the dice when there are plenty of natural alternatives that are just as effective as DEET—and far less risky.
Several years ago, the EPA announced it was planning a 2012 review of DEET, but they either haven’t completed it or haven’t yet released the results, as the latest review on their website is dated 1998. I’m not holding out a lot of hope that we will learn a great deal of useful information from that review when it’s finally in. But I’ll be sure to report on it when it’s released. Who knows, maybe the EPA will surprise us for once.
“Deet bug repellent ‘toxic worry’,” BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk)
“Effects of Environmental Toxicants Reach Down Through Generations,” Science Daily (sciencedaily.com)