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Choosing the right insect repellant made easier by new EPA graphic

Three versions of new EPA insect-repellant graphic
U.S. EPA (public domain)

Anyone who has ever gone cross-eyed trying to compare the chemical labels on insect repellants will be happy to know that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a new program designed to make it easier for the consumer to figure out which product is the best choice.

Products containing DEET, picaridin, IR353, permethrin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus all profess to keep away mosquitoes or other insects but vary greatly in their effectiveness. Formulas that are effective against mosquitoes may not be as effective against ticks. The EPA has created a new graphic for companies to incorporate on their labels that will show consumers how long a product will repel insects if used as directed, the EPA announced in a July 17, 2014, press release.

On the same day that the EPA announced its label graphic program, it issued a joint statement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminding people to use insect repellant and take other precautions to avoid insect-borne diseases. Insect bites are not only annoying but can pose serious health hazards. A mosquito bite can transmit West Nile virus, viral encephalitis, and dengue, among other diseases. West Nile virus has been detected in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Ticks can transmit numerous diseases, including Lyme disease, tulariemia, and anaplasmosis.

The number of cases of insect-transmitted diseases is on the rise in the United States. According to the CDC, there are about 300,000 cases of tick-transmitted Lyme disease each year. Insect repellants can play an important role in helping to prevent such diseases by discouraging insect bites.

The EPA compares its insect-repellant graphic to the SPF label used for sunscreens. The purpose of the program is to provide vital information to consumers in a prominent and standardized format in order to help parents, hikers, and others to better protect themselves and their families from serious health threats caused by mosquitoes and ticks, according to Jim Jones with the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The graphic will only be available for products that are applied directly to the skin, however, and so will not appear on labels for insect-repellant products containing permethrin (which is only to be applied to the clothing) or mechanical devices.

The EPA insect repellant graphic labeling program is voluntary. Manufacturers that want to include the graphic on their packaging will need to submit applications to the EPA along with adequate test results to support their claim of effectiveness and must also meet “stringent” safety standards. Consumers may start to see the graphics on product labels as soon as early 2015.

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