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Homeowners warned to use indoor foggers with caution
Home-destroying explosion in Brookings this year blamed on so-called “bug bombs”

The explosion of a home in Brookings this spring serves as a reminder that indoor foggers, also known as “bug bombs”, should be used with caution and care. Used correctly, indoor foggers can effectively kill fleas and other insect pests. Used incorrectly, those same foggers can expose pets and people in the home to health and safety hazards. As flea season heats up this summer, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is offering advice on the safe handling of such pesticide products.
“Many people don’t use indoor foggers correctly and run into situations where they either can cause health concerns by overusing the product or cause safety concerns because the contents are flammable,” says Sunny Jones, ODA pesticide investigator.
Those highly flammable ingredients are used to dispense the product in a mist form. Vapors from the fogger coming in contact with an open flame, pilot light, or any kind of spark could cause an explosion. Consumers need to read the label on the product, which gives several precautions against using the fogger near ignition sources.
In May, a family of six escaped harm but was left homeless after a fire destroyed their manufactured home located in Brookings, along the southern Oregon coast. The owner admitted to setting off bug bombs within the home to kill fleas. The State Fire Marshall’s Office, in participation with the Pesticide Analytical and Response Center (PARC), provided information indicating that too many foggers were used to treat the area and that the owner did not turn off ignition sources within the home. It’s very likely that either the refrigerator, heater, or fish tank inside the home was the source of the ignition.
There have been numerous cases this past decade of indoor foggers being responsible for a home explosion or fire. Fortunately, most incidents have taken place while residents are out of the home. But in 2001, a Los Angeles woman wasn't so lucky as she sustained massive burns when 30 foggers exploded in her home, blowing off the roof. In most likely all cases, the user fails to follow label instructions.

“The label of the indoor fogger instructs you to turn off all ignition sources before using,” says Jones. “Your refrigerator cycles on and off. Any heaters in the home can cause ignition. If you have a gas stove or gas fireplace, there is always a pilot light– a little flame burning– that can be an ignition source.”
As is the case with all pesticide products, more is not better and, in fact, can be dangerous. Overkill in the use of pesticides does not equate to killing more of the insect pests that may be present.
Know the area that you are treating. The label often instructs you not to use more than one can per room. Many people like to use more than one can, which may end up resulting in higher pesticide residues not to mention the safety hazard. The label will often tell you not to apply in rooms that are too small, such as closets or areas less than five square feet.
“Indoor foggers are designed to be effective at the rates indicated on the label,” says Jones. “If the label says use one can per 25 by 25-foot area, that’s what you need to do. Following the label will prevent problems.”
ODA emphasizes the importance of reading the pesticide product label and following its directions closely. Consumers should also follow the product label to ensure harmful health effects are avoided. Illness associated with exposure to these bug bombs is more common than explosions or fires associated with the products– and can have potentially severe adverse impacts. The label instructs homeowners to leave while the indoor fogger is at work. The label also provides instructions on sealing up the home or building for at least a couple of hours, and then ventilating the building by opening windows, allowing the treated area to air out for at least another hour.

Other steps tend to be plain old common sense. In addition to residents leaving for a period of time, pets should not be in the home during the treatment. Food and water for both pets and people should be covered or removed prior to activating the fogger.

Even before all these instructions are considered, consumers need to first ask whether the indoor fogger is needed. Determining the extent of the pest problem is the first step. If fleas are the problem and pets are probably responsible, don't forget to take care of the animal.

“Vacuuming your carpets well can help pull up flea eggs, for example, which is typically why a person may be using an indoor fogger” says Jones. “You might consider treating your pets so that you don’t have fleas on the animals to begin with. There are many good commercial products specifically designed to treat and control fleas on cats and dogs. Consulting your veterinarian is a good idea. Also, clean specific areas where the pet spends a lot of time. Bedding can run through the washing machine to kill flea eggs. Finally, you might consider other products that can be used in isolated areas, such as a spray product, instead of using an indoor fogger to treat the entire home.”

Whether it's an indoor flea problem or an insect pest in an outdoor garden, homeowners should first figure out the pest problem and not overreact. Pesticide products are often necessary to handle an infestation, but they don't need to be the first and only choice. Oregonians wanting more information on indoor foggers or other pesticide products can contact the Corvallis-based National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378 to help make informed decisions on pesticide use. Integrated pest management (IPM) can effectively address indoor insect pest problems.

Finally, there is the option of hiring a pest control operator to take on the challenge of controlling fleas in the home. In any case– whether you do it yourself or hire a specialist– getting rid of fleas calls for good judgment and measured action.

For more information, contact Sunny Jones at (503) 986-6466.

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