US-developed insecticide may damage central nervous system

San Francisco (CA) – A French research team has hypothesized that a US-developed insecticide could potentially damage the central human nervous system.

“We’ve found that DEET is not simply a behavior-modifying chemical but also inhibits the activity of a key central nervous system enzyme, acetycholinesterase, in both insects and mammals,” Vincent Corbel wrote in the BMC Biology journal. “These findings question the safety of DEET, particularly in combination with other chemicals, and they highlight the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the development of safer insect repellents for use in public health.”

The EPA, however, insists that repellents containing DEET do “not present a health concern.”

“After it was developed by the US Army in 1946, DEET was approved for use by the general public in 1957. Approximately 140 products containing DEET are currently registered with EPA by approximately 39 different companies,” the EPA stated on March 23, 2007. “Based on extensive toxicity testing, the Agency believes that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population.”

Neverthless, DEET has been tentatively linked to Gulf War Syndrome.

“It has been proposed that one possible factor that could be related to these symptoms is the simultaneous exposure to multiple agents used to protect the health of these service men and women. Among a number of chemicals of concern are the anti-nerve agent pyridostigmine bromide (PB), the insecticide permethrin, and DEET, by which exposure occurred by clothing treated with permethrin, dermal treatment with DEET, and oral dosages of PB as prophylactic treatment,” the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease explained on its website.

“Research has shown a possible relationship between concurrent exposure to permethrin, pyridostigmine bromide, and DEET and the development of neurotoxicity and behavioral effects in laboratory animals. Whether exposures of service personnel were comparable to those that induced neurological changes in laboratory animals is still unclear.”

It should be noted that the US government had approved the widespread use of DDT (not DEET) before the infamously toxic pesticide was banned in 1972.