When two-and-a-half-year-old Amber Nickol McKeown got head lice, her mother put the child in a warm bath and massaged Osco Lice Treatment Shampoo into her scalp. Problem solved.
But the little girl’s condition deteriorated quickly. Her chest turned red. She labored to breathe. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her skin peeled off in clumps. Seventy-two hours later, Amber was dead - an autopsy showed her death had been triggered by exposure to a type of pesticide called a pyrethrin and its accompanying impurities, according to the family’s lawsuit.
While Amber’s story is an extreme case, it clearly shows the hidden hazards of household pesticides and the need to revisit their safety. The Center for Public Integrity’s new report, Perils of the New Pesticides, reveals that these so-called “safe” pesticides, used in thousands of consumer products, accounted for more than 26 percent of all fatal, “major,” and “moderate” human incidents in the United States in 2007, a 300% increase over the last decade.
This Center for Public Integrity project provides the public with a searchable database of products containing these pesticides so consumers can check for incident reports on harmful pesticides used in their own homes. The Center’s reporting also pushed the EPA to fast track its study of the pesticides’ effects, something the EPA was not planning to do for years until the Center showed officials what was happening.
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