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Say NO To Lice Sprays

Permethrin sprays a health hazard on airplanes,
but still sold for children's bedding

Lice sprays may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but contain the pyrethroid known as permethrin.  The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) warns of the risks of permethrin exposures to humans and is waging a war to stop the spraying of permethrin on airplanes, while permethrin-containing shampoos and sprays are still marketed for children and families, their bedding, furniture and other objects in the home, school, and child care settings.  The National Pediculosis Association has since its inception warned against the use of pesticide shampoos and sprays.

Why Not To Spray:

  • Head lice are primarily transmitted by person-to-person contact rather than by person-environment-person contact.
  • There is no scientific basis for spraying the environment with pesticides for human lice given that lice are blood-obligate human parasites as opposed to environmental pests.
  • Vacuuming is a realistic, practical, safe and readily available alternative for furniture, bedding, stuffed animals, etc.  Clothing and bed linen can be washed or dry-cleaned. 
  • Since the NPA’s inception in 1983, we have had full support of our position against lice environmental sprays from the Centers for Disease Control.  The one area of agreement among all of the politics and controversies surrounding lice treatments is that the use of sprays for the environment, clothing, furniture and especially bedding is unwarranted, ill-advised and potentially harmful.  According to the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, “The danger of sprays lies not only in the sprays’ active ingredients but also in their synergists and petroleum distillates, which may promote penetration of the product through the skin.”
  • Lice sprays are typically marketed to be used in conjunction with lice shampoos, and therefore significantly increase the insecticide exposure within the same time frame for the same child in the absence of any studies of combined effects, cumulative absorption or safety.
  • The risks of pediculicide sprays (including eye and respiratory risks) apply not only to the infested child but also to the person doing the spraying.  There are also risks for pets.  Young children, the most susceptible age group to head lice, often have mothers who may be pregnant or nursing:  the sprays come with no warnings for this high risk group - infants, unborn babies, or others with pre-existing medical problems in the home.  Environmental sprays impact everyone.
  • Schools that spray for lice add risks for their student population given that parents are often not informed of the spraying and repeat similar actions within the home setting making for cumulative effects and additional unnecessary exposures.
  • Cumulative risks are also associated with schools and other institutions with pest control spraying measures for other pests such as roaches.  Add another spraying exposure to the mix and school populations, who vary in vulnerability, are placed at higher risk.  We already know that there is more asthma, more cancer, and more illness in general in children.
  • Pediculicidal sprays have ingredients that become more toxic in their vaporized state.
  • Ineffectiveness due to the development of lice resistance to permethrin and cross resistance to pyrethrins has been scientifically documented.

With the increasing awareness of the harmful nature of environmental pollutants and pesticides, state legislatures are limiting the use of pesticides in private and public schools, day care centers and school age child care programs.   For example, California has banned the use of Lindane in the state and Massachusetts has enacted An Act Protecting Children and Families from Harmful Pesticides listing chemicals not allowed on school/day care/childcare program property.

Once informed about the true insecticide nature of these sprays, no parent would want to spray a child’s room and bedding with an insecticide, shampoo that same child with a similar insecticide and put them to bed for the night!

The California Department of Health Services says there is ample evidence to demonstrate
that exposure to pyrethroid pesticides may result in adverse health effects,
especially among sensitive subpopulations


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