I want to believe everything they say, and all of the spin on the packet. I want to believe this product protects me. I want to believe in and trust the FDA. And I want to believe in the tooth fairy too. But I have come to experience and know that my intuition is superb barometer for truth, and I need to trust it more. And that the “natural” image presented on, or for, a product can, sometimes, hide some pretty ugly reality.
And so it was, yesterday, here in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Twice in the course of the morning, I found myself breathing in the smoke from one of these:
A mosquito coil. It made me cough and was, frankly, unpleasant. I could taste it for hours. The first instance was in a friend’s mosquito-infested junglish garden, where he had maybe 4 or 5 coils burning that I could see. And smell. The second time I walked into a favourite Thai shop for some late-morning-spicy to soothe the hangries, and there was a coil burning in the small restaurant, directly under the crib-play-pen for the little baby who has recently been welcomed to the family. It was hearing the baby cough at almost the same time as I did, that somehow tripped a thought-switch in my mind.
While I waited for my Pad Grapao Gai Phet Sai Khai Dao Suk Suk (spicy minced chicken stir fried with Thai Holy Basil and served over rice with a well-cooked fried egg on top) I tap-tapped on my phone. And was, frankly, slightly stunned at what I learned.
Basically there are two different reasons why you should NEVER be close to, or breathe in, the smoke from mosquito coils
- A clinical study of mosquito coils in the US found that some mosquito coils contain octachlorodipropyl ether (s-2) which, when the coils are burned, produces a potent lung carcinogen as a byproduct called (bis(chloromethyl)ether (BCME)). Source Despite many brands claiming to contain “natural cironella or eucalyptus oils”, many of the brands for sale in Asia still ALSO contain s-2. As recently as September 2018, the Thai Food and Drug Administration revoked the licences for two brands of mosquito coil after finding unregistered chemicals in the products imported from China. Source Bottom line? It’s likely in Asia to contain dangerous pesticides which are combusted and therefore made easier to inhale and absorb.
- The other seriously harmful aspect of mosquito coils is the high level of PM2.5 particles they release into the air – particles we breathe in when we “smell” the smoke, and which have been shown in many studies to trigger asthma, lung disease and lung cancer. *But how much 2.5mm particulate waste could one little coil produce? Aren’t we over reacting?” In a set of experiments conducted in a room, we examined the size distribution of particulate matter contained in the coil smoke and found that the particles were ultrafine and fine. The findings from the present study suggest that exposure to the smoke of mosquito coils similar to the tested ones can pose significant acute and chronic health risks. For example, burning one mosquito coil would release the same amount of PM(2.5) mass as burning 75-137 cigarettes. The emission of formaldehyde from burning one coil can be as high as that released from burning 51 cigarettes. Source
Formaldehyde. Yikes. That’s the stuff they preserve dead things in. According to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Formaldehyde is a highly toxic systemic poison that is absorbed well by inhalation. The vapor is a severe respiratory tract and skin irritant and may cause dizziness or suffocation.” No wonder we coughed! 75-137 cigarettes? I had a flash back to the hour I spent chatting with my friend with his 4 or 5 coils burning merrily around us. Mostly I thought about the baby starting life breathing this crap in.
Mosquito coils are allowed to be sold because somewhere on the back of the box in MICROSCOPIC lettering, it says Only Intended For Use in a Well Ventilated Space. And therein lies the problem. If the air is heavy and still and you have enough mosquitoes hovering to need the coil, it is already, by definition a poorly ventilated space. Mosquitoes HATE moving air and always seek out quiet, still, close environments. In a closed courtyard, a room, under a bed or under a restaurant table? FAIL.
The fact that the coil is labeled “citronella” often has NO bearing on the primary pesticides which are the actual & most effective ingredient. #Greenwashing.
“But we need to protect ourselves from Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Malaria!” I hear you object, rather loudly. And you do. No one knows that better than I do, having had 3 bouts of Dengue Fever myself during my 16 years in Asia and having also sat helplessly by when my only daughter, then aged 6, was dangerously ill with Dengue Fever.
Tomorrow I’m coming back to post Coils of Deception Part 2: Safe Alternatives to Mosquito Coils. Please follow me to make sure you don’t miss it!
Assessing #naturalproducts – actually ANY products – is OUR responsibility. Trusting logos, certifications, governments? Good luck with that. We live in an information age where product research is EASY. It took me literally 10 minutes on my old 3rd hand smart phone whilst waiting for my yummy spicy Thai food, to learn about mosquito coils. The information was not hard to uncover, and it was – and remains – quite shocking.
Feeling empowered in my Thai natural world, and back to you in my next blog post with some safe, effective, natural alternatives.