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PestiBytes Episode 26: Is 'food grade' diatomaceous earth okay for pest control?

headphones Introduction/Conclusion: Dr. Dave Stone, Director of the National Pesticide Information Center
Host: Brooke, NPIC Pesticide Specialist
Guest: Veterinarian Dr. Fred Berman DVM, PhD, Director of the OIOHS Toxicology Information Center

DR. STONE: Welcome to PestiBytes, a podcast series from the National Pesticide Information Center. These are based on common pesticide questions from people just like you.


CARMEN: This is Carmen and I'm here with Colton to talk about a product related to bed bug control called Diatomaceous Earth. Colton, is this product safe to use?

COLTON: Well, there are actually two types of diatomaceous earth. One is "Food Grade" and the other is labeled for pest control. There is always some risk involved when using either product to control pests. However, some users may not know that the ‘food-grade' products can be hazardous and so they might be careless when using them. This can lead to unfortunate situations.

CARMEN: Doesn't "Food Grade" mean it can be used in food? Wouldn't it be safe to use in our homes?

COLTON: I know what you mean. But, the way we use it and how much we use can affect the risk. When up to 2% is added to food, diatomaceous earth is generally recognized as safe by the US Food & Drug Administration. However, it can be irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat when people are exposed to the dust in their homes. The exposure scenarios, and the risks, are different. Also, "Food Grade" product labels don't have any instructions or precautions for pest control applications.

CARMEN: What makes diatomaceous earth a pesticide? Is it safe?

COLTON: Diatomaceous earth products are considered pesticides when their labels claim to kill or control pests. So, regulators must evaluate pest control-related risks for these products. The labels tell users about the toxicity through Signal Words and they describe application methods that keep the risk low.

CARMEN: That labeling sounds important. Is there anything else we should know about diatomaceous earth?

COLTON: Its also worth mentioning that if a pesticide lists certain pests, like bed bugs, on the label, then the manufacturer must do testing to prove that their product is effective under ideal circumstances. ‘Food Grade' products don't undergo this sort of testing. So, the bottom line is that pesticide product labels help the user minimize the risk while maximizing the potential benefits. Users of ‘food grade' products miss out on these benefits.

CARMEN: Ok, that all makes sense. How can users lower their risk?

COLTON: Great question! When it comes to diatomaceous earth, use pesticides as pesticides, and use ‘food grade' for food. When using pesticides, always minimize your exposure. Consider wearing a dust mask, eye protection, and long clothing when you are spreading the dust. Do not apply dust near fans, swinging doors, air vents, or high traffic areas. Consider targeting areas with limited access. Remember, children and pets may explore areas near the floor that are not typical for adults. Finally, follow the label directions closely.

CARMEN: Thanks, Colton! That was great.

COLTON: You're welcome!


DR. STONE: If you have questions about pesticides, please call us at 1-800-858-7378 or visit us on the web at http://npic.orst.edu. PestiBytes is brought to you by the National Pesticide Information Center, a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency. These are produced in collaboration with OSU's Environmental Health Sciences Center, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Last updated August 05, 2015

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Natural and Biological Pesticides



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