Termite Fumigation Risks
In the United States, most experts performing termite fumigation for residential buildings use a gas with the active ingredient sulfuryl fluoride. This page addresses only the risks associated with sulfuryl fluoride fumigants. It does not address other fumigants that may be in use in countries outside the U.S.
Methods to Reduce Termite Fumigation Risks
Sulfuryl fluoride is slightly toxic to humans who inhale it. At high concentrations or following extended periods of exposure, termite fumigation gases can lead to death. Termite fumigators use a few different techniques to minimize human exposure and secure the house, including tear gas and locks and barricades on entryways.
Sulfuryl fluoride is an odorless and colorless gas, which can increase the likelihood of accidental inhalation. Pest management professionals use chloropicrin, a tear gas, in conjunction with sulfuryl fluoride because chloropicrin causes physical symptoms in humans, such as tearing of the eyes and respiratory irritation. These symptoms serve as warning signs to vacate the area, and thus, help reduce the risk of accidental inhalation. If your expert must enter your home before it has aerated, he or she will wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to prevent exposure to both sulfuryl fluoride and chloropicrin.
After fumigation, the tent over the treatment area is removed, and the fumigant gases diffuse into the air, rapidly leaving your home. Following six hours of ventilation, your pest management professional will use devices that detect trace amounts of sulfuryl fluoride and chloropicrin in the air. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), re-entry is not permitted until sulfuryl fluoride levels are 1 part per million or less. (During the fumigation, concentrations may reach 3,850 parts per million or higher.)
Due to the risks associated with performing sulfuryl fluoride fumigation, only certified professionals may purchase and use fumigants with sulfuryl fluoride.
Long-term Effects of Termite Fumigant
Sulfuryl fluoride fumigants do not leave residues or react with materials commonly found in homes. You do not have to wash your dishes or clothing when you return home. However, be sure to follow your pest control expert’s advice before the fumigation to prepare and/or remove items from the house to help reduce exposure.
Before registering fumigants, the EPA considers the potential of termite fumigation to cause cancer. Since sulfuryl fluoride inhalation does not cause changes to genetic material in animal studies, it is not considered a cancer-causing agent.