Opinion & Information on Boric AcidBy Michael R. Cartwright, Sr.
(Michael R. Cartwright, Sr. is a third generation licensed professional in the fields of structural pest control and building construction and is also licensed in agriculture pest control. His qualifications are too extensive to print but are available on request from The Reporter.)
Over the past years I have seen, in many homes and restaurants, boric acid covering everything. Carpets, floors, toys and furniture, in kitchen cabinets, on counter tops and tables, in refrigerators, clothing, etc. Why? Because environmentalists, helped by an uninformed news media, tell them to. Why don't the news media also explain the possible dangers of applying something not normally found in the home environment, that you or your animals will come in direct contact with?
I'm writing this article even though a California environmentalist group advised me not to say anything against boric acid and that I would pay dearly for only trying to mislead the public. My company uses a lot of boric acid, but not as described above.
Under an OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, based on animal chronic toxicity studies of inorganic borate chemicals, boric acid and/or borates are Hazardous Materials. California has identified boric acid as a hazardous waste. The above information is taken from Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) 25-80-2320 (Section 2 and 13) supplied by U.S. Borax Inc. (the major supplier of borax to many industries).
The National Academy of Sciences reports that children may be uniquely sensitive to chemicals and pesticide residues because of their rapid tissue growth and development. Most laboratory tests are performed on fully grown adult laboratory animals.
On page 312 of the National Academy of Sciences' report Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children (under the section entitled "Non-dietary Exposure to Pesticides") boric acid is cited as one of the pesticides/fungicides that can induce adverse skin reactions such as contact dermatitis and hyperkeratosis with dermal contact of treated surfaces.
Boric acid and/or borates are important and promising pesticides and fungicides, for my industry as well as for the general homeowner, for the control of fungus, termites, roaches and other insects as well as a wood preservative. Using appropriate application methods, boric acid and/or borates can be safe and long lasting pesticides and fungicides without having any negative side effects on the environment.
Boric acid is generally known as a desiccant; in other words, it kills by removing the moisture from the body of the target pests, causing severe dehydration which will affect electrolyte metabolism with the potential of metabolic acidosis. In fact, boric acid is a stomach poison normally ingested, along with the fact that it can also enter the blood by inhalation. Boric acid is an acid. Acid will decrease the pH level with the possible side effects of renal, respiratory, and cardiovascular failure. Symptoms and signs of boric acid poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dysphagia, cold sweats, dyspnea, muscular debility, scarlatinal eruptions, subnormal temperature, cardiac weakness, cyanosis, coma, collapse, etc. Boric acid is 3 parts hydrogen, 1 part boron, and 3 parts oxygen. Recently U.S. Borax discovered that boric acid contains traces of arsenic. Before California Prop 65 there were few, if any, human studies on boric acid. When human studies were requested from U.S. Borax they said they were unable to supply us with any at that time. But in the late 1980's they had started doing new and extensive toxicity tests on rats and mice as a result of California Prop 65. As a result of these tests, they discovered a decrease in sperm count and the stopping of fetal and embryonic development in rats and mice. In early 1993, U.S. Borax had asked for, and has received, additional time to complete their laboratory studies from the State of California.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted a "de minimus" policy, which accepts that zero is not absolute, but a very, very small amount. But environmental groups protested the EPA policy, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court in California struck down the de minimus clause, thus establishing zero as absolute zero.
Boric acid contained traces of arsenic, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. U.S. Borax was able to use the EPA de minimus policy, which accepts that zero is not absolute, but very, very small to remove arsenic from its Material Safety Data Sheet. I personally do not see any risk with the trace amount of arsenic at 1 part per million in boric acid and/or borates if used in an appropriate application method. But, not where there will be constant direct contact.
Others in the pesticide manufacturing industry have found that boric acid is an effective and reliable long term pesticide. Consider the fact that the environmentalist groups approved of its use, contrary to their stand on the EPA de minimus policy. When they discovered a possible decrease in sperm count and no development of the egg capsule or ovum plus the stopping of fetal and embryonic development in roaches with the potential to similarly affect other insects, this made it the perfect pesticide, and with the blessings of the environmen- talists.
Those in the fungicide and wood preservative manufacturing industries discovered that boric acid and/or borates are effective and reliable long term fungicides and preservatives. When wood was treated with boric acid and/or borates and then placed in a damp and warm area, the ideal environment for fungus growth you would have no fungus growth. These chemicals also work as a termiticide (prevents and/or kills termites and other wood destroying insects) -- unlike other fungicides and preservatives, which would also break down. Boric acid and/or borates are derived from natural elements, therefore they do not break down readily. When boric acid and/or borates are used as fungicides and preservatives, they serve as a growth regulator rather than a desiccant.
Fungi are plants that contain no chlorophyll. Therefore, they cannot make their own food and so they must have an outside source of food, in this case wood. There are four requirements for fungus growth; first is food, such as cellulose and lignin which is contained in all wood; second is air; third is warmth; and, fourth is moisture.
I do not wish to see the loss of boric acid and/or borates as we have seen in the past the loss of so many other fine pesticides, due to improper methods of application, which in many cases unnecessarily exposed people to hazardous chemicals. Boric Acid is one of the safest pesticides if used correctly.
THIS IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF U.S. BORAX for they have always been forthright about providing any new information regarding any of their products. U.S. Borax has the only correct Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on boric acid that I have seen to date. Most, if not all, other manufacturers of pesticides that contain boric acid have incomplete information contained in their MSDSs about boric acid and/or borates.
When talking with U.S. Borax about use of their product, technical grade boric acid, for reformulating or repackaging into registered products, they do not necessarily approve of anyone using boric acid in any manner inconsistent with their original label. But there is nothing they can do if its recommended use is inconsistent with its own original label when it has been re-labeled by still others. U.S. Borax indicated that if they were to try to stop reformulators or repackagers from registering products with recommendations that were inconsistent with their product label on boric acid, that would be considered restraint of trade. It is entirely up to the discretion of the EPA to oversee how a pesticide is labeled.
Broadcast application of boric acid (to cover entire areas or surfaces) is not one of U.S. Borax's recommended methods of application on its registered label. Based on U.S. Borax's label, broadcast application would not be the normal occupational exposure and not what I would consider the normal human exposure to boric acid.
Limiting the use (application methods and locations) of pesticides and/or reducing of unnecessary human and/or animal contact with pesticides regardless of their perceived safety is of the utmost importance. Many illnesses may be directly related to a pesticide or chemical but because of its perceived safety could be overlooked.
Because Michael Cartwright feels that the information provided to The Reporter would be helpful in understanding his opinion on the use of boric acid and derivative products for pest control, he has included additional supporting information relating to the basic principles of toxicity testing. This information will be presented as Part II of this article in the next issue of the Reporter. What I actually received from Mr. Cartwright is a presentation nearly an inch thick of background information, including MSDSs on various commonly used flea control products and relevant reference articles.)