Daily News Archive

Illegal Pesticide Use in Texas Homes
(Beyond Pesticides, September 9, 2003) Officials in Texas are trying to curb the illegal use of a deadly insecticide, which is commonly used in residences due to its accessibility from across the border, according to the Star-Telegram. Vendors in Mexico bought large batches of the toxic chemical known to local residents as "polvo de avion," or airplane powder, and have been selling the white crystal powder in unmarked bags, according to Miguel Escobedo of the Texas Department of Health, and director of Public Health Regions 9 and 10. Mexican officials recently attempted to shut down the trade, yet the chemical is still widespread in Texas and southern New Mexico.

The airplane powder is actually methyl parathion, which has been banned for residential use in the U.S. and is allowed only for certain agricultural uses by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This dangerous chemical can cause a number of symptoms including headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, vomiting, diarrhea and general weakness. Long-term effects, caused by damage to the brain and spinal cord, include blurred vision, muscle weakness, mental confusion, short-term memory loss and depression. Since many residents have had access to the chemical since the 1950's, they are liable to suffer these symptoms from exposure. Those who do and visit their doctor seldom realize the reason for their illness. Doctors never connect those symptoms with the pesticide, according to Cecy Rodriguez, a colonia resident and advocate. "We had to educate the doctors," she said. "Do you ask them (patients), 'Do you use pesticides?'"

Other actions are being taken to protect residents from the dangers of methyl parathion. Last week, Escobedo and others introduced a video on the dangers of this chemical in order to educate area residents, who are mainly poor immigrant families. Trained volunteers from the area, known as promotoras, helped with the video, which is important since these volunteers generally have the trust of local residents.

Blanca Serrano, with the state Health Department's El Paso Office of Border Health, stated the next step will be to show the video in the neighborhoods of El Paso. The department will provide free glue boards - nontoxic insect traps - after residents view the video.

For more information on methyl parathion, contact Beyond Pesticides.