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Artifact Friday: Insect Repellant

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Those pesky bugs that annoy us on hot sweet summer nights can be rejected by insect repellant thanks to the US military in World War II. The enemy of our enemy is our friend and research for an antidote to the aggravating critters began in the 1920s but was not introduced till the 1940s. In 1946 the US army introduced N, N- diethyl-meta-toluamide or DEET for their soldiers to apply on their skin blocking the biting bugs from smelling them. It was not until 1957 that DEET was approved for the public to use, and still is used in products today. It is a colorless liquid with a faint odor to distract bugs. DEET was not the only form of pest control that was introduced to the public in the 1950s, pyrethrins were discovered as a natural botanical insecticide found in Chrysanthemums. A mixture of 6 chemicals found in the flower, pyrethrins’ target is an insect’s main nervous system for a quick kill. Both forms of pesticide are highly toxic for fish but both are non-toxic for birds. Don’t worry, these chemicals are constantly tested to ensure their low toxicity to humans, just do not ingest them. Ranging from shampoos to spray, the EPA approved and reapproved the safety of these different pesticides ensuring their durability as preventive bug blockers are biodegradable and disintegrate into the air. Similarly, if released as a spray, DEET can become a mist or vapor while it breaks down in the atmosphere. DEET is often found in wastewater because it does not dissolve well in water like pyrethrins. These two formulas have been helping soldiers in insect-infested areas throughout wars as well as families in humid backyards.

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