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Protect Yourself From Disease-Carrying Ticks, Mosquitoes With EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents

Health + Wellness
Fairfax County / CC BY-ND 2.0

A number of factors should come into play when you're choosing a bug repellent: what part of the country you live in, where you plan to travel, whether you're pregnant and whether you are planning to use the product on children. EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents can help you find the right product for yourself and your family.

No repellent works every place against every pest, so it is worth researching the diseases insects and ticks carry where you plan to spend time outside. The repellent you might choose for a backpacking trip in Colorado could be different from the one that might suffice for a picnic on an East Coast beach.


According to the available scientific literature, when you really need protection, your best bets are products made with active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a company registers a bug repellent, it must provide the EPA with technical information that shows the chemical is effective against mosquitoes, ticks or both.

Based on testing data, EWG's top choices for repellents include those that contain the active ingredients picaridin, DEET and IR3535 for protection from a variety of biting insects and ticks. And all three have good safety profiles.

Many people are concerned about the possible drawbacks of common active ingredients like DEET. EWG researchers have analyzed the science in depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, our recommended active ingredients effectively reduce risk from life-altering diseases and have very low toxicity concerns.

But these strong chemicals should not be used on infants under 6 months old, and some should not be used on young children.

"Insects that bite and burrow into your skin are not just a nuisance—they can carry dangerous, even deadly, diseases," said EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns. "Educating yourself on what you can do to protect yourself and your family is important. EWG's guide helps consumers choose the right repellent for their circumstances and provides additional tips to reduce risks from insects."

EWG's guide breaks down advice on what bug repellents are best for children, adults and women who are pregnant. The guide also goes beyond repellents to offer a list of do's and don'ts for avoiding bug bites.

According to a new report from the CDC, tick- and insect-transmitted diseases, which can have serious health impacts and may even lead to death, are on the rise. While the agency has reported no cases of Zika virus transmission in the U.S. in 2018, it warns that pest-borne diseases are "a large and growing public health problem in the United States."

In the U.S., the number one mosquito-borne and tick-borne disease threats are West Nile virus and Lyme disease, respectively. But travelers to tropical regions and some other places could encounter Zika, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and other diseases. Diseases carried by ticks are rare, but can be severe. EWG recommends prudent tick prevention methods to anyone who spends time in tick-infested areas.

"Spending plenty of time outside, whether in your backyard, on the beach or on a family camping trip, is important," said EWG senior scientist David Andrews. "By taking a few simple steps, you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time worrying about bug bites."

EWG scientists recommend people avoid a number of toxic and ineffective products, including clip-on repellents and repellent candles—both of which can present inhalation risks.

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Environmental Investigation Agency

By Genevieve Belmaker

Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

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Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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