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Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles

Asthma & Pest Control


Over 14% of school children in LA County Have Asthma.

Asthma is caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

Studies have demonstrated that exposure to pesticides can be an underlying cause for asthma.

Pesticides can also trigger asthma attacks in those who already suffer from the disease.

Asthma attacks are triggered by a number of things, including pesticides and other chemicals, air pollution and

allergies to: dust, dust mites, mold, pets and pests.

Cockroach droppings or body parts can trigger asthma attacks in susceptible children.



When people learn that cockroaches cause asthma, their first response may be to use pesticides.

However, pesticides are even more closely linked to asthma and may only make conditions worse.

A California study found the link between herbicides (pesticides used to kill weeds) and the risk of developing asthma twice as strong as the link to cockroaches.

Spraying pesticides poses serious health risks and fails to identify or solve the root cause of the pest infestation, which are often maintenance problems or structural defects with the building itself.

Traditional approaches to pest control are ineffective - especially for cockroaches.
Pest Control = Shared Responsibility

Effective pest control requires a partnership between the building owner, housing department, the public health department and the tenant.

The building owner must maintain the building free from structural defects that support pest infestation.

The housing department must thoroughly inspect apartments for housing code violations (which may lead to pest infestations) and cite building owners for repairs.

They must also ensure structural repairs are properly fixed in a timely manner.

The public health department when it cites for pest infestations can instruct that non-chemical Integrated Pest Management methods be used first to control the infestation.

And the tenants must maintain housekeeping practices that do not support pest infestation.

Maintenance Problems and Structural Defects

Chronic plumbing leaks and structural damage can support pest infestation and make control efforts more difficult.

Failure to make repairs over long periods of time also contributes to pest infestations.

  • Low-income, children of color residing in the inner-city  are often at the highest risk for asthma, because they live in slum housing conditions where they suffer from increased exposure to pests and pesticides.


  • According to the EPA, close to 85% of total daily exposure to airborne pesticides comes from breathing air inside the home.


  • In California, urban use of pesticides in and around our homes, schools, workplaces and communities equals or exceeds all in-state agricultural use of these chemicals.

Physicians for 
Social Responsibility - Los Angeles

  How to reduce Cockroach Infestations via low-risk Integrated Pest Management practices
  • Resident education and training on Integrated Pest Management.
  • Visually inspect unit and building for signs of infestation, i.e. roach debris, stains and dead roaches.
  • Monitor and document level of roach infestation using sticky traps and poison-free roach motels.
  • Determine level of infestation in each unit and building-wide.
  • Clean units - eliminate standing water, clutter and places where cockroaches can get food.  Deep clean units if necessary.
  • Inspect units and buildings for maintenance and structural issues that may contribute to roach infestations, i.e. leaky pipes, cracks around baseboards and under doors, holes in walls where heating or plumbing ducts reside, etc...
  • Repair maintenance and structural issues that support roach infestation.
  • Treating existing roach infestations using low-risk non-chemical methods first, then if necessary, use least-toxic pesticides.
Low-risk Control Methods for existing Pest Infestations:
  • Flush existing roach infestations using hot air and capture with HEPA vacuum.
  • Place borate-based baits and powder in harborages identified by the hot air flushing.
  • Caulk and seal all entry points and harborages.

For more information on low-risk pest control methods contact Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles at  213-... or visit

Fact sheet was produced with resources from California Breathing.

Fact Sheet Citations    

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  March 2005.  Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2003.  Vital and Health Statistics 10 (223).

2.  Salam, MT, YF Li, B Langholz, and FD Gilliland.  May 2004.  Early-life environmental risk factors for asthma: Findings from the children's health study.  Environmental Health Perspectives 112 (6): 760-765.

3.  Field, M. 2002.  Asthma the Breathtaking Disease.  The Magazine of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Accessed August 2005).

4.  Roberts, J. 1996.  Cockroaches linked with asthma.  BMJ 312:1630; Liccardi, G, A Custovic, M Cazzola, et al. 2001.  Avoidance of allergens and air pollutatants in respiratory allergy.  Allergy 56: 705-722.

5.  Thier A, J Enck, and C Klossner.  1998.  Plagued by Pesticides: An Analysis of New York State's 1997 Pesticide Use and Sales Data.  Albany, NY: Environmental Advocates. (Accessed August 2005).

6.  Landrigan, PJ, L Claudio, SB Markowitz, et al.  1999.  Pesticides and inner-city children: exposures, risks, and prevention.  Environmental Health Perspectives 107 (Suppl 3): 431-437.

7.  Immerman, FW and JL Schaum.  1990.  Nonoccupational Pesticide Exposure Study.  EPA Doc.  No. 600/S3-90/003.  Cited in Quarles 1999 (Ref. #46).

8.  Moran, K, Pesticide Use in Urban Surface Water, Pesticide Use Trends Annual Report 2006, tdc Environmental, June, 2006.

9.  Beyond Pesticides.  Asthma, Children and Pesticides - What you should know to protect your family.

10.  Environmental Health Watch. (Accessed July 2008).

Healthy Homes Collaborative, P.O. Box 31796, Los Angeles, CA 90031  P: (323)221-8320  F: (323)226-9587

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