Understanding and Using Rotenone Safely If At All

I believe that Rotenone, one of the more popular of natural insect controls, should be understood before you go spreading it around. So here's the technical details you might find interesting and useful.

Rotenone is classed as a General Use Pesticide except for use on cranberries and fish control (these two uses are restricted). This means that anybody can purchase this product and use it in their garden without training or licensing.

Important It can legally be combined with other products such as carbaryl, lindane, thiram and is in some product packaging. Often you'll have to read the fine print to discover what you though you purchased as an organic control contains something far more of a problem. This is why it is so important to read the label.

What Does it Kill?

This product is a non-specific botanical insecticide. This means that it kills off most things that come in contact with it. In general, it is used in home gardens and to kill lice and fleas on pets.

Where Does it Come From?

Rotenone is a plant extract from members of the pea family (Leguminosae) such as barbasco, cub, haiari, nekoe and timbo and the product is taken from the roots, seeds and leaves of these plants.

Is it Dangerous?

To most insects and fish, yes it is dangerous in that it kills them.

In humans, it can create dermatitis (mild rash), sore throat and congestion if skin contact is made. If eaten, it can produce vomiting. Breathing it can increase your respiration rate and be followed by depression.

Does it kill humans? It is theoretically possible but because it makes you vomit when you eat it - not likely. Technically, if you eat 300-500 milligrams of pure rotenone per kilogram of your body weight then you could have problems. However, please understand that commercially available product is not 100% pure but rather 1-5% by weight. This is a lot of this stuff - several retail sized containers - even for a child to have to eat to get sick. Animals fed this stuff for up to 2 years did not die although some at higher and longer levels had stomach problems (too much throwing up).

The data indicates that breathing it will cause more problems than any other method (wear dust masks!)

What about pregnant women? The conclusion of Extoxnet at Cornell is that "reproductive effects seem unlikely in humans".

Does it Hurt the Environment

Rotenone rapidly breaks down in soil and water - usually between 1 to 3 days. Because it doesn't leach from the soil and because it breaks down rapidly, it is not a danger to groundwater.

When dusted onto plants, it breaks down rapidly in sunlight exposure. 5-6 days of spring sunlight and 2-3 days of summer sunlight.

Bottom Line

This is a highly effective plant-based insecticide that works on a wide range of insect pests. It breaks down quite quickly in the soil, water or sunlight.

Exposure to it - from skin contact, to eating to inhalation - should be carefully restricted.

It can be applied as a dust or as a liquid spray.

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Most products now being sold in garden centers are combination products rather than straight rotenone. Read the label to ensure the product doesn't contain ag-chemicals and qualifies as "organic". Many new products do not qualify.

When you apply this product, it is recommended you wear long sleeves, rubber gloves and when dusting - a protective breathing dustmask. The dustmask is the single most important protective gear to be used when dusting this product.

Read the label before using

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