J O U R N A L O F P E S T I C I D E R E F O R M / S U M M E R 1 9 9 8 • V O L . 1 8 , N O . 2
The insecticide permethrin (in the synthetic pyrethroid family) is widely used on cotton, wheat, corn, alfalfa,
and other crops. In addition, over 100 million applications are made annually in and around U.S. homes.

Permethrin, like all synthetic pyrethroids, is a neurotoxin. Symptoms include tremors, incoordination, elevated
body temperature, increased aggressive behavior, and disruption of learning. Laboratory tests suggest that
permethrin is more acutely toxic to children than to adults.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified permethrin as a carcinogen because it causes lung
tumors in female mice and liver tumors in mice of both sexes. Permethrin inhibits the activity of the immune
system in laboratory tests, and also binds to the receptors for a male sex hormone. It causes chromosome
aberrations in human and hamster cells.

Permethrin is toxic to honey bees and other beneficial insects, fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, and shrimp. For
many species, concentrations of less than one part per billion are lethal. Permethrin causes deformities and
other developmental problems in tadpoles, and reduces the number of oxygen-carrying cells in the blood of

Permethrin has been found in streams and rivers throughout the United States. It is also routinely found on
produce, particularly spinach, tomatoes, celery, lettuce, and peaches.

A wide variety of insects have developed resistance to permethrin. High levels of resistance have been
documented in cockroaches, head lice, and tobacco budworm.

Mode of Action
throids, kills insects by strongly exciting including head lice control. It was first sending a single impulse in response to a counting for about 60 percent (by weight) of the permethrin used.1 In the U.S., al- in agriculture is used on corn, wheat, and alfalfa.2 Over 100 million applications of side of the nerve cells. Permethrin’s mode permethrin are made each year in U.S.
of action is similar to that of the orga- Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid .
Acute Lethal Dose
secticides, it has four isomers, molecules population of test animals) is variable. In ent three-dimensional structures. (See Fig- 3-Phenoxybenzyl-3-(2,2-dichlorovinyl)-2,2- Caroline Cox is JPR’s editor.
ity occurs because the proportions of iso- NORTHWEST COALITION FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES/NCAP
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system is exquisitely sensitive … at expo- Effect of Permethrin on the
sure levels that cause no overt toxicity.”20 Immune System
Effects on Reproduction
male reproductive systems. It binds to re- sects, it causes repetitive nerve impulses.
ceptors for androgen, a male sex hormone, It also inhibits a variety of nervous sys- researchers to “advise protection from any form of contact or ingestion of the pyre- throids.”22 Permethrin also binds to a dif- ferent receptor, called the peripheral ben- zodiazepine receptor, that stimulates pro- mitters8; and acetylcholinesterase, the en- (% cytotoxicity - means with standard errors) acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.) In addi- ducing excitability and convulsions.10 Fi- nally, permethrin inhibits respiration (the Mutagenicity
Blaylock, R.L. et al. 1995. Suppression of cellular immune responses in BALB/c micefollowing oral exposure to permethrin. Bull.
Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 54:768-774.
other neurotoxic drugs.11 It is therefore not surprising that permethrin causes a Permethrin inhibits natural killer cells, one com- wide variety of neurotoxic symptoms.
blurred vision.”17,18 They also cause “red- ness, swelling, and possibly blistering” of “causes eye injury”19 and “may cause al- to three days.12 Other behavioral effects Effects on the Immune
permethrin-containing insecticide) during by living things to defend themselves from Carcinogenicity
permethrin increased aggressive behavior, disease) “appears to be a sensitive target learned feeding behavior in rats at doses system cells called T-lymphocytes to rec- ognize and respond to foreign proteins.
lung tumors in female mice, and increased Eye and Skin Irritation
inhibited T-lymphocytes over 40 percent.
the frequency of liver tumors in male and irritating to both eyes and skin. For ex- nization reports that permethrin increased ample, the agricultural insecticide Pounce tem cell, natural killer cells, by about 40 3.2 EC “causes moderate eye irritation.”16 percent.20 (See Figure 2.) In tests using mouse cell cultures, permethrin had simi- lar effects on the immune system, inhibi- Fogger both cause “tearing, swelling, and NORTHWEST COALITION FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES/NCAP
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synergistically induce growth of the soil Incidence of Lung Tumors in Permethrin-treated Mice
permethrin and the insecticide amitraz are Individual Susceptibility
to permethrin, as has been illustrated by mals, it appears children may be moresensitive to permethrin than adults.
Permethrin is almost 5 times more acutely toxic to 8-day-old rats than it is to adultrats.38 (See Figure 4.) • Since sulfates are involved in one of with defects in sulfate-related enzymesmay be unable to easily break down World Health Organization. 1990. Permethrin. Environmental Health Criteria 94. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO, United Nations Environment Prog., and International Labor Org. Pp.76-78.
Permethrin increased the incidence of lung tumors in tests conducted by FMC (●) and have reduced activity are at higher risk of crease was not statistically significant.31 at all doses tested in a rat feeding study.24 of the carcinogenicity of permethrin-con- which could explain permethrin’s carci- “ It appears children
nogenicity. First, permethrin reduces the may be more
of their individual effects. A possible cause sensitive to
breakdown of the amino acid tryptophan.
of the health problems reported by 30,000 permethrin than
adults. Permethrin
Second, permethrin inhibits what is called is almost 5 times
“gap junctional intercellular communica- combination of permethrin, the anti-nerve more acutely toxic
to 8-day-old rats
role in the growth of cells, and some can- than it is to adult
toms, including decreased activity, diar- rats.”
rhea, shortness of breath, tremors, inabil- Other Chronic Effects
Effects on Nontarget Animals
Beneficial Arthropods: As a broad
tory studies that exposed rats, mice, and spectrum insecticide, it is not surprising also caused tremors and inability to walk, were noted at the “lowest effect level” in arthropods, those that are useful in agri- Other pesticides interact synergistically laboratory tests include enlarged adrenal with permethrin with in other species.
glands at all doses tested in a rabbit feed- bees; the median lethal dose is 0.008 mi- NORTHWEST COALITION FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES/NCAP
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crograms per bee.41 Sublethal exposurescause increased abnormal behavior (trem- Effect of Age on the Toxicity of Permethrin
Biological Control tested the acute tox-icity of permethrin to 13 species of ben- permethrin caused 99 percent mortalityof 12 of the species, and over 80 percent mortality of the other. Effects were per-sistent, lasting over 30 days.44 Sublethaldoses also impact beneficial arthropods: permethrin inhibited the emergence of aparasitoid wasp from eggs of the rice moth Corcyra cephalonica45 and disruptedthe foraging pattern of another parasi-toid wasp as it searched for its aphid prey.46 (Parasitoids are insects that lay (milligrams of permethrin per kilogram of body weight their eggs in, on, or near their prey. The Cantalamessa, F. 1993. Acute toxicity of two pyrethroids, permethrin and cypermethrin, in neonatal and adult rats. Arch. Toxicol. 67:510-513.
populations of agricultural pests at lowlevels.) Permethrin is more toxic (the LD is lower) to young rats than to adult rats.
Aquatic Insects: Because it is a broad
Fish: Permethrin is highly toxic to fish.
This toxicity is due, in part, to the sensi- Permethrin applications to forest streams tivity of their nervous system.54 Fish also caused “a major increase in the density of drifting invertebrates” described as Forest Service in field studies. They found “catastrophic.” (Drifting animals are those that are sufficiently poisoned by the in- mals) is less than 1 part per million (ppm) these fish use as food. In some cases, di- stream.) Most applications were also fol- for almost all fish species tested, and for ets were altered for a year following treat- some fish is less than 1 part per billion fauna,” insects that live in the stream bed.
and migration to untreated areas followed; called emulsifiable concentrates are about months.47 Mayflies and damselflies are the twice as toxic to fish as permethrin alone.
most sensitive species.49 Permethrin also Small fish are less tolerant of permethrin “not an acceptable treatment for large- scale use in forest areas containing fish- also have a particular developmental stage Amphibians: Permethrin disrupts the
Birds: While permethrin’s acute tox-
icity to birds is low,50 it causes other ad- verse effects. Three-week dietary exposure tail abnormality. (See Figure 5.) The in- that concentrations in fish are higher than lowest concentration of permethrin tested, the fish live. Bioconcentration factors (the also responded to prodding in a jerky and NORTHWEST COALITION FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES/NCAP
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Effect of Permethrin on Tadpole Development
food (44 percent of the samples tested)and was also found in plums (11 percent Contamination of Water
Survey has found permethrin in streamsand rivers in the Mississippi River Ba-sin,72 the Central Columbia Plateau Florida Coastal Plain,74 the San Joaquin-Tulare Basin (California),75 and the states).76 Permethrin has also been found Permethrin Concentration (parts per million) Berrill, M. et al. 1993. Lethal and sublethal impacts of pyrethroid insecticides on amphibianembryos and tadpoles. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 12:525-539.
plication away from the target area, hasbeen measured for two types ofpermethrin applications: aerial and back Permethrin causes a tail deformity, “bent back” in tadpoles.
790 feet) under conditions “highly con- effects.”66 Another animal that is very sen- ducive” to drift.78 These researchers sug- sitive to permethrin is crayfish; LC s for decreased the amounts of two specific pro- 1.2 ppb. Researchers concluded that “even teins is associated with learning. Activity Persistence
cluding acetylcholinesterase, decreased.63 life (the amount of time required for half Other Aquatic Animals: Permethrin
Residues on Food
is very highly toxic to lobster; the LC is agricultural soil and 43 days in Illinois.80 half of the larvae) of less than 1 ppm.65 pesticide.68 Similar results were found in persists longer; soil concentrations did not decline during the first year.81 Permethrin with a bioconcentration factor of 1900.66 also persists longer in tree needles, foli- age, and bark, up to 363 days.82 The abil- permethrin exposure; LC s of several spe- ity of permethrin to persist in the envi- caused “severe mortalities” of two kinds study of an application of permethrin ear samples tested).69 Permethrin was also fre- at concentrations so low that they cannot their pasture, on a fence pole, and in grass.
it in 12 percent of the samples tested.
P. O. B O X 1 3 9 3, E U G E N E, O R E G O N 9 7 4 4 0 / ( 5 4 1 ) 3 4 4 - 5 0 4 4 J O U R N A L O F P E S T I C I D E R E F O R M / S U M M E R 1 9 9 8 • V O L . 1 8 , N O . 2
on the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor. Pest.
Biochem. Physiol. 32:106-113.
World Health Organization. 1990. Permethrin.
24. U.S. EPA. Office of Pesticide Programs. Health Environmental Health Criteria 94. Geneva, Swit- Effects Division. 1997. Tox oneliners: Permethrin.
insect that is able to tolerate a particular zerland: World Health Organization, United Na- tions Environment Programme, and International insecticide) to permethrin has been docu- 25. Spencer, F. and Z. Berhane. 1982. Uterine and fetal characteristics in rats following a post- mented in a wide variety of insects. These 2. Gianessi, L.P. and J.E. Anderson. 1995. Pesti- implantational exposure to permethrin. Bull.
cide use in U.S. crop production. National sum- species include pear psylla,84 fall army- mary report. Washington, D.C.: National Center 26. Barrueco, C. et al. 1992. Cytogenetic effects of permethrin in cultured lymphocytes. Mutag.
Whitmore, R.W., J.E. Kelly, and P.L. Reading.
1992. National home and garden pesticide use 27. Surrallés, J. et al. 1995. The suitability of the survey. Final report, Volume 1: Executive sum- micronucleus assay in human lymphocytes as a mary, results, and recommendations. Research new biomarker of excision repair. Mut. Res.
Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute.
of these species are resistant to other syn- 28. Barrueco, C. et al. 1994. Induction of structural Vijverberg, H.P.M. and J. van den Bercken.
thetic pyrethroids as well as permethrin.
chromosomal aberrations in human lymphocyte 1990. Neurotoxicological effects and the mode cultures and CHO cells by permethrin. Terat.
The level of resistance is less than tenfold of action of synthetic pyrethroids. Crit. Rev.
in some of the species but high levels of 29. Kale, P.G. et al. 1995. Mutagenicity testing of nine herbicides and pesticides currently used in agri- Al-Rahji, D.H. 1990. Properties of Ca2+ + Mg2+- culture. Environ. Molecul. Mutagen. 25:148-153.
ATPase from rat brain and its inhibition by pyre- roaches (45-fold),86 lice (up to 385-fold)91 30. U.S. EPA. 1997. Office of Pesticide Programs throids. Pest. Biochem. Physiol. 37:116-120.
list of chemicals evaluated for carcinogenic po- Rao, G.V. and K.S.J. Rao. 1993. Inhibition of tential. Memo from W.L. Burnam, Health Effects monoamine oxidase-A of rat brain by pyrethroids Division, to Health Effects Division branch chiefs, - an in vitro kinetic study. Mol. Cell. Biochem.
Inert Ingredients
Rao, G.V. and K.S.J. Rao. 1995. Modulation of 32. El-Touky, M.A. 1989. In vivo studies of the ef- acetylcholinesterase of rat brain by pyrethroids fect of some insecticides on the hepatic activi- in vivo and an in vitro kinetic study. J.
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33. Tateno, C. et al. 1993. Effects of pyrethroid in- secticides on gap junctional intercellular com- 11. Gassner, B. et al. 1997. The pyrethroids munications in Balb/c3T3 cells by dye transfer permethrin and cyhalothrin are potent inhibitors assay. Cell Biol. Toxicol. 9:215-222.
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35. Abou-Donia, M.B. et al. 1996. Neurotoxicity re- • Xylenes are in the agricultural insec-
12. International Programme on Chemical Safety.
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World Health Organization, United Nations En- vironment Programme, and International Labor skin irritation, headaches, nausea, confu- 36. Stratton, G.W. 1983. Interaction effects of permethrin and atrazine combinations towards sion, tremors, and anxiety in exposed hu- 13. Mitchell, J.A., M.C. Wilson, and M.J. Kallman.
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37. Usmani, K.A. 1995. Amitraz effect on the phar- caused kidney damage, fetal loss, and skel- 14. McDaniel, K.L. and V.C. Moser. 1993. Utility of macokinetics of permethrin in Helicoverpa zea a neurobehavioral screening battery for differ- (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) J. Econ. Entomol.
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Your GP or Endocrinologist may also check: What do I need to know about my medication? Hypoparathyroidism • The aim of treatment is to abolish symptoms – not to restore ‘normal’ calcium levels in the When hypoparathyroidism occurs as a complication • In the absence of PTH, higher levels of calcium of surgery, the symptoms may start within hours to are found in the urin

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