How Toxic to Humans is Termite Tenting?

Three common ways to treat termite infestation

Posted by Caryn Colgan | Sep 01, 2009
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For many people, their home is the single largest financial investment of their lives. Protecting that investment from predators of all kinds is a high priority. Termites are wood-eating insect predators that can seriously damage homes and any other structures made of wood. Currently, there are three ways commonly used to eradicate the pests: tenting, baiting, and liquid soil application.

Tenting involves draping the property with a tent and introducing poisons into the tent to kill the termites. The process takes two to three days and the residents must carefully follow the exterminator's instructions and find other accommodations during the treatment cycle.

The chemicals used in this fumigation process, and other termite treatments, cause some experts to worry about environmental and physical health. In an article entitled, Termite Insecticide Found To Be Potent Greenhouse Gas in ScienceDaily, Jan. 30, 2009, researchers at UC Irvine found that "an insecticide used to fumigate termite-infested buildings is a strong greenhouse gas that lives in the atmosphere nearly 10 times longer than previously thought. The chemical, sulfuryl fluoride (SF), stays in the atmosphere perhaps as long as 100 years. Earlier estimates projected its atmospheric lifetime at as low as five years, "grossly underestimating the global warming potential." The insecticide is pumped into a tent that covers a termite-infested structure. When the tent is removed, the compound escapes into the atmosphere.Not only does SF damage the environment, it has been implicated in human fatalities, even though the victims followed all safety precautions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that a Virginia couple died within seven days of having their home tented and fumigated. The CDC found that the exterminators "failed to measure the air concentration of SF inside the home." Researchers and healthcare providers encourage using less toxic and harmful pesticides to eradicate termites. According to the University of Kentucky Entomology Department there are two other options to tent-treatment for termites.


The termite baiting process is complicated and, as with other termite treatments, should be handled by professionals only. Basically, the process involves paper or cardboard treated with a slow-acting poison. Termites are attracted to the bait, eat it, and eventually die.

Liquid Applications

Termiticides applied to the soil around the infested property create a lasting poisonous barrier that prevents termites in the ground from entering a building. Termites already in the structure die when they cannot return to the soil. Premise® (imidacloprid-implicated in the death of honey bees around the world), Termidor® (fipronil), and Phantom® (chlorfenapyr), are non-repellent and kill termites tunneling into the treatment zone.

While there are a few options available to eradicate termites, tenting is often recommended when there is widespread infestation. Researchers urge exterminators and chemical producers to find a less toxic treatment to the commonly used sulfuryl fluoride which contributes to global warming and has been linked to human deaths. If tenting is your only option, do not return to the property until experienced exterminators have tested the air to be certain that the sulfuryl fluoride concentration has returned to a safe level.

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