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California Environmental Protection Agency

Department of Pesticide Regulation

Date: November 12, 1998 (98-31)
Web site:

Media Contact:
Veda Federighi,
(916) 445-3974
Glenn Brank
(916) 445-3970

Department of Health Services:
Ken August, 916/657-3064

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
Paula Bruin, 415/744-1587


SACRAMENTO--Cal/EPA's Department of Pesticide Regulation and the California Department of Health Services today warned consumers against using illegal insecticides manufactured to resemble blackboard chalk.

"These products are deceptively dangerous. Children could easily mistake them for common household chalk," said State Health Officer James Stratton, M.D., M.P.H., consumers should avoid them."

"Obviously, making a insecticide look like a toy is dangerous--as well as illegal," said DPR Chief Deputy Director Jean-Mari Peltier. "We would have the same problem if they made it look like a lollipop, or packaged it in a soft drink bottle."

The products -- sold under various trade names including Pretty Baby Chalk,Chinese Chalk, and Miraculous Insecticide Chalk -- are hazardous for two reasons. First, they have been mistaken for common household chalk and eaten by children, causing several illnesses. Second, because the products are unregistered, ingredients and packaging are unregulated. These products are typically manufactured in China and illegally imported. The packages instruct consumers to draw chalk lines on the floor to kill insects that crawl over the pesticide.

Taking action against one of the distributors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued an order to Pretty Baby Co., in Pomona, Calif., to "stop selling an unregistered product that is harmful to public health." Pretty Baby actively markets its unregistered product to consumers and schools on the Internet and in newspaper advertisements.

"Products like this can be very dangerous," said Peltier. "The manufacturer can -- and does--change the formula from one batch to the next. You have no way of knowing if the ingredients are harmless to humans, or a deadly poison."

For instance, three samples of a product labeled "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk" were analyzed by DPR last month. Two contained the insecticide deltamethrin; the third contained the insecticide cypermethrin.

Deltamethrin and cypermethrin are synthetic pyrethroids, a class of insecticides that act on the nervous system. Overexposure to them can produce serious health effects, including vomiting, stomach pains, convulsions, tremors, coma, and death due to respiratory failure. Serious allergic reactions are also possible.

In addition, analyses of colorful boxes typically used for these products has found high levels of lead and other heavy metals in the packaging. This can be a problem if children place a box in their mouths or handle the boxes and transfer the metal residue to their mouths.

Over the past decade, DPR and DHS have received reports of isolated illnesses in children linked to ingestion or handling of the chalk. The most serious occurred in 1994, when a San Diego child was hospitalized after eating insecticidal chalk. Most recently, a Visalia toddler fell ill several weeks ago after eating a product labeled "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk."

A small display ad for "Pretty Baby Chinese Chalk" ran in the October 25 edition of the Los Angeles Times, claiming the product was "the safe way to exterminate your home." The ad referred readers to a Web site that asserts the product is "harmless" and "will not produce pollution," while claiming it will kill cockroaches, ants, lice, and fleas that crawl across a chalk trail drawn on the floor. The Web site targets parents, soliciting children's photographs for contests.

"This is a problem we have dealt with periodically over the past decade," said DPR's Peltier. "It is difficult to stop the sale of products marketed at so many flea markets, swap meets, and small retail outlets. With U.S. EPA as our partner, we can crack down on the importers."

DPR personnel periodically spot-check retail stores, flea markets and swap meets to determine if unregistered products are offered for sale. Sellers may be fined up to $5,000 per violation for selling an unregistered product.

"If anyone knows where such products are being sold, please call DPR's Enforcement Branch, at (916) 445-3920, or the local county agricultural commissioner," Peltier said. The commissioners are DPR's pesticide enforcement agents in the field.

Consumers who have purchased these illegal products should dispose of them at their local household hazardous waste facilities.

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