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Malathion — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 by

Malathion is an organophosphate insecticide that kills insects by deactivating their nervous system. It is used to control insects in agricultural and in residential areas. Target insects are mosquitoes (in large outdoor areas) and fruit flies. Other insect include ants, aphids, fleas, hornets, mites, moths, spiders, and wasps. It is a synthetic neurotoxin, and has a low toxicity level in humans and other mammals. It is fatal to bees and other “good” insects, as well as fish and other aquatic life forms. Malathion is a deep-brown to yellow liquid with an odor similar to garlic or skunk.

This compound is also known as carbophos, maldison, mercaptothion, and E14049. Trade names include Celthion, Cynthion Dielathion Karbofos, Maltox, Emmaton, Fyfanon and Exathion. Other names and synonyms include 2-(dimethoxythiophosphorylthio)succinic acid diethyl ester; Butanedioic acid, [(dimethoxyphosphinothioyl)thio]-, diethyl ester; Derbac-M; Diethyl 2-(dimethoxyphosphinothioylthio)succinate; and S-Ester with O,O-Dimethyl Phosphorothioate.

List of known side effects

Symptoms of malathion poisoning include nausea, vomiting, muscle tremors, weakness, cramps, shortness of breath, slowed heart rate, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Other symptoms include eye and skin irritation, miosis, blurred vision, salivation, anorexia, confusion, rhinorrhea, laryngeal spasm, low blood pressure, skin sensitization, personality changes, irritability, and coma.

Studies show that it has low toxicity in humans and other mammals, but is highly toxic to beneficial insects (e.g. bees), birds, and aquatic life forms.

Body systems affected by malathion

Malathion, when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and eyes, travels to the liver, kidneys, and affects the nervous system. The body can break down malathion and excrete it through urine, but studies in laboratory specimens show that there might be carcinogenic effects from exposure. It may also affect the adrenal glands (as experiments on rats show).

Repeated or prolonged exposure to large amounts of malathion may result in genetic defects and organ failure.

Items that may contain malathion

Food items that may contain malathion are blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, limes, cherries, garlic, greens, turnips, dates, and celery. It is also used to control pests in cotton crops. Water sources near commercial agriculture may be contaminated with malathion as well. Ornamental trees and shrubs may also contain traces of malathion.

How to avoid malathion

Malathion is an insecticide used mostly in commercial farms. It is also used by the government to control mosquitoes and other pests in outdoor areas. This toxic chemical can poison orally, dermally, via inhalation and eye contact routes.

Avoid using synthetic chemical pesticides. Most of these chemicals are cholinesterase inhibitors which can cause many negative side effects. Avoid eating commercial produce such as vegetables and fruits. In occupational settings, prevent unauthorized and untrained personnel from entering sprayed areas and malathion storage areas. Operators and trained personnel handling malathion should always use protective gear. These include chemical gloves, boots, coveralls, glasses or goggles, respirators or full-head respiratory gear.

Public health pest control programs may also use malathion-based products. Areas that are treated should be avoided. When these programs are executed near your home, make sure to stay indoors with windows closed. Cover outdoor furniture and grills, and bring pets and other pet accessories indoors.

Prior to eating commercial produce, make sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly prior to cooking, storing, or eating. When intoxication occurs, immediately call for emergency medical services or transport the poison victim to the nearest emergency department.

Where to learn more


Malathion is highly toxic and fatal in large doses.

Malathion is fatal to aquatic life forms.

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