“We don’t want permethrin products scattered across the country. It is a strong toxin,” said Tomas Westerlund of the Armed Forces to daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).
“Many think it is cool to run around town or on the metro wearing their uniform when on leave. But it contains toxins that could be transferred to nature or to one’s kids.”
Permethrin is a common synthetic chemical, which is widely used as an insecticide, acaricide, and insect repellent. It keeps the soldiers safe from disease carried by ticks or mosquitoes.
The Armed Forces are adamant that wearing the uniforms is not dangerous for the soldiers and that the dry desert air breaks down the substance faster.
According to SvD, uniforms in the US have been impregnated with the toxin for twenty years. Tests have shown some cases of skin irritation and even nerve damage in laboratory animals, but this has mainly shown up in test where the animals ingested the toxin.
The conclusion of the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, was that permethrin could be carcinogenic in large doses but that the amount coming off uniforms probably wouldn’t be potent enough to constitute a danger.
However, it is agreed that the substance is “very dangerous” if it entered the drinking water. It has also been deemed very dangerous for water-living organisms as well as pets. The EPA is currently investigating the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of permethrin, according to SvD.
In Europe, the usage of the substance as been questioned and 25 out of 29 products containing permethrin have disappeared off the market.
According to Hams Muilerman of the Pesticide Action Network, Pan Europe, permethrin should be used with caution. The substance works as a neurotoxin on humans; it affects the brain.
“To me it would seem as if it would be hazardous to one’s health to wear clothes containing permethrin for 6 month at a time,” he told SvD.