DUBAI // The use of unqualified pest-control companies and the mishandling of specialised chemicals are threatening public health, experts have said.
Residents must avoid using chemicals other than sprays and powders sold at supermarkets, said Bartholian Pereira, operations manager at Invaders Building Services, a Dubai-based pest control company. Specialised chemicals should only be handled by professionals who know the active ingredients in a product and the right dose at which to administer it. Many professional chemicals also involve the use of masks, gloves and other equipment to be applied safely, he said.
"Some agriculture shops are selling pesticides [to members of the public] and this is illegal," he said. "People should not take the risk of buying specialised chemicals and using them."
Just because a chemical is safe for use in agriculture or an industrial setting, does not make it automatically suitable for general use, Mr Pereira said. Pregnant women and children younger than two years are especially vulnerable in the event of misuse.
Another problem, said Mr Pereira, is that many pest-control companies operate illegally and in violation of safety rules. Many advertise in newspapers or distribute leaflets to people's homes. Residents should only hire pesticide companies that are approved by government authorities, experts said.
"If you choose a company that is registered with Dubai Municipality, you can rely on them because we evaluate them every three months," said Mohammed Motahar Hossain, head of Dubai Municipality's pest-control section.
"We evaluate them on site ... we observe the chemicals they use and whether they are following instructions or not.
"The public should not entertain or encourage any freelancers or individuals or unlicensed companies."
The dangers of mishandling pesticides were dramatically highlighted in 2010, when two five-month-old boys in Ajman died after inhaling pesticide fumes from an adjacent flat that had been fumigated.
Since then, numerous other deaths and poisonings across the country have been publicised.
The most recent case was in May, when 10 people were treated in hospital after a chemical that was permitted only in industrial settings was used to kill insects in a flat adjacent to the men's residence in Dubai's Al Naif area.
"This happens because of the lack of regulation of these random companies doing pest control," said Wisam Kanaan, vice president of Unimar building services, another Dubai-based pest control company.
"At the end of the day, it is a technical service and should be carried out by qualified people."
In Dubai, 112 pest-control companies are registered with the municipality.
To qualify, a company must employ a supervisor who has a university degree in biology or entomology, or a master's degree, as well as a minimum of one year of work experience, Mr Hossain said.
Professional company staff must also pass an examination before being permitted to work in the field. Additionally, the chemicals used by these companies must be registered with the Ministry of Environment and Water.
While people should take responsibility for their safety and that of their neighbours, the Government could also do more, Mr Kanaan said.
"Out of the whole GCC [region], the UAE has the most regulations, which is a positive thing, but they need to work more on implementing these regulations," he said. "It is not just about whether companies are registered, it is also about what the registration means."
Dubai is the most proactive emirate in regulating the sector, he said, adding that other emirates "need to work on this more".
In the capital, pest-control companies are supervised by the Centre for Waste Management - Abu Dhabi. Officials there were not available to comment.
Officials at the Ministry of Environment and Water, which is responsible for inspecting companies that sell pesticides, were also unavailable for comment.
How to safely rid your home of pests, according to experts:
• Do not attempt to use professional chemicals, even if some shops might be willing to sell them.
• Only buy solutions off the counter, such as those sold in supermarkets.
• Do not hire companies that are not registered with the relevant municipality or government authority.
• To find out if a company is registered, ask for its trade licence. In Dubai, pest control technicians are issued ID cards with their names and pictures on them.
• If a leaflet advertising a pest control company only lists mobile numbers for the company, beware: this might mean they have no office and are operating illegally and in disregard of safety practices.
• If a chemical that has been used by a pest control company has a strong odour, it may mean that a banned substance was used.