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Just in time for autumn, more tick talk.

Letters to the Editor

Just in time for autumn, more tick talk.


In response to Fred Sypher’s article “Tick Talk” in the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of Chesapeake, I strongly urge Sierrans NOT to take Fred’s well-intentioned advice to use permethrin on their clothes and DEET on their skin.

 It’s wise to take precautions, including some of the ones recommended in Mr. Sypher’s article, such as avoiding tall grasses, wearing long pants, and tucking in socks. Additionally, it is advisable to wear light-colored clothing (which makes it easier to see ticks so you may promptly remove them), wear a hat, use unscented personal care products such as deodorant and soap, and most importantly, check your body for ticks. However, I have to warn that exposing oneself to permethrin and DEET can be extremely dangerous. Permethrin is a possible carcinogen and a suspected endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors interfere with normal hormone function, can contribute to testicular and breast cancer, birth defects, and other problems including aggravating asthma. Animal studies indicate that small amounts of permethrin may damage the immune system. Recent studies are finding that low exposures to endocrine disruptors are no less dangerous, and that there is no “safe” dose. DEET (Diethyltoluamide) has been shown in animal studies to have neurological effects. Several studies show detrimental synergistic effects of the two chemicals when combined, including linking them to Gulf War Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. (See research on permethrin, DEET and their combination at:

 I caution readers in their zeal to protect themselves from Lyme disease not to sicken themselves in the process. One has to weigh the risks and benefits in deciding when to resort to pesticides, but just as we as a chapter readily embrace a “pesticides should be used only as a last resort when all other means have been exhausted” philosophy when used in the environment, we should also embrace this same philosophy when it comes to our bodies. 

Kim Birnbaum

Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, Pesticide Issues Chair


I appreciated Fred Sypher’s article on ticks in the most recent Chesapeake. The risk of Lyme disease in Maryland has more than doubled in the last 10 years. I know about 30 people who have had Lyme disease, more than have had heart disease, cancer or stroke. About one in four did not have it controlled in three months. Four are constantly suffering and no longer can work or go to social activities. The National Park Service team that does conservation work no longer gets Lyme disease because of their use of DEET and permethrin. They tell me that the research shows it is safe to use when used correctly. 

Moreover, we should emphasize hikes for September rather than late spring and early summer to decrease the risk of deer ticks. Let us also advocate for medical research for Lyme disease prevention. 

Marc Imlay

Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, Biodiversity, ESA, Invasive Species, and Habitat Stewardship Chair


Fred’s article, “Tick Talk,” can be found at

> 2012 Table of Contents


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