6 Reasons Why Wasp Spray is Not a Substitute for Pepper Spray

Gun violence this fall at schools and colleges across the nation helps keep a contemporary legend alive. One version of the legend tells of a church receptionist working in a high risk area who kept a can of wasp spray on her desk for self defense. The legend, usually spread by email, suggests wasp spray draws less attention than a can of pepper spray and is effective against violence.

“These emails may have initially begun as a hoax or simply a bad idea shared among an increasing number of people,” said Catherine Daniels, Pesticide Coordinator at Washington State Pest Management Resource Service.

“Unlike urban legends, which by and large don’t result in bodily harm, just odd behavior in people trying to avoid whatever danger the legend promotes, the advice in this email—if followed– can result in significant harm,” she said.

Janet Hurley, an Extension Specialist with the School Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, got many questions from school districts at the beginning of this school year. Hurley provided one example, “A school district in north Texas was inspecting its campuses at the beginning of the school year. The IPM coordinators kept noticing cans of wasp killer in the offices of the school secretaries. Since the school follows IPM and has a policy about only licensed applicators making pesticide applications, the coordinators began to ask questions. Apparently, the secretaries had heard from a law enforcement person who said a can of wasp killer could injure an attacker at 10 feet and therefore would be a way to keep an intruder from school.”

Pesticide experts from Extension services at land-grant universities emphasize the public should use pepper sprays and pesticides only for their intended uses, and ask the public to help debunk urban legends about using wasp spray for defense. They also advise individuals to check with local law enforcement departments for specific laws about the possession and use of pepper spray products.

Why wasp spray should not be used for defense
1. There’s no research to suggest wasp spray would stop an attacker.
2. Using a pesticide in a manner other than according to labeled directions is a violation of federal law (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act).
3. It is illegal (finable offense) for anyone to recommend a use other than the labeled use.
4. Personal liability is likely to be significant for a person who deliberately sprays another person with a pesticide.
5. Pesticides such as wasp spray have not been tested on humans. Direct human toxicity data comes from records of accidental exposures and suicide attempts.
6. Poison control records document an amazing number of people who have accidentally sprayed themselves or innocent bystanders when using aerosol cans. An emergency situation may exacerbate that reaction.

Pepper sprays
Capsaicin, the active heat ingredient from cayenne peppers, is used in the temporarily debilitating pepper spray weapons for personal protection. Canisters of pepper spray (also known as OC spray or oleoresin capsicum) dispense a solution containing capsaicin, an inflammatory agent which affects the eyes, respiratory system, skin and muscle coordination.

Wasp sprays
The active ingredients in most wasp sprays contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids. They are derived from a species of the chrysanthemum plant and affect the nervous system.

More information
•    Insect sprays, http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/products/ispray2.htm
•    The University of California Berkeley Police Department, in its campus safety guidelines, lists the physical effects of pepper spray: http://police.berkeley.edu/documents/campus-safety/maceandpepper.pdf
•    Snopes.com tracks urban legends, http://www.snopes.com/crime/prevent/waspspray.asp


Released October 30, 2013

Sources: Catherine Daniels, PhD, Washington State University, cdaniels@wsu.edu
Janet Hurley, MPA, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, ja-hurley@tamu.edu
Kaci Buhl, MS, Oregon State University, buhlk@ace.orst.edu

Writer: Lynette Spicer, eXtension, lynette.spicer@eXtension.org