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Published: Wednesday, 7/26/2006

Customers swarm to mosquito repellents

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Doug Janney restocks the shelves with anti-mosquito products at Janney's Ace hardware in West Toledo. Doug Janney restocks the shelves with anti-mosquito products at Janney's Ace hardware in West Toledo.
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Forget hammocks and horseshoes.

The hottest backyard accessory this summer is mosquito repellent.

As residents of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan confront the worst infestation of the blood-guzzling insects in more than a decade, sales of repellents and eradication systems are going through the roof.

"Sales are booming," said Doug Janney of Janney's Ace Hardware in West Toledo. "Our sales are probably triple what they were last year."

Buyers have reported problems finding popular brands like SC Johnson's OFF! and Deep Woods at some stores.

Retailers themselves worry that heavy early demand for popular repellents could lead to supply problems in August, when sales typically peak.

Meanwhile, some users complain that their usual brand doesn't seem to be strong enough to deter the determined mosquitoes unleashed by this summer's extra-wet weather.

"That's mainly because of the sheer numbers," explained Lee Mitchell, a biologist with the Toledo Sanitary District, which oversees the area's mosquito eradication program.

"Look at yourself as a buffet," he continued. "It's like if you release 1,000 people in a restaurant and people storm the buffet table. Some are just going in blindly ... and biting anything that feels warm."

Sanitary district traps at 14 spots in Lucas County have each snagged up to 700 mosquitoes a night, up from 20 a night in previous summers. It's the worst infestation since 1995, Mr. Mitchell said.

He recommends that adults use repellents containing at least 30 percent DEET, which is the chemical ingredient used in most sprays to ward off mosquitoes and other pests like ticks. The higher the concentration of the chemical, the longer the spray works.

Experts typically recommend formulations of 5 percent to 7 percent DEET for children because of health concerns raised by researchers to prolonged exposure to the chemical.

As a result of those concerns, some people shun DEET-containing sprays altogether for natural ingredients such as lemon eucalyptus oil.

Still, sales of popular sprays containing DEET have been strong across northwest Ohio this year after several successive summers in which relatively dry weather minimized mosquito populations, retailers said.

The hottest-selling repellents locally are SC Johnson brands like OFF!, Skintastic, and Spectrum Brands' Cutter sprays.

But people are also snapping up eradication systems including $65 fogger sets at The Andersons in Maumee and, at Janney's, a $300 Mosquito Magnet that uses a propane burner and chemicals to reduce populations of the insect.

Sales of all types of anti-mosquito products have been up nearly 2,000 percent over last year in recent weeks at The Andersons store in Maumee, said Ron Bell, indoor lawn and garden manager.

Yard fogging systems were especially popular during the high school graduation season, when many families celebrated with outdoor parties.

Customers have told Mr. Bell that repellents seem to be in short supply at some stores. He frets that if the rain continues, there could be shortages of mosquito sprays next month.

"I'm sure most manufacturers of the products were caught off-short," he said.

A spokesman for SC Johnson didn't respond to a request for comment.

"It could get to be a problem come August," said Mike Staten, store director at the Pharm on Secor Road.

"We've probably sold four times as much as last year," he said, adding that personal repellents and lawn sprays are selling well.

"It's a good year to be a mosquito," said Mr. Mitchell, of the Toledo Sanitary District. "It's a bad year to be in the mosquito- control business and to be a homeowner."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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