Pest Control Insecticide Exposure
In response to the ever increasing “chemical-consciousness” in Lancaster, PA, I decided to perform more and more of my services from the outside of homes and businesses. “Is this justified?”, one might ask. Before I answer that question, I’d like to address something that concerns me even more: homeowner extermination.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to cut to the chase here. Most folks are aware the EPA regulates which products can be “sprayed”, “fogged”, or “dusted” inside an occupied structure. And as one might expect, that doesn’t mean the products are being used according to label specifications, so user error can create unnecessary exposure problems. As a professional, I have witnessed much more toxicity issues with people who have pest problems before I ever arrive on the scene. Now, I want to award them for their bravery as they wield cans of empty bug spray, “homeopathic techniques” such as red pepper, moth balls, chewing gum, you name it (and I’ve seen it!). But I really get concerned when I see that in their zeal, they have exposed their family to unnecessary levels of insecticides or other household products that aren’t even labled for bugs (or rodents).
Okay, now that I have gotten that out my system, let’s talk about professional pest control. There has been a real turn around in the past 15 years in professional pest control that has caused us to be more and more responsible and more acute with our treatments. An example would be what we call IPM (Integrated Pest Management). “What’s that?”, you ask. Don’t feel bad, there is some pest control guys who don’t know either. IPM is the art of using a combination of techniques to eliminate pests without using pesticides exclusively. An example would be this: Say we have a rat infestation at a dumpster next to our favorite restaurant. Instead of throwing bait all around the dumpster exterior, IPM would tell us that we should move the dumpster away from the building, exposing the rats to natural predators. Then, ask the restaurant owner to have his/her employees lock the doors shut on the dumpster except for when it is being used (sanitation). Then, and only then should a secure rat bait station be used beside the dumpster, and monitored regularly.
In addition to IPM, most of our pesticides are being formulated to have virtually no odor and create lower risks of exposure. An example would be micro-encapsulation, a method whereby the active insecticide has a silicone “bubble” around it to reduce break-down from light and moisture. Also, there have been some products have been available over-the-counter for pets that are know being used in professional pest control products. I know it does not make sense, but the public can use a concentrate on their dog, but cannot purchase the same active ingredient to be used 100 times weaker on their termites (homeowners do not have the equipment to use the product anyway, so don’t get excited). I mention this only to prove that the pest control products we use are usually safer than most the stuff you have under the kitchen sink. What makes us so special then? Training. Additionally, we in the pest control industry aren’t willing to lose our license over mis-application.
Let me use an example of a problem with public access to professional pest products: Before the EPA took Chlordane off the market in the 1980’s, it was available over-the-counter, in concentrate. That means that anyone had access to a chemical that was active in the soil for 25 years at the diluted rate! I have met people who proudly boasted killing a Carpenter Ant nest in their backyard tree stump by pouring Chlordane concentrate directly on the colony. While this probably doesn’t mean anything to the average person, someone familiar with the pest control industry is cringing right about now–this means potential ground contamination for years, killing anything from beneficial insects to fish in nearby streams! The EPA probably did the right thing, believing that if they made it restricted use (for commercial use only) a black market would be created since no one could imagine life without Chlordane, especially for termite problems. I point here is that toxicity has always been much higher with public usage, even when the products were much more dangerous.
If you are concerned about pesticide exposure, please remember that you will most likely need pest control some time or another, and if you are considering tackling a pest problem yourself, please remember the dangers to exposure of toxins are much greater when you do-it-yourself. Pest control operators do not usually fall prey to the concept “If a little works good, then a lot will work great!” Actually, we know better. Besides, we have to keep in mind chemical costs and keeping customers!
I started out by asking the question, “Am I justified by treating the perimeter of a home more often than treating the inside?” I believe that it is more for conscious sake, since pest control technicians suffer from two major tragedies: car accidents and ladder accidents. Believe it or not, chemical toxicity plays very little problems with pest control personnel. Most of that is due to training in product handling, transportation, and application. But due to market trends, I believe it is best to listen to your customers. Besides, it can’t hurt to spend more time preventing pests from entering from the outside of homes and businesses, before they get in where they become a problem and health risk. This leads me to my next point: most don’t know the dangers of not having pest control! While most think of pest control as a luxury service, history is full of times that pest control was or could have been the answer. Let me give some examples: The “Black Death” or Bubonic plague that killed a third of Europe in the late 1340s could have been prevented or eliminated by pest control. You see, rats carrying the plague infested fleas transported them all over, allowing them to jump off and bite humans. Today, most don’t tolerate rats, and that is due to the pest control industry raising the standards.
Another example of pest control that actually solved a major problem happened during the construction of the Panama Canal. Malaria and Yellow Fever were transmitted by a heavy mosquito population and killed many workers. It wasn’t until they used mechanical means (nets, standing water elimination) and the use of insecticides, that they gained control and were able to finish the canal.
With pesticide exposure in mind, please don’t risk doing-it-yourself if it means compromising your family’s health. Besides, most of us in the pest control industry have your best interest in mind–keeping the pests out, and keeping you safe!