I’ve been looking through all my notes from working with housing authorities over the past few years. I’m looking for patterns of strengths and weaknesses in preparation for writing my annual report. The housing authorities that made the most change happen over the course of a one-year IPM pilot all noted “increased communication” as a major factor in their success.
Who did more talking about pest control?
Residents, site-staff, pest control contractors, executive management, local support agencies, and property managers. Lines of communication opened up among all these groups—everyone started talking about pests and the best ways to achieve and maintain a healthy home.
Over the last year I have spoken almost monthly with property managers from various housing authorities. It’s been wonderful to hear them go from thinking that pest control is something that gets contracted out to thinking of pest control as the topic around which everyone in their communities can rally to achieve healthier housing. In the process, they have taken ownership of their pest control programs: overseeing the pest management professional (PMP) and making sure someone acts on the PMP’s suggestions about housekeeping and maintenance.
Before IPM training, many property managers think that IPM means the PMP only uses “non-chemical” or “non-toxic” pesticides. Or that they should rely on residents to use spices from the kitchen to repel bugs.
Whenever pesticides are used, there is always risk. The product is toxic at some level or else it wouldn’t kill the pest! There is no such thing as a non-toxic pesticide.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is more than a specific set of pesticides. IPM is an approach to pest control that integrates a combination control tactics—both chemical and non-chemical. Part of PMP oversight is understanding pesticides—the chemicals used to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a pesticide as:
“…any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Pests can be insects, mice and other animals, unwanted plants (weeds), fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests. Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.”
Pesticides are an important option in an IPM program. Ideally preventative actions and non-chemical control measures manage the pest, but in reality pesticides are often applied. Property managers need to know how to compare pesticides to approve what their PMPs are applying and advise residents who can’t be discouraged from using their own products. Here’s what you should know:
The risk of a pesticide is a combination of the risk of someone (or a non-target animal) coming in contact with the chemical and the toxicity of the chemical(s) in the product. Risk= toxicity + risk of exposure.
A rough indicator of the toxicity of a product is the signal word. The signal word is the bold capitalized one on the label.
CAUTION = slightly toxic (Least toxic products are those that list CAUTION on the label.)
WARNING = moderately toxic
DANGER = severe skin or eye irritation
DANGER-POISON = highly toxic
Some of the pesticides people refer to as natural or botanical are minimum risk pesticides that meet certain criteria and are therefore exempt from federal registration under section 25(b) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). EPA does not review or register pesticides that satisfy the 25(b) criteria, though registration data is required by a few most states. I encourage you to read this short page on the 25(b) criteria: http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/regtools/25b_list.htm, especially the lists of exempt active and inert ingredients. There’s more to it than just grabbing jars out of the spice cabinet.
The risk of exposure has to do with the product, placement, and person applying.
- Product: Different formulations have different risks of getting on surfaces that people and pets might touch. Examples of pesticide formulations include dusts, liquid sprays, aerosols, bait, and granular pellets. Total release foggers (“bug bombs”) put pesticide on all the surfaces in the room—high risk of exposure. That’s why we don’t recommend them in housing.
- Placement: Always follow the label directions on the pesticide products. The risk of exposure will vary depending on where the pesticide is being applied. For example, insecticide dust in a sealed wall void has less risk of exposure than dust applied on a carpet.
- Person: Again, always follow the label directions. Even low toxic product can be risky if misapplied. This is why I encourage everyone to rely on a professional to apply pesticides in homes.
The risk of using a pesticide may be less than the risk of having the infestation persist. After all, pests can make people sick. Don’t be afraid of the terms chemical and pesticide, just be informed about the products, how they are applied, and how they work with the non-chemical tactics you are trying.
Talk with your PMPs—they are a wealth of knowledge. IPM is the coordinated use of pest and environmental information with available pest control methods to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). If you want IPM, there’s more to it than just using a certain set of pesticides.
For more information on pesticides, see
- For a discussion of some other misunderstood pest control terms, see the previous post on “green,” “sustainable,” and “healthy” http://stoppests.typepad.com/ipminmultifamilyhousing/2011/01/is-ipm-green-sustainable-and-healthy.html