Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Winter 2009
Spiders and ants and roaches, oh my!
|Sci-fi and horror films often feature giant spiders and other insects as a recurring theme. Why? Because they’re scary and repulsive. Perhaps that’s why when we see a bug in the house, we grab whatever chemical we can find to kill it.|
“We feel like our space is being invaded,” says John Kepner, project director at Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization that promotes pest management alternatives. But when you reach for the first thing out there, Kepner says, it might be something that ends up being harmful to your family. And, he says, “There’s always another way to handle it.”
If you’re concerned about the potential health effects of the active ingredients in commercial pesticides, you do have options. “We advocate Integrated Pest Management, which is based on the idea of prevention first,” says Jane Philbrick, public education associate at Beyond Pesticides. That means starting with mechanical measures to block points of entry. Use weather stripping on doors, caulk gaps around windows and seal voids in exterior walls where pipes or utilities enter by filling them with silicone caulk, expanding foam or steel wool. Next is an obvious move: Make sure your home doesn’t become a bug magnet by eliminating the things that attract them, like sources of food and water. “You want to do your dishes right away,” Kepner says. Ditto for taking out the trash and vacuuming up crumbs. And don’t overlook plumbing.
“If I saw a bug on the second floor of my house and it likes a damp environment, there’s a good chance it’s there because of a water source. I might have a leaky pipe in my wall,” he says.
Implementing these mechanical and housekeeping steps will solve a pest problem 90 percent of the time, Kepner says. But what about the other 10 percent?
If sealing and scrubbing don’t get rid of your uninvited guests, there are still alternatives to the aerosol can.
|ANTS. When you see ants parading across your countertop, first check to see where they’re coming from so you can seal the point of entry. You can kill visible ants using a spray bottle filled with a 1:4 solution of dishwashing detergent and water, which also will erase the chemical trail they use to navigate from their nest to a food source. To make simple bait stations, Beyond Pesticides recommends a mix of 1/3 cup of apple-mint jelly and 1 teaspoon of 99 percent pure boric acid. Set out dabs of the mixture where you’ve noticed ant activity.|
Boric acid, available at hardware stores and garden centers, also is effective against roaches. Dust it in out-of-the-way areas such as around the refrigerator, behind the stove and under the sink. The idea is to force roaches to walk through it and then ingest it. To make a bait station, mix the boric acid with a little flour or sugar and place it in a saucer so bugs will be attracted to it. For a one-two punch, blow silica gel into baseboard cracks and crevices. Because it can absorb up to seven times its weight in water, it works on contact, causing roaches to dehydrate.
“The nice thing about spiders is, unlike ants and roaches, it’s quite possible that if you have a spider in your house, you have a spider in your house,” says Kepner. “If you have an ant or a roach, the chances of it being just one are pretty slim.” That makes mechanical means of control, such as spot-vacuuming, the least-toxic approach. But because some species are poisonous, go to the spiders fact sheet at the website below (“Learn More”) to identify the ones from which you should keep your distance.
In the end, it all comes down to doing only what’s necessary, says Kepner. “In our experience, we’ve found that any pest problem in the home can be handled in a least-toxic way.”
Visit Beyond Pesticides at beyondpesticides.org and click on Have a Pest Problem? to find safe alternatives for solving pest problems and fact sheets on the health and environmental effects of commonly used pesticides.
“Before pesticides can be sold or distributed in the United States, they must be evaluated to ensure that they meet federal safety standards to protect human health and the environment,” says Doug Parsons, communications director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s comforting news for those who do opt for chemical pest control.
Although pesticides have been registered since the 1940s, Congress in 1996 charged the EPA with an ongoing reassessment initiative that required updates and re-evaluation of all pesticides currently being sold. Such reviews resulted in some products being taken off the market. “The predominant pesticide you would have purchased 10 years ago to control roaches or ants in your house was a class of chemicals called organophosphates,” says Parsons. But because they were found to cause the same adverse effects in people that they caused in pests, they’ve been completely phased out for residential use today.