Pesticides and Control Methods

I have seen several negative articles about the safety of pesticides. Can you help me make sense of this information?

Having been active in the pest control industry for over 35 years I occasionally read negative articles regarding public health and safety of pesticides, so I understand your question. I served on a panel at a national pest control conference focusing on Public Health and exploring issues of pesticide safety and "green" initiatives. A tremendous amount of information disseminated, but some of the most important facts with regard to public health came from researchers with Bayer Environmental Science, who noted that the use of pesticides enables us to control pests such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, cockroaches and rats, all of which transmit human disease. In many countries, control of these pests has virtually eliminated diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and typhus.

Currently even in the United States, the West Nile Virus, new cases of Malaria and Dengue fever, and Lyme disease point to the need for effective use of pesticides to control mosquitoes, ticks, and other disease-transmitting insects.

Most of the products our industry uses to control pests were developed by agricultural researchers for crop protection.  These products have improved plant health and increased yields of food crops. This is important to consider as the world's population continues to increase and less land is available for cultivation. Other products protect trees from insect pests, thus eliminating the loss of key species. This preserves our trees and allows these beneficial plants to add oxygen to our environment.

As cases of asthma continue to rise in the U.S., limiting exposure to cockroaches can alleviate allergens and mites and can contribute to a healthier indoor environment.

On a panel of industry leaders, several individuals noted too the increased life expectancy in the U.S. and one speaker distributed a cartoon of cave men remarking that while they ate free-range food, free of chemicals and pesticides, they only lived to age 30.  Other speakers noted that the chemicals our pest control industry uses are the most regulated in the world requiring up to 10 years and over $240 million in testing alone before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves their usage.

Our industry does use the safest products available.  When you confront such negative information, check to see if references are provided or if the article may be "misinformation" or scare tactics.  Controlling and working to eliminate pests that harm our food, destroy our homes (like termites) are a nuisance to humans (bedbugs, fleas, and ticks), and contribute to disease and allergy (rats and cockroaches, for example) remain important.  Relying on the effectiveness of regulated pesticides is important.  The role of pesticides and insecticides contribute to our overall safety rather than threaten it. Interestingly, too, careers in pest control and public health are projected to increase now and into the foreseeable future.

The most popular method for determining what pesticide level is safe for humans is to first determine what dose is toxic to animals. The Environmental Protection Agency regulators divide that dose by 10 on the assumption that humans may be more sensitive to the pesticide than animals. Then, because some humans are more sensitive than others, the potentially toxic dose is again reduced by a factor of 10. To protect children and the unborn, the toxic dose level is lowered by another factor of up to 10. Combined, this can mean that the maximum allowed human exposure may be only one-thousandth of the dose found to harm animals.

The risk of developing cancer from consuming major pesticides (through occasional traces on food) is about 1,000 times less than the risk of naturally occurring carcinogens associated with beer, wine and cola. On a weight-for-weight basis, caffeine is about 25 to 50 times more toxic than many of the most commonly used lawn herbicides. For additional information on this subject, consult the following websites:, or

I am concerned about being exposed to pesticides after my home is treated for termites.   What can I do to minimize contact?

Interestingly the pest control applicator faces the greatest risk of exposure to pesticides. If a liquid termiticide is applied. This risk is greatest during mixing and application.  Your home's treatment for termites is completed outside, around the perimeter of your home’s foundation and in holes drilled into the concrete foundation slab and in crawl space areas.  Technicians dig a trench around your home, apply the chemical, and then replace the dirt (in the most typical treatments).  Your risk of encountering the pesticide product is low.  You may want to leave the house during the treatment as an extra precaution.  Some termiticide manufacturers even suggest the homeowner not be present during product application. However, a "green" alternative to the liquid treatment is Sentricon® installed around your home's perimeter. It is safe and effective, offering total colony elimination. Finally, for monthly pest control service at your home, remind your technician to only use minimum risk products both inside and outside if this has not already been noted in your technician's instructions.

What is the best source for information on pesticides?

National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) provides answers to the public and medical profession regarding pesticides. This service is operated as a joint venture of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Friday. Their telephone number is 800-858-7378 and their web-site is

Glue Boards & Traps

Why are glue boards used in my home?

These glue boards are typically placed in corners, storage rooms, closests, in garages and basements, and in other locations to trap pests and more importantly to monitor pest populations.  When glue boards are examined, your pest management professional will note which boards have pests and can determine the types of pests + the population that needs control. The boards also provide a clue about pest harborage and pest entry points as well as the direction the pest came from (which can indicate the location of their nests).  Looking backward from the captured pest can alert your technician to entry points that need sealing.  Other glue boards are used to capture and kill occasional invaders before they become a problem. 

My friend told me you can catch any mouse with peanut butter on a trap but my toddler son is allergic and I’m afraid to use it.  What else can we use?

Peanut butter is a popular attractant to most insect pests and small pest mammals, particularly rats and mice.  But, as you mention, with the growing number of peanut allergies, often other baits must be used.  Traps can be set with other attractants including oatmeal, cat food, crackers, seeds, piece of fruit or cookies.  Be careful too about glue board traps since most of the sticky traps also use peanut butter flavorings as their attractant as well.  Mice and rats eat a wide variety of human foods so experiment until you find what works best. Enviroguard pest control can install safety traps that are childproof and encase the rodent pests inside so your toddler will not come into contact with the attractant or rodenticide.  Once you have eliminated your immediate rodent problems, look for and seal all openings to prevent further entry into your living space.  Also seal all food in airtight containers and vacuum frequently.  Outside keep your grass mowed and weeds away from your home’s foundation. 

Your Enviroguard technician may use a number of baits, traps, or pheromones to attract pests and to capture them for proper identification.  Cookies with nuts are a popular attractant for a number of pests – they are sweet, salty, and contain both carbohydrates and proteins. Pests prefer different foods and some change their preferences with the seasons.  Using the cookie bait, your technician will be able to track ants, for example, as they carry the food to their nests.  It is important to evaluate ant trails and nests before making a treatment that might disturb the ants.  Your Enviroguard technician may even flag the trails if there is an extreme infestation and monitor their foraging. 

Home Pest Control

My neighbor does his own pest control and feels the chemicals he can buy over the counter are the same as your industry uses.  Is that true?

Yes, many of the products you see at hardware and garden centers contain the same active ingredient as the products the pest management industry uses. The difference is the concentration of active ingredients and formulations. Consumer products are “general use pesticides”. Licensed certified pest control operators can purchase and apply “restricted use pesticides”. Enviroguard Pest management professionals are trained to observe laws and environmental practices and can use their knowledge of insects to target pesticide applications for optimum effectiveness and with a minimum use and waste of pesticide. In my experience, homeowners tend to use more product than necessary and may contaminate household surfaces. The pest management industry has specialized calibrated equipment to inject products into crevices and voids.  Pest management professionals have protective clothing and lighting and experience in entering attics and crawl spaces. They are trained to adjust their applications for wind and weather and understand the importance of not applying pesticides in or near air conditioning or heating vents, ducts, or electrical outlets. They are constantly on-the lookout for live electrical wires and other hazards in crawl spaces and basements and have coveralls, hardhats, respirators and other tools that are often expensive or unavailable for the general homeowner use or purchase.

School Pest Control

My fifth-grader just brought home a note about her school's upcoming treatment for termites over an upcoming holiday break.  An IPM program is mentioned.  What is that and should I be concerned?

IPM, or integrated pest management, is a multifaceted approach to pest control. It utilizes regular monitoring to determine if and when pest control treatments are necessary. IPM employs multiple tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent intolerable damage or annoyance that include exclusion, mechanical alterations, biological and educational tactics. The most popular exclusion techniques used to eliminate pest entry from outside the school include sealing cracks and removing food and water sources. Sanitation is also an important part of control in schools.

Treatments are made only when and where monitoring has indicated the pest will cause unacceptable economic, medical or aesthetic damage.  The treatments are chosen and timed to be most effective and least disruptive to natural pest control.  Then, least-toxic chemical controls are used and only as a last resort.

IPM originated in the agricultural industry and was later adopted for the structural pest control industry. Today, it is the standard method of providing pest control to schools. IPM is seen as a holistic approach to pest control and individualized treatments are based on each school’s unique needs. It is more effective and poses fewer risks to the site and people.

If your school has adopted an IPM program, you can rest assured they are attempting to control pest populations with minimal risks to students. Key decisions makers including school administration and maintenance personnel work with pest management professionals to identify and eliminate conditions that would encourage pest entry and problems. In an IPM program, parents may discuss the program at PTA meetings and may participate on oversight committees with school personnel. Treatments and services are performed typically when students are not present including weekends, holidays, and breaks.

If pesticides are used, you may receive prior notification and posting. Often the same pest we see in homes and businesses are the same pests found in school settings. These include cockroaches, mice and rats, bees, wasps, and yellow jackets, spiders, flies, and termites.

Typical spots for pests in schools are cafeteria and break areas, dumpsters and other trash areas, near vending machines, in classrooms and lockers (where food & snacks stored and papers for harborage), and around the building's perimeter foundation and exterior walls.

Your student can assist in the IPM program by cleaning up food leftovers, removing old food in lockers, gum under desks, and reducing paper clutter. This is particularly important as students meals may not be confined to cafeteria areas).

Enviroguard holds the QualityPro®, Quality Pro Schools® and GreenPro® certification to treat schools and day care facilities.


Why was my technician concerned to learn I'd been using sprays for ants and roaches between my monthly services? I bought the sprays at the grocery store.

These over-the-counter sprays work by direct contact; you simply spray them on the pests you see. Your technician may be using a more effective baiting method to eliminate ants and roaches. These baits are slower acting but effective in removing the entire colony and not just the pests you see. The ants and roaches take these specially-designed baits back to their nests. Their social behavior and grooming spreads the bait. These baits are not repellant so it does not prevent the insects from continuing to feed on the bait. You probably resorted to sprays because you saw these pests return to find the baited food. But the contact sprays killed the pests before they could return and transmit the bait to their colony. You may have immediate results, but would harm the total control and elimination program which is the most effective, long-term option. Sprays may also chase insects from the baits or render baits unattractive or inedible.

Flushing Agents

During my regular service visit, I did not have any specific pest problems. My technician said he would just use a flushing agent in the cracks in my home. Why was this necessary?

Sometimes pests are there, hiding in cracks and crevices but you may not see them. Flushing agents are plant-based and can be extremely safe when applied correctly. They were discovered centuries ago when certain dried and crushed flowers like chrysanthemums were found to have insecticidal properties. These botanicals or synthetic botanicals interfere with the function of the insect's nervous system, yet have very low toxic effects to dogs, cats and humans. However, they are quite toxic to most fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Using a flushing agent allows the technician to determine if bugs are present since it brings them quickly out of hiding and aids in their identification. Identification is important to determine what further control measures are necessary. they also are long lasting

Bug Bombs

A couple of times a year I will set off “bug bombs” in my house, attic, basement and crawl space, but this does not always get rid of my spiders, fleas, ants and wasps. Should I use them more often?

No. If you are having constant pest problems I would recommend you contact a local pest control company. I am not a proponent of “bug bombs”. Bug bombs are actually a total release aerosol fogger containing a pressurized insecticide that is activated by a trigger release. When the product is released, it produces an aerosol mist reaching to the ceiling and nearest wall, leaving part of the insecticide on the ceiling while the rest falls on furniture or whatever is in the area. One total release aerosol fogger covers up to 6,000 square feet, so the notion of using several of these in one house, apartment or trailer is not recommended and can be potentially dangerous. If the material comes in contact with an open flame like a gas hot water heater, in becomes explosive. From 2001 to 2006, the state of New York reported over 120 cases of bug bomb-related illness or injuries. The most common injuries were temporary respiratory problems and reactions such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Nationwide, during this same period, 466 bug bomb injuries were recorded and over half resulted to injuries to the individual who set off the bug bomb. The most significant factor was the use of multiple foggers in small areas. A Spanish-speaking California man could not read the directions (in English) and used multiple bug bombs in his 475 square foot apartment. The propellant was ignited by the flames from his gas hot water heater and the entire apartment building blew up. Currently a movement is underway to require clearer labeling on these devices as well as recommendations that they only be used by licensed professionals.

The state of New York in November 2008 banned the sale of these devices to the general public and restricted their use to licensed pest control personnel only. This is due to numerous accidents associated with these bug bombs in the last few years. These bombs are popular over the counter products designed to kill cockroaches, fleas and flying insects by filling an enclosed area with an insecticide.

The New York state ban exceeds a recently released federal report that indicating bug bombs need clearer label warnings on proper use and the risks involved backed up with public education campaigns. Although these bug bombs have not been banned from our local area I do not recommend if you are not familiar with how to properly activate the bomb you could easily become covered in pesticide problems or cause an explosion or fire.