pest control

Fruit Orchard Growers Find that Disrupting Apple Pest Mating Leads to Better Fruit

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

By Marcia Anderson

Taking a drive in the country, I pass numerous apple orchards, the trees in full bloom, with petals falling across my windshield, like giant snowflakes when a cool spring wind blows. I am reminded of a time, a generation ago, when people were spraying pesticides by the calendar in orchards and on farms throughout the country. For instance, they would spray for a certain pest before the trees’ buds broke in the spring, then every 7–10 days thereafter. The spraying occurred whether the pests were there or not because people were not scouting their crops to assess pest levels. Growers finally realized that pests don’t carry calendars and that their emergence varies from year to year. This validated the need for pest monitoring.

Today’s growers monitor certain pests with the aid of traps designed to include a chemical to attract only one certain pest. Such traps utilize chemical lures. The lures are synthetic copies of the chemicals (pheromones) the females emit to attract the males for mating. In apple orchards, traps, such as the one pictured here, are hung in the trees. The bottom of the trap is coated with an adhesive to capture the male insects. It is very effective control tactic for San Jose scale, codling moth, and oblique banded leafroller in lieu of pesticide applications.

With regular trap monitoring, growers know exactly how many moths are out in the orchard, which is the pest pressure, which in turn, helps them to determine if and when further treatment is necessary. When a moth is caught, growers know that first generation (the overwintering generation) has flown. Then, they can calculate degree days for the first generation eggs to hatch. At that point growers make a decisions for action. Northeast apple orchard growers discuss implementing pest-specific pheromone control strategies in their second video.

2.Apple maggot damage to an apple (Photo: E.H. Glass, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Bugwood.org)

Apple maggot damage to an apple
(Photo: E.H. Glass, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Bugwood.org)

An effective use of pheromones is in conjunction with a small dose of pesticides. This is an extremely effective and low cost cultural control to disrupt insect mating of apple maggots. The apple maggot is a small fly that lays its eggs in a fruit. The maggots hatch and eat the fruit. Sometimes you do not see them until you bite into the fruit finding half a worm. UGH. Pheromone traps can trap apple maggot flies. A red plastic ball with an apple odor in the center resembles an apple hung on a tree and will visually and chemically attract the apple maggot fly. Orchard growers also use an organic insecticide on top of the fake apple. When an apple maggot lands on it, it licks the insecticide, which will cause the females to cease laying eggs and they will eventually die. In this way, the rate of insecticide needed is drastically reduced. A grower’s last resort is the application of chemicals.

Pheromone trap (Bugwood.org)

Pheromone trap (Bugwood.org)

Apple growers have now found the most effective way to control their pests is by using scientifically-based practices like Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, that have positive long-term effects on their orchard. IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common sense practices. IPM programs in apple orchards use current comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. IPM takes advantage of all pest management options including inspection and monitoring for apple pests, the sanitation and maintenance of the orchard and trees, cultural practices like traps, and the judicious use of less risky pesticides, such as pheromone traps, first. IPM dictates that sprays are used only when needed for effective and long term control.

With IPM, you have to get to a certain pest population level, or threshold, before treatment is recommended. So, determining how to deal with pests based on thresholds is a primary step. How many of a certain kind of pest do you have? The threshold depends on the specific insect, weed, or disease.

There are a few challenges to IPM, not only in apple orchards, but with regard to controlling any pests. It is very important to rotate the modes of action of the chemicals that are used. Because with any pest population, if you use the same mode of action repeatedly, there are always a few pests that survive, creating future generations of pests who have developed pesticide resistance. The end result of resistance is that the overused pesticides lose their efficacy for pest control.

For more on apple IPM read: Apples for the Big Apple…Managing Pests to Produce Quality Apples. So the next time you eat an apple, think about your local apple growers and how they are using IPM to provide you with quality produce at reasonable prices.

 

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Moisture in Matt’s Apartment: Plumbing Problems Lead to Pests

Cracks behind bathroom fixtures and missing caulk can create open passageways for pests into your home.

Cracks behind bathroom fixtures and missing caulk can create open passageways for pests into your home.

By: Marcia Anderson

When I went to use the bathroom in my son’s city university apartment, I was greeted by more than I bargained for. I flicked on the light switch and black creatures moved from the sink and bath tub into cracks behind the fixtures. After a bit of sleuthing I discovered caulk missing from around the bathtub and sink – perfect places for both moisture and pests, such as cockroaches, to accumulate. It was not as bad as Joe’s Apartment ‘(1996, MTV Films) but I was just as creeped out.

Most people are unaware of the association between plumbing problems and pests, but the fact is that the two are intertwined. Bugs and rodents are attracted to water. If you have a leak or a place where moisture is allowed to accumulate in your apartment, house or school, it will attract pests. To get rid of pests and keep them from coming back, you have to deprive them of everything they need to survive: food, water, shelter, and ways to get around.

If you have a leaky faucet or other water source along with a tiny hole in your wall, pests will make themselves at home, in your home. Pests, such as cockroaches, may also move between neighboring apartments along plumbing and electrical ducts. Seal around these entry points to keep them out.

Once inside, cockroaches like to hide in cracks and crevices where it’s dark and warm and there’s food and water nearby. The single most important factor in determining cockroach survival is the availability of water. Moisture makes your bathroom and kitchen ideal places for finding whatever’s bugging you. Water left in the sink after washing dishes or in the bathtub after a shower provides moisture for cockroaches. These sources are eliminated by drying out sinks and bathtubs after use. You can help eliminate pests by getting rid of other sources of moisture, like piles of damp towels or laundry that attract silverfish. Use your bathroom window or fan to vent shower steam to prevent mildew and mold.  Report or fix vents that aren’t drawing air out. 

Another favorite place for cockroaches to hide is in your bottom kitchen cabinets. They are a potential pest nirvana with trash, moisture, clutter and dark hiding places. Another common source of moisture in the kitchen is condensation under the refrigerator. Place a pan under the appliance to collect water and empty it frequently.

Pet water dishes and aquariums are also sources of moisture. Empty water dishes at night when cockroaches are foraging but your pet is asleep. Aquariums should have tight fitting lids or screens to prevent cockroach entry. And be careful not to over-water indoor plants because the excess water is available to cockroaches.

In storage areas keep cardboard boxes and even plastic bins off the floor and on a wire rack or shelf. Be especially rigorous on concrete floors as moisture forms between the floor surface and the box bottom attracting silverfish and cockroaches. They will start by eating the box bottom, and quickly make their way into the inside of your boxes, destroying priceless photographs, documents and clothing. Another reason to use storage racks is for easier pest inspections. With boxes off the floor, you can quickly spot mouse droppings and evidence of other unwanted critters.

Be Pest Wise! Regular maintenance such as fixing leaks, sealing holes and cracks, and sanitation are key components of a smart, sensible and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. See EPA’s webpage on controlling pests in your home, school, or business for more information.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Dog Has Fleas: Why Flea Control can be More Difficult in the City

By Marcia Anderson

The author’s little Shetland Sheepdog , Delilah.

The author’s little Shetland Sheepdog , Delilah.

I never had a problem with fleas in the suburbs. But after a few months of living in a city apartment, the little pests plagued both myself and my dog with a vengeance. Why? What was the difference?

Outdoors in the suburbs, flea prevention was always the key. This generally involved eliminating the habitat in the yard where fleas were most likely to occur. I made my yard unwelcoming to fleas and ticks by keeping the lawn mowed, shrubs trimmed, and leaves raked. Wild animals such as opossums, raccoons, and small rodents can carry fleas so we tried to discourage all animals from entering our yard. We fenced the yard to keep other dogs out, and kept garbage covered so it wouldn’t attract rodents or other pests.

Inside both my home and apartment, we vacuumed carpets often, mopped bare floors weekly and washed the dog bed regularly.

Delilah visits the pumpkin patch.

Delilah visits the pumpkin patch.

When I moved to the city, I found only a few nearby places to walk the dog before I headed for work. Although I still kept my home clean, I was no longer able to control the outside areas where my dog was allowed to go. Being accustomed to going under trees and shrubs, our dog visited the same places visited by hundreds of other dogs. Fleas tended to like those places also because they were moist, warm, shady, and there was organic debris. Although fleas cannot fly, they do have powerful back legs and can jump great distances. I soon found out that what jumps off one dog eventually jumped onto our dog.

I was faced with having to come up with a new plan for controlling these fleas. I ruled out flea collars because my dog regularly comes into close contact with the neighbor’s little girls. Sometimes they dog sit, which leads to hugging, brushing, and sleeping together.

Next, I considered flea shampoos. Every weekend our dog would get a bath. The flea shampoos worked well and killed about 95% of the fleas and made her fur ever-so-soft for my neighbor’s little girls. However, I soon realized that the shampoos don’t work to prevent new fleas. The city fleas were just too persistent and hardy.

Embarrassed, I discussed the issue with other city apartment dog owners, whom, I found, had the same problem. I requested that the landlord treat my apartment with an insect growth regulator, a type of pesticide that prevents the flea eggs and larvae from growing and hatching. Because they mimic insect hormones, it would only affect the fleas. This leads to a steady drop in the number of new fleas indoors. However, mature fleas are not affected so it can take 30 to 60 days for the adult fleas to die of old age before you’ll notice the dog scratching less.

What else could I do? There is a lot of talk about an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to other pest problems. What is IPM? An approach to pest control that creates a safer and healthier environment by reducing exposure to pests and pesticides. An effective IPM program uses common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water, and shelter for pests in buildings and grounds. But will it work for fleas?

I realized that I already was using an IPM approach for my flea problem. Sanitation and maintenance first, including cleaning, combing, bathing, outdoor barriers, followed by least toxic means, such as the insect growth regulator. But because I was unable to fully control the problem I knew that the judicious use of another pesticide was next step. So off we went to the vet.

Close-up view of the common flea.

Close-up view of the common flea.

I found that my dog had ordinary cat fleas, the leading cause of itching in dogs and cats. Itching was most pronounced on her back, groin, tail, and hindquarters. This is where we found black, pepper-like grains in her coat. These were flea feces made up of digested blood. Now we only found a few fleas because they moved so rapidly through her hair and were difficult to catch.

We settled a monthly application of a topical product that not only controls fleas by direct contact, but also protects against heartworms and other worms. Fleas don’t have to bite the dog for the pesticide to work. Like other topical treatments, it came in a tube and was applied to the dog’s back.

Are topical flea treatments safe? Yes, if they are used correctly. The EPA says that using the wrong dosage or product is a major cause of negative reactions. Common mistakes include treating a cat with a product meant for dogs, or using a large dog dose on a small dog. Check with your vet first. More is not always better, more can be dangerous.

Keep in mind that you will probably still see some fleas, even on a treated pet, until all of the fleas in your home have died. Persistence is the key. Keep following your flea control program to get rid of all life stages of the fleas, which may take up to six months.

Prevention is the best method of flea control. After prevention, the other IPM steps may ultimately lead you to use an EPA-registered insecticide products to help keep those pesky fleas away.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Wildlife Weekend: Raptors, Roadrunners, Vultures and Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Bed Bug Travel Card

Bed Bug Travel Card

A few weeks ago I visited a popular state park to view wildlife in its natural setting. The park had a beautiful rustic lodge and conference center with antique, rough-sawn beams that gave a real western ambiance. The chairs, benches, tables, and bed headboards were made of peeled tree branches that were roughly fitted together.

After checking in, I conducted a precursory search for pests in the room, as I do whenever I enter any overnight lodging. No bugs showed up on my radar. It was not until about 9 pm, when I was about to prop up some pillows, that I saw a little brown spot on one of the white pillowcases. Then, the spot moved! OH, it couldn’t be… but it was.

I caught and placed it in a clear plastic bag for a better look. It was a healthy bed bug. I caught two more on other pillows. Two more on the wall near the headboard scurried down into the crack behind the floor molding before I could grab them.

I then decided to check out the box spring where I noticed two more near the plastic corner guard. I caught one, but the other got away, deep into the box spring innards. I noticed another coming out a joint in the headboard. Missed him also. He crawled in so deep it was impossible to get ahold of him. At this point, I had captured four of the eight bed bugs sighted. All were very healthy. I took lots of photos then called the front desk.

The receptionist alerted the staff and sent one to investigate. The person who came insisted that she had never seen a bed bug before. She asked if she could keep the four I had caught. No problem, but I warned her not to open the bag — don’t want any escapees.

When she returned to help me move to another room, I explained the importance of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, when confronted with a bed bug infestation. I talked about exclusion and monitoring being two key IPM practices for managing bed bugs. I described how sealing cracks, such as in the head board and behind the floor moldings, and eliminating hiding places for the bed bugs were essential.

Placing encasements on the mattress and box springs would prevent having to replace these expensive items. They would block access for new bed bugs and, in time, kill the any trapped inside. Bed bug inspection dogs might be cost effective in checking the entire lodge and guest cabins for other infestations. Bed bug dogs are trained to sniff out bed bugs, even just one, in the same way that drug-sniffing dogs identify drugs and alert customs agents at border crossings of positive findings.

Specimens from the lodge

Specimens from the lodge

I explained that they should enlist a pest management professional with experience in dealing with bed bugs. Heat treatment for spaces is effective when conducted properly. Spraying pesticides is not the silver bullet that it was many years ago for multiple reasons. Some bed bugs have become resistant to some pesticides, rendering them ineffective. Another reason is bed bug behavior.

Bed bugs hide in all sorts of tiny cracks and crevices for at least four days between meals. Therefore, they may not be out to be exposed to a pesticide being applied. Remember that they were nowhere to be seen when I conducted a precursory check the afternoon I arrived. If the bugs are hidden in the moldings, furniture or box spring crevices, the pesticide may never reach them.

This was my first personal bed bug encounter and hopefully the last. My husband asked me to please not bring home any souvenirs. No problem. However, I do hope the lodge took my advice on IPM and checked out the bed bug prevention, detection and control flier on EPA’s bed bug website. The site provides numerous bed bug control resources, one of which is the bed bug traveler card, pictured here. They are the size of a credit card, so print one and take it with you the next time you travel.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Classroom Clutter and Pests Go Hand-in-Hand

By Marcia Anderson

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Schools and childcare centers, by their nature, are prone to the accumulation of boxes, papers, posters and books that are utilized by teachers. Unfortunately, some of the nation’s finest school teachers have reputations for being pack rats. The use of multiple materials for learning is to be applauded, not discouraged. However, materials in classrooms and storage areas left undisturbed for long periods of time may lead to pest issues.

Pests gravitate toward cluttered areas because they provide a safe environment for them to eat, hide and reproduce undisturbed from predators and people. Some cockroaches, rodents, spiders and silverfish prefer layered clutter, such as stacks of paper. These pests carry with them the potential for bites, or are potential allergens or asthma triggers. If a pest infestation occurs, all of the items may have to go anyway. The best way to save the most precious items for the future is to eliminate potential pest harborages today.

Clutter can be dangerous: The brown recluse spider prefers to hide among layered papers and within forgotten boxes in cluttered corners and similar areas. Spiders and other pests have bitten children and teachers reaching into piles to retrieve papers or other items.

Consequences of Clutter: A cluttered space can be overwhelming and waste precious time for both teachers and students. There just comes a time when you simply can’t be efficient anymore because chaos has overtaken the classroom when you can’t find things where they’re supposed to be. Searching and hunting wastes time. Alternately, an organized area helps to promote quick work starts and facilitates an efficient use of time. And once an area is organized, it is easier to keep it this way. Clutter also creates a disturbance in student focus. It is distracting and doesn’t maintain a conducive learning environment.

Keeping a school classroom pest-free is challenging, but utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can reduce the number of pests and the use of pesticides in the school. IPM is a smart approach to prevent and get rid of pests by using what we know to make classrooms, kitchens and cafeterias less attractive to them. Pests come inside because they’ve found the things they need to survive – food, water, and shelter.

Classroom Storage Tips:

  1. Reduce clutter in bite-size pieces. Allocating 30 minutes twice a week to clearing cluttered areas will allow you to get cleaned up and organized in just a few weeks.
  2. Store materials in clear, plastic boxes to better organize, eliminate clutter and prevent pest infestations. Such boxes exist in nearly every size, shape and color for storage needs.
  3. Don’t use cardboard boxes. Cockroaches love to hide in their corrugations and will hitchhike into and set up house in your classroom!
  4. Store boxes on shelves instead of the floor whenever possible. Shelves should be a minimum of six inches and preferably 12 inches off of the floor to allow for access for sweeping and mopping. This space will also discourage any insects and rodents from hiding beneath the first shelf. Leaving space helps the custodial staff to see and clean behind and under stored items. Mice and roaches love to travel right next to the walls, so if you have clutter next to the walls, they can run to and fro undetected during the day.
  5. Clear out clutter to improve pest inspections and treatment effectiveness. Clutter makes pest management almost impossible – pest inspections are difficult when the pest control technician’s access is limited and pests have no reason to venture into treated areas.
  6. Encourage children to help clean up after activities. These clean-up chores can be placed on a Classroom Helper Chart, especially in the younger grades where the help is needed the most.
  7. Keep food items used as math manipulatives, such as dried beans or toasted oat cereal, in tightly sealed containers. Likewise, store animal feed in tightly sealed containers, clean up spills immediately, and clean cages regularly.

Reducing unused items, eliminating clutter, and following IPM practices will improve the air quality in your school, reduce pest problems, and improve the learning environment. It’s time to clean house!

To read more on de-cluttering the classroom, review Purdue University’s recommendations on reducing pest problems by reducing clutter and the University of Arizona’s articles on clearing up and cleaning out for summer and clutter control.

 About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Improperly Stored Tires Lead to Big Mosquito Problems

By Marcia Anderson

Make sure tires on playgrounds have drainage holes to prevent rainwater from accumulating and causing a mosquito breeding problem.

Make sure tires on playgrounds have drainage holes to prevent rainwater from accumulating and causing a mosquito breeding problem.

I have a vivid memory of visiting a childcare center on Staten Island, NY. When I approached a corner of the backyard, a swarm of mosquitoes must have sensed me and dive-bombed onto every exposed part of my body. I was bitten repeatedly from my head down to my shoes. When I peered over the fence into the neighboring yard, I saw thousands of mosquitoes congregating around a pile of discarded tires.

Although many scrap tires are brought to state approved disposal sites, many also wind up in illegal dump sites. Untold more are thrown along roadways or stored in yards. Tire stockpiles present a threat to human health and the environment for several reasons.

Why are improperly stored tires hazardous to your health?

Each tire in a yard, if improperly stored, can become a breeding ground for thousands of mosquitoes which can carry life-threatening diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus and various forms of encephalitis.

The design of tires provides an ideal nursery for mosquito larvae. Tires fill with water after a rainstorm and retain the water as some of the inside areas of the tires are shaded continuously, preventing evaporation of the trapped water. Tires are somewhat insulated and retain heat for long periods of time that speeds up mosquito egg hatching and larval growth. They also collect leaf litter and debris that provides nutrition for the larvae.

Despite over 30 years of efforts to address scrap tires, stockpiles continue to be a problem across the U.S. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, over 290 million more tires are scrapped every year, and over 653 million tons of these are land-disposed. Tires in dumps are difficult to clean up due to the sheer numbers and because trees grow through them and trash, leaves, garbage, and water collect in them.

Tires on playgrounds as part of climbing or swinging structures are another potential breeding site. Ensure that the tires, and other children’s outdoor play structures have drainage holes and that the holes are kept unblocked by debris, such as leaves, to maintain water flow.

Mosquito Control: The most effective mosquito control is to keep tires dry. Pesticides applied to tire piles to control larval or adult mosquitoes may not be fully effective. Shredding tires, or otherwise rendering them incapable of holding water, is usually more effective than pesticides. If you must keep tires, store them indoors or stack and cover them with a tarp to prevent them from collecting water. Drill holes in tires in play equipment or other tire sculptures to allow water drainage and prevent future water accumulation. Keep vegetation and grasses around tires short, reducing resting sites for adult mosquitoes.

Tire Recycling:  Over 1.3 million pounds of tires are recycled each year by chopping them into high grade rubber nuggets. Some are reincorporated in the manufacture of new tires while others are converted into a urethane binder to make sidewalks, playground surfaces, and basketball courts. Roads in some areas are resurfaced using tire chips for backfill and insulation, giving asphalt both springiness and longer life. In New Hampshire, Timberland is putting tires back on the road in boots and shoes with soles made of recycled rubber. And as of 2009, 40% of scrap tires are used in energy generation due to their high BTU content.

When Buying New Tires, Recycle Your Old Tires: Businesses that sell or install tires must take back tires of approximately the same size that they sell. The fee for the collection of old tires is included in the cost of new tires.

In New York City, the Department of Sanitation will accept up to four tires from passenger cars at any of its garages or at one of the department’s household special waste drop-off sites. For more information go to New York City Department of Sanitation’s website or dial 3-1-1.  There are similar programs across the country; contact your local Department of Public Works for drop sites.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

This Summer Prevent Pests by Reducing Moisture Outside of Your Home

By Marcia Anderson

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Like most suburban dwellers, I spent the past few weekends trimming vegetation, mowing the lawn and making sure gutters and other areas around the house were clean of debris and standing water. I soon realized that the mosquito, black fly, and other insect populations were blooming along with the flowers. But where were all of these pests coming from?

Bugs and rodents go wherever there is water. If you have a water leak in or under your house, and the wood stays wet, it will attract pests such as: wood lice, carpenter ants, and termites. Pests that eat wood are particularly interested in moist wood because it is easier for them to chew. They also rely on the moisture in the wood as a source of water. Termites and carpenter ants are known for burrowing through wood and forming nests inside the wood structures. Once holes are made because pests have found wet, weakened spots, rodents may enter the home through those gaps. Have your home’s crawlspaces checked for pests when plumbing problems are detected.

Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist areas. If the soil around your house is dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders, centipedes and other pests.

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Downspouts and gutters are the first places to look for breeding pests. Termites thrive in the moisture often found around your home’s downspouts. Direct water away from your home by turning the downspouts away from the house and use downspout extensions (splash blocks) to disperse rainwater and prevent soil erosion around the foundation. Also watch for leaks and clogs in your gutters that may eventually lead to water damage. Make sure all other drains, including the air conditioner drain lines, flow away from the home and that the pipes extend at least two feet from the foundation.

I found a few standing water sources on my property.

  • The drainage holes on the bottom of a planter were clogged with leaves and collecting rain water.
  • My grandson’s plastic pail and other play equipment had been forgotten outside and had filled with rainwater and mosquito larvae.
  • One of my sprinkler system’s underground lines was leaking, creating a puddle in the yard.
  • Water was collecting in a cavity in one of our trees.

Everyone should take steps to eliminate places where water collects outdoors, such as: tires, garbage cans, tree holes, buckets, wash tubs, even table umbrella stands, etc. This will not only eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, but also water sources for cockroaches and termites. Empty out any water you find to eliminate this problem.

I also had to remove some mulch that was piled too close to the house and trimmed the plants that were growing too close to the siding.  Mulch traps moisture and should be raked away from windowsills, siding and any other wood. Keep a two-foot pest-free strip around the building by trimming branches, and making sure mulch doesn’t touch the foundation.

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Plants growing against the house will also keep siding damp so trim back bushes and trees. Make sure that the soil is sloped away from the house at least six inches every 10 feet. This will reduce soil dampness near your foundation and keep your basement drier.

Lastly, monitor irrigation systems. Ensure sprinklers are adjusted to spray away from the foundation walls and the house.

Be PestWise! Regular maintenance and sanitation are key components of a smart, sensible and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. Preventing the accumulation of moisture outside of your home protects you from pests, saves water, and helps the environment. Visit EPA’s website for more information on controlling pests in and around your home.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction? The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe: The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can take: From cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

EPA offers more information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend reviewing EPA’s Asthma Checklist and exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction? The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe: The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can take: From cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

EPA offers more information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend reviewing EPA’s Asthma Checklist and exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Mother and Her Son Deal with Bed Bugs.

By Marcia Anderson

Bed bug up close - Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

Bed bug up close – Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

As a former EPA Regional bed bug consultant, I still occasionally receive calls to assist people with bed bug related issues. A few months ago, I answered several calls and emails from Mattie, a distraught mom who not only had a bed bug infestation, but had received questionable advice about bed bug control that affected her son’s health. Here is her story.

Mattie discovered she had a bed bug problem when her nine year old grandson went back home with his parents with bumps and swollen arms and legs. His parents took him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with having an allergic reaction to bites from some bugs. Mattie’s son, Peter, was also bitten and showed allergic symptoms. Peter suffers from chronic respiratory issues.

They soon discovered that the bites were likely from bed bugs that they found when looking around the apartment. The bed bugs were seen coming out of a crevice in the wall above Peter’s bed. That wall, unknown to Mattie’s family at the time, is adjacent to another apartment that was recently found to have bed bugs.

The landlord instructed Mattie to wash EVERYTHING and gave her just five days to clean out her entire apartment. “We had to wash over 35 loads of clothing, bedding and everything else that had fabric. Peter and I were exhausted,” Mattie wrote in one of her emails.

In the meantime, the landlord arranged for a well-known pest control service to treat the apartment. Mattie reminded the landlord about Peter’s and her health concerns. The landlord told her that they could return to the apartment after it was sprayed and not to worry – the pest control company was professional and would not apply anything that wasn’t safe. The landlord also informed her that the pest control company said there was a severe care of bed bugs in Peter’s room but that no other rooms were infested. Peter’s mattress and bed would need to be thrown out.

Mattie and Peter were given a temporary hotel stay by a local aid agency because of their asthma. She found that four different pesticides had been applied in the apartment and that the pest control company would be returning in five days to check and re-spray.

Mattie continued, “When Peter and I returned to the apartment after two days, we became ill. I could smell the spray. My son began to have tightness in his chest, and so did I. It was apparent that even with the windows open and the ceiling fan blowing that it was going to be impossible to stay in that apartment.” Mattie was concerned about the effect of these pesticides on their respiratory systems, and both had to have breathing treatments when they arrived at the respite house for the rest of the week.

I responded to Mattie: “I was surprised that the pest control company used all of those pesticides. There are other methods of treating bed bugs, such as radiant heat, steam and freezing that do not require the use of pesticides. These methods can easily be followed-up by the use of bed bug barriers and low toxicity pesticides placed strategically in walls and other areas that would not exacerbate your families’ medical conditions.

You do not need to throw out any mattresses, box springs or beds. Instead, purchase encasements for each. The encasements will trap any bed bugs and they will die. If this was a severe infestation, as the landlord reported, some of the bugs would have spread into surrounding rooms, so precautions should be taken throughout the apartment. Until your bed bug problem is gone, use clear plastic boxes to store your clothes and other items that you use on a regular basis. Bed bugs will have a difficult time climbing up the slick plastic sides of the boxes, eliminating yet another hiding place.

As you sleep, bed bugs will try to climb onto the bed for a blood meal. So, move your bed a few inches away from the wall and ensure no bedding is touching the floor. Then, place bed bug interceptors, available on the Internet, under the bed legs and under the legs of all other plush furniture in your apartment.

Be aware that in most cases, pesticides alone will not eliminate bed bugs. Effective bed bug control requires a diverse set of practices called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on knowledge of the pest and a combination of common sense practices, such as inspection, monitoring, reducing clutter, the use of physical barriers, and the judicious and careful use of pesticides, if needed.

An astute pest management professional would have used a less toxic approach to rid you of the bed bugs. I am sorry that you had such an awful experience and hope that others reading this article will learn from your painful lesson.”

Be a strong advocate for your family’s health and for an IPM approach. Find out the exact course of action that is planned for your dwelling BEFORE they treat. Insist on exploring preventative and non-pesticidal options first. For more information on bed bugs and their control go to: http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.