pesticides

Mapping Weeds – Experiences from the National Park Service

By Kristina Stine

I work in the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of EPA here in Region 7, home to our Geospatial program and GIS!I spent a wonderful summer as an intern for the National Park Service eradicating noxious weed in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  Our team   was tasked with managing leafy spurge (euphorbia esula), Russian Knapweed (Rhaponticum repens (L.) Hidalgo), and Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop).

University of Wyoming Extension Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources Initiative Team – Leafy Spruge

We used biological control, pesticides, goats, and prescribed burns to control the spread and eradicate the plants.   For our summer project, we extensively used GPS/GIS to track yearly progress and eventually determine when the plants were contained and ultimately destroyed.

Non-Federal rangeland where non-native species make up at least 50% of the plant cover (USDA)

One of the tools I became familiar with during our excursions, the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR), was known as the “plugger” or better known as a GPS (see “Happy Belated Veterans Day: GIs and GPS” by Joe Summerlin).  After picking out our site, we’d enter in our coordinates and set our way in the wilderness to find a patch of leafy spurge or other targeted weed.  Once we made our way to the exact coordinates, we would verify the actual plant locations and then make corrections as necessary.  If we had our Trimble unit, we would take a continuous track of the infested areas.  Depending on our control measure, we would also records the data for each of the different control strategies we employed.   After collecting data and managing the site with pest control (depending on the site and weed variety) we would take the plugger to the GIS Specialists and they would create a map summarizing our summer efforts.   Every year this is done until the site is restored back to its natural, native state.

Controlling noxious weeds take time and a measured approach.  The map below shows polygons defined by GPS in red while the black blocks represent areas overrun with leafy spurge. Without breaking into the details (see the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Invasive Leafy Spurge Remote Sensing Research ) one can see that a combination of GPS and remotely sensed data can really help with monitoring and controlling noxious weed populations – and determining the effectiveness of various control strategies.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Invasive Leafy Spurge Remote Sensing Research

My summers out in the field as an intern for the National Park service has really helped me appreciate the power of location and GIS in caring for our environment.  The infected sites were managed yearly and the data recorded so that we could see what practices were most effective. Similar maps like the previous one were made on a regular basis to monitor the increase/decrease of noxious and invasive species of plants.  It helped give us, decision makers, and the general public a visual understanding of noxious weeds in our National Parks.  Please remember to be careful what you plant in your yard!

Kristina Stine is a first generation Environmental Biologist who has worked with the federal government since 1997. She is currently working for the U.S. EPA Region 7 as a secretary. Some of her most memorable jobs were working as an intern for the National Park Service as a Biological Technician (and Wildland Firefighter) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

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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An Annual Recurrence of Avian Chlordane Poisoning in one NJ Town

By Marcia Anderson

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

(Part two of a series on chlordane poisonings)

Residents reported finding dead starlings, grackles and robins in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, as long ago as July 1977; and, more recently, in July of 1996, New Jersey Fish &Wildlife (F&W) investigated a report of a large number of these dead birds. During an inspection of the area, 75 birds, including 18 grackles and six starlings were recovered from one property adjacent to a local golf course and dead birds were visible on adjacent lawns and streets. The following year, over a three-week period in July, F&W visited a residential area adjacent to a local golf course and recovered a total of 425 dead or sick birds including 307 grackles, 104 starlings and 14 American robins. Thirty-five more debilitated birds were captured alive. Many of these birds were uncoordinated, sometimes flying into stationary objects, while others were seen falling from trees or falling to the ground in midflight

Although birds can fly great distances, sick and debilitated birds seek the comfort of their homes, or roosts, and do not travel far from them, so F&W knew that the source of the poison was nearby. Chlordane poisoning was diagnosed as the primary cause of death in all of the 1997 birds analyzed. In a published paper, F&W believed this to be the largest avian chlordane poisoning incident reported in the United States.

Just last July (2012), confirmed chlordane poisonings occurred in Summit,(approximately eight km from Scotch Plains), Parsippany, Maplewood, and Gibbsboro, N.J.; and on Western Long Island.

Raptor Poisonings

Confirmed and documented cases of lethal chlordane poisoning were found in nine Cooper’s hawks and other raptors. Raptors are secondarily poisoned by consuming contaminated songbirds. Approximately 80 percent of the prey taken by Coopers hawks in the eastern U.S. is avian; so the consumption of chlordane-contaminated birds is the most probable cause of most Cooper’s hawks poisoning cases. The incidence of chlordane poisonings in all raptors, including Cooper’s hawks, peaked in July, coinciding with the peak period of chlordane poisoning of songbirds from eating chlordane-contaminated beetles and grubs.  Poisonings of Cooper’s hawks are of particular concern, because this species is listed as endangered by the state of New Jersey. 

From 1999-2000, 95 raptors were found dead throughout N.J., and were submitted for examination as part of the Fish &Wildlife’s West Nile Virus monitoring program. Chlordane poisoning was found to be the major cause of Cooper’s hawks’ mortality. The incidence of chlordane poisoning in other hawks was lower due to differences in feeding habits.

Take Home Message

Many commonly used insect sprays, weed killers and rodenticides are highly toxic to birds.

Don’t be fooled by chemical products as being touted as “organic.” Many environmentally destructive chemicals are organic. Residues of these compounds remain in soils, sediment, and biota levels sufficient to cause death in some bird species. Also be wary of products with the prefix “eco”, “environ”, or allegedly “green.” Always read the product label first for proper use instructions, use restrictions, and environmental effects, for a truer sense of its impact. In many cases there are less dangerous alternatives to chemical pest control and lawn care. For example, grub control could be pursued with biological methods such as the use of Bacillus popilliae (Milky Spore), or nematodes.

Human safety concerns

As long as you or your children do not munch on grubs, beetles, or birds you should be fine. Make sure your pets do not eat dead or debilitated birds. Wash your hands thoroughly after digging in the garden and before touching food. If you find a sick or injured bird in New York City contact the Wild Bird Foundation: www.wildbirdfund.org. In New Jersey contact the Raptor Trust: info@raptortrust.org .

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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30 years after the EPA Ban, Chlordane still Poisons Local Birds

Chlordane

Chlordane

By Marcia Anderson

During a visit to the New Jersey Raptor Trust, a wild bird rehabilitation center, I became aware of recurring and confirmed regional chlordane poisonings in our local bird populations. This prompted my investigation into its cause. Songbirds and raptors in suburban areas of  New Jersey, New York and surrounding states have been found dead and dying of chlordane poisoning every summer, for over 14 years. The gruesome event occurs like clockwork every June and July.

Why? The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Fish and Wildlife and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation tested soils from some local golf courses and found that wildlife poisoning still occurs where there was a substantial effort to control beetle grub populations with organochlorine pesticides for more than 30 years, from the 1950s to the 1980s. This resulted in turf contamination by the very persistent and commonly used organic pollutant (POP) chlordane. While environmental problems have lessened, they have far from disappeared.

 Chlordane Background

Chlordane was introduced in the United States in 1947 as both an insecticide and an herbicide to control lawn, garden, and commercial pests and weeds in turfgrass.  In 1979 restrictions were imposed on the use of chlordane because of its potential human carcinogenicity. It was banned for home, garden and agricultural uses in 1983 – 30 years ago. Chlordane products were allowed for restricted underground termite control for an additional five years until suspended in 1988. The ban of a toxic chemical does not immediately eliminate it from the environment, and chlordane poisoning of birds is still common.

Chlordane is environmentally persistent, and once applied, much of it still remains unaltered in the environment. Residues remain in soils, sediment and biota at levels sufficient to cause death in some bird species. Evaporation is the major route of removal from the top soil layer where chlordane slowly volatilizes into the atmosphere. Sunlight can also break down small amounts of chlordane. Chlordane rapidly binds to clay and soil particles making it highly immobile within soil layers. Chlordane does not chemically degrade and is not subject to biodegradation in soils. Perhaps the only good news is that chlordane has a low potential for groundwater contamination, because it is insoluble in water.

How chlordane is re-exposed:

Many bird mortalities were discovered when the New Jersey Fish &Wildlife Department was testing what they thought was an outbreak of avian West Nile Virus. They discovered that the deaths were attributed to high chlordane concentrations in already resistant insects. Concentrations of chlordane were high in Scarab, June, and Oriental beetles and highest in adult Japanese beetles from suburban area golf courses.

Spring emergence of grubs and adult beetles directly coincides with summer peaks in bird mortality. Songbirds were exposed to chlordane through the ingestion of soil invertebrates, including the aforementioned beetle grubs. In spring, beetle grubs are eaten by grackles, robins, starlings, and crows. By June, emerging adult beetles are eaten by kestrels, blue jays and house sparrows.

The timing of raptor deaths, such as Cooper’s hawk mortalities, coincides closely with the July peak in songbird mortalities, as hawks often feed on smaller songbirds debilitated by the chlordane. Chlordane and its breakdown products are lipophilic, meaning that it bioaccumulates in fatty tissues. Chlordane also affects the nervous system by blocking important chemical signals and enzymes that result in overstimulation and death.

If you find a sick or injured bird in New York City contact the Wild Bird Foundation: www.wildbirdfund.org . In New Jersey contact the Raptor Trust: info@raptortrust.org .

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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Keep Bad Bugs At Bay

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer
 

By Lina Younes
During the summer months, we enjoy outdoor activities with family and friends. We actively seek opportunities to have fun in open areas. Whether it’s gardening in our backyard, swimming at the local pool, or taking a stroll at a nearby park, we will likely encounter some small creatures that are even more active than us during this time of year. What creatures am I referring to exactly? Bad bugs, those that feast on humans and animals and may spread diseases. Whether they are ticks, fleas, or mosquitoes, you should take simple steps to keep these bugs at a distance to avoid getting bitten.

In the case of mosquitoes, there is one thing you should do around the home to eliminate mosquito habitats. Get rid of standing water!  Mosquitoes need still water to lay their eggs and develop. In fact three stages of their live cycle occur in water! So without water, they cannot grow and multiply! Look around your home to find objects where water can accumulate, such as buckets, plastic toys, bird baths, wading pools even potted plant trays. If you have a bird bath in your back yard, clean it frequently. Don’t let the water rest for more than 3 days. Remember, mosquitoes only need a very small quantity of water to lay their eggs and thrive.

As a virtual “mosquito magnet,” I know that during the summer I have to stock up on insect repellents as much as sunscreen! Given the fact that mosquitoes find me anywhere I go, I have to apply insect repellents  frequently to avoid being bitten. As with any type of pesticide and insect repellent, you should read the label first and follow the instructions carefully to protect your family and stay safe.

If you are travelling in the U.S. or abroad, visit the CDC website for any travel advisories with destination-specific information for any outbreaks or other health-related issues. And especially if you are traveling, don’t bring some unwanted hitchhiking guests like bedbugs back home! While bed bugs do not transmit diseases, they are definitely an annoyance. So follow some tips to keep them at bay.

Do you have any tips you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Acronym Soup…FIFRA, hold the DDT

By Shawn Henderson

Recently a friend introduced me to a website called Reddit. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit, it’s basically a forum message board on steroids. Redditors can post news articles, images, links, etc. in all different topic areas. Trust me; you can spend hours looking through the different stories and images many of which are amusing at times. Several days ago I was perusing one of the sections and ran across the picture below, which appears to be from a 1950’s magazine article. Ah yes the 1950’s, sock hops, soda fountains, drive-in movies… and DDT? I poked around a little more and found several You-Tube videos of DDT being applied to swimming pools with kids still in them and even one of a gentleman spraying DDT on a carrot and then proceeding to eat it portraying its relative safety. Needless to say we have learned a lot since the 50s.

DDT

EPA is responsible for regulating pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The beginnings of FIFRA actually date way back to a 1910 pesticide control law, with FIFRA itself being passed in 1947. In its earliest incarnation FIFRA was mostly concerned with labeling to ensure that folks were getting actual pesticides like DDT and not watered down ineffective products.

In 1972 FIFRA was re-written when it was amended by the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) and has been amended numerous times since 1972, including some significant amendments in the form of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. In its current form, FIFRA mandates that EPA regulate the use and sale of pesticides to protect human health and preserve the environment. Under FIFRA, EPA is specifically authorized to: (1) strengthen the registration process by shifting the burden of proof to the chemical manufacturer, (2) enforce compliance against banned and unregistered products, and (3) promulgate a regulatory framework missing from the original law. You can learn more about EPA’s role with FIFRA at EPA’s Pesticide website.ddt3

Much has changed since the 1950s. DDT has been classified as a probable human carcinogen and has been found to be persistent in the environment. It is one chemical in a suite of pesticides that we look for when analyzing samples of water quality. In my role as EPA Region 7’s STORET (Water Quality Storage and Retrieval System), I get a chance to see all of the water quality data for the Region, and thankfully, we have noticed a downward trend in DDT concentrations over the years, especially in fish tissue. USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program has found the same thing.  However, the picture above should serve as a constant reminder of the need to continue to monitor for chemicals in our environment and study their relationship with human health.  Something we think of as great today, might not be so good thirty years from now.

 

Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states.  He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and kcwaters.org.

 

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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Battling Bugs In Our Neighborhood Garden

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

The yellow wormy things are fun to smush. They are easy to spot on the underside of leaves and you know you are protecting your bean plant every time you eviscerate one. After an hour in the scorching sun, though, you realize you may never find all the 1-millimeter larvae hiding in your bounty. And after two years of head to head battle with Mexican bean beetles, I personally was ready to consult the online experts.

Our growing season in New England is short. Very short. So if a plant is decimated, we have little chance to make it up. And I have learned that the bean beetle, native to southern Mexico, is particularly pesky in the east, where it thrives in the significant rainfall.

My assignment in the garden my family shares with three other neighbors was to find an organic and effective way (not an oxymoron, we still believe) to eradicate the Mexican bean bugs as well as equally destructive squash bugs.

For two years in a row, while our red peppers, lettuce, sage, and lemon basil blossomed, the ever-so-prolific pole beans and oh-so-easy zucchini plants have become skeletal victims of insect infestations.

The squash bugs, even more evil-looking than the bean bugs, start as clusters of tiny red eggs and turn into ugly gray creatures. We have tried to control them through a duck tape removal system. It’s quite lovely – not – to see eggs and bugs clustered frantically on duct tape.

Okay, so what do the virtual masses advise?

Bad news. For both pesky insects, the organic method most often recommended we have already tried: pick the darn things off. There was also the suggestion to cover the plants until they are pushing to be freed. By that time the plants will be well enough established the veggies might outlive the onslaught.

But there are other suggestions:

  • Introduce natural predatory insects or birds or bats. Nectar plants will encourage predatory wasps, a bird bath will welcome insect-eating birds, and a bat house will let bats know they are welcome.
  • Spray the leaves with soapy water or oil, both natural insecticides that will smother the bugs. These must be reapplied repeatedly during the season.
  • Surround or infiltrate your garden with mint or other strongly-scented herbs, marigolds or other plants the bugs are apt to avoid.
  • At the end of the season, pull out the plants and shake them over a wheelbarrow of hot, soapy water to minimize the number that hang out over the winter, ready to attack again next spring.

Read more EPA information on organic farming.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, chicken-eating dog and a great community.

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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Spring Brings Many Things

By Lina Younes

As temperatures start to warm up during the early spring months, we begin to see flowers blooming and animals awakening from their winter slumber. Yet, there are some things that spring often brings that we don’t eagerly welcome. Bugs. No, I’m not talking about beneficial bugs like lady bugs, bees or butterflies, but household pests.

Recently, I had an ant infestation on the kitchen floor. I resisted the temptation of getting a can of bug spray and emptying it in my kitchen. I searched for the source of the infestation. Voila! I had left some dog food overnight in the dog’s bowl and the ants were having a party! So, I clean the bowls and the entire area and the ants decided to party somewhere else. It was simple.

The basic principles of integrated pest management consist of not providing any food, water or shelter to pests. If the pests don’t find anything that attracts them to your home or creates a cozy environment for them, they will essentially search for more inviting surroundings. So, what are some basic tips to prevent bugs and household pests for setting up shop in your home? Here are some suggestions:

  • Cleanliness is a great bug and pest deterrent.
  • Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink over night.
  • Don’t leave crumbs and spills on the table or floor. They only serve as bug magnets while you are away.
  • Repair leaks. Don’t let water accumulate around the kitchen, bathroom or flower pots.
  • Clear the clutter of newspapers, bags, and boxes. Clutter becomes a very cozy surrounding for unwanted pests.

If in spite of your best efforts household pests get into your home, select pesticides for the right pest and follow the instructions on the label closely. By following integrated pest management techniques, you’ll be able to have a healthier home for you and your family. Don’t send pests an open invitation unknowingly.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Protecting the Nation from Dangerous, Illegal Pesticides: What Consumers Should Know

By Marcia Anderson

This month EPA Region 2 is conducting nationwide training for state and federal inspectors and for Customs and Border Protection Officers on how to distinguish between legal and illegal pesticides. This effort is to keep dangerous, illegal pesticide products from entering the United States and reaching consumers. Despite all of our efforts, our borders and ports are extensive and sometimes lethal products do slip in. Here is what consumers should know:

By definition, pesticides are designed to kill. If the label says that it kills, destroys, mitigates or repels any pest (including microbes), it is a pesticide. (With the exception of products used exclusively in or on the human body.)

Under federal pesticides law, all pesticide products sold in the U.S. must be registered with the EPA. Before a pesticide product is registered, the producer of the product must provide data from tests done according to EPA guidelines to ensure that the product does not make people sick, when directions on the label are followed. If a product is not registered, the EPA cannot be certain of the toxicity and efficacy of the product. Illegal products have not been tested and their labels have not been reviewed for use directions and safety warnings. Second, illegal pesticides may contain unknown ingredients and may be harmful to people and/or the environment, and may be banned for use in the United States.

Consumers should pay close attention to the pesticides that they use in and around their homes. These illegal pesticides can easily make their way into New York City stores and markets. An easy way to tell if a product is likely to be legal: Its label must be in English. Labels can be bilingual, but English must be one of the languages. Second, it must have an EPA Registration or Establishment Number clearly on the front panel of the label. If you see a dead bug illustration, if the product is in another language, and you do not see EPA numbers, take a photo of the product, jot down the address where you found it and contact your EPA regional pesticides office.

Beware! Four of the most dangerous pesticides sold on the streets:

  1. Tres Pasitos (“Three Little Steps”) is a rodent poison produced in the Dominican Republic or Mexico. Swallowing even a very small amount of Tres Pasitos can be dangerous, especially to children, and can cause vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and death due to paralysis of the nervous system.  The active ingredient: Aldicarb, is not approved for use as a household pesticide in the U.S. because of its toxic effects on people and pets.
  2. “Cat be Unemployed” is a rodenticide from China. The active ingredient is brodifacoum, the most lethal of the second generation anticoagulants.  It is classified as extremely toxic, and the illegal product has 60 times more concentrated active ingredient than the maximum allowable in any registered U.S. product! It is highly lethal to children and pets. Just by touching it, (dermal exposure) it will easily penetrate intact skin.
  3. Insecticide chalk, also known as “Miraculous Chalk” or “Chinese Chalk” is sold in small stores or on the street for about $1 and looks like regular school or play chalk. Exposure to Deltamethrin, the active ingredient, can cause vomiting, stomach pains, convulsions, tremors, coma and death due to respiratory failure.
  4. Chinese Rodenticide containing Tetramethylenedisulfotetramine (TETS) is a highly lethal neurotoxic rodenticide. TETS is an odorless, tasteless, white powder that is potentially many times more toxic to humans than potassium cyanide and strychnine.  TETS exposure can cause seizures, coma, blindness and death.  Severe poisonings are usually fatal within three to 13 hours after consumption.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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Proper Cleaning Prevents Poisonings

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

Among the fondest memories of my childhood was the time that I spent at my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan. I loved walking through the city with such a rich history and unique architecture. Every time I visit the Island, I take a stroll through the old city and memory lane.

I remember one day, I must have been around 9 or 10. I attempted to help my grandmother in cleaning around the house. I wanted to make her proud of my efforts. So I started mixing some of the cleaning products under the misguided notion that “more is better.”  To this date, I still have a very vivid image of my cleaning experiment. I remember one of the liquid cleaners was a dark amber color that when you diluted it in water it would become white. The other was some sort of clear liquid. However, when I made my cleaning concoction, it turned into a bright red! I quickly flushed the cleaning potion down the toilet. It was a good thing that it didn’t explode, but who knows what chemical reaction occurred! I guess I will never find out, but that leads me to the real subject of this blog entry: how to prevent accidental poisonings and exposures to chemicals. The issue is very timely given that we are celebrating National Poison Prevention Week.

Here are some tips to prevent accidental poisonings:

  • At EPA we stress the fact that “the label is the law.” Read labels carefully and follow instructions when using household cleaning products and pesticides.
  • As I learned from my experience decades ago, mixing products will not make your house cleaner. In fact, mixing cleaning household cleaners and pesticides can be dangerous.
  • Always keep cleaning products away from children’s reach. If you are in the process of cleaning and you get a phone call or someone knocks on the door, don’t keep the cleaning products unattended. That can be an accidental poisoning waiting to happen.
  • Since most poisonings occur in the home, make sure that you household cleaners and pesticides are properly stored. We even have a checklist to help you in a room-by-room inspection to ensure safety.

So, if in spite of your best efforts, someone in your home becomes accidentally exposed to a toxic chemical, please call the National Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222. There are English and Spanish-speaking operators available round the clock anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Spring Pigeon Roosting Season is Fast Approaching: Humane Ways to Minimize Pigeon Damage and Risks

By Marcia Anderson

Pigeons in NYCPigeons, pigeons, everywhere. They are an integral part of New York City living, as common as yellow cabs and street vendors. Getting rid of all the pigeons is unrealistic and on the positive side, these birds perform valuable services in removing food waste and/or eating harmful insects. But urban pigeon problems can range from excessive noise to large quantities of excrement deposited on sidewalks, cars, and buildings.

When they roost in an area, pigeons leave behind feathers and nesting material, fleas and bird mites, and of course, most of all, they leave lots of droppings. Pigeon droppings are not only unsightly, they are also highly caustic and can wear down stone, degrade marble statues and building materials, corrode metal and car paint, and potentially threaten structural integrity. For example, pigeon excrement on gas station canopies can clog downspouts leading to their collapse during rainfall. The droppings are also unsanitary; they are high in nitrogen, and can grow fungus or bacteria. People can inhale the fungal spores and contract the lung disease histoplasmosis. Pigeons also carry salmonella, cryptococcosis, and other diseases.

If pigeons are a nuisance on your building here are a few tips to try:

Exclusion: A variety of products are available to prevent birds from loafing on ledges.

  • Inspect for nests, and remove them every two weeks. Focus on keeping pigeons out of buildings and other spaces.
  • Screen all soffit vents and other potential entry points with rust-proof wire mesh.
  • Keep pigeons off ledges by covering them with a sloping piece of plastic or sheet metal. The bird slope is a humane method to discourage roosting of birds on buildings and ledges. As the name suggests, the triangular-shaped item made of heavy plastic attaches to gutters or ledges with the slope facing outward. The bird slope leaves birds without any way to roost or land on the building.
  • Nonelectric products include spikes, coils, and wires. They are easily installed and have a high rate of success. Bird spikes are placed on building ledges and gutters with the spikes spaced closely together leaving birds with no place to roost or land. They are made of heavy plastic, resemble toothpicks and work on flat or curved surfaces. This device is also a humane way to prevent roosting pigeons.
  • Electric products employ nonlethal electric pulses to discourage birds from roosting. These devices may be powered through plugging the charger into an electrical outlet or by solar panels that charge a battery.
  • Light Mylar streamers and raptor silhouettes move easily in the wind and temporarily scare off birds. However, pigeons can quickly grow accustomed to them.
Habitat Modification: The best way to control pigeon populations is through the removal of food, water and roosting sites.

Solutions that either don’t work or are potentially dangerous to non-target wildlife:

  • Loud noises are more likely to annoy neighbors than pigeons. City birds are used to city noises and don’t seem to startle easily.
  • Ultrasonic noises: ultrasonic sound waves bounce off objects, creating spots where pigeons can avoid the sound, plus they may damage the hearing of cats and dogs.
  • Pigeon poisons and chemical repellents are available, but they can kill or sicken other birds or animals.
  • Sticky repellents are not recommended. Other birds may come into contact with the repellent, which may impair their ability to fly or stay warm if the product comes into contact with their feathers.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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