pests

When in Florida, Use Integrated Pest Management

As part of the Office of Pesticide Programs’ annual tour of South Central Florida agriculture, several coworkers and I recently visited several farms and beekeeping facilities. We also observed pest control efforts. While every stop taught me something new about agriculture, food production, and pest management, I found myself most intrigued by the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques used by farmers and local governments.

Integrated Pest Management can be used in any situation where pest control is needed – from growing crops to controlling bedbugs. Simply put, IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.

How are Floridians using IPM?  Here are some examples from our trip:

  • Barn owls control rodents: The University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Center
    A University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Center owl box ready to be stationed at a farm.

    A University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Center owl box ready to be stationed at a farm.

    encourages the use of barn owls to control rodent populations in farm fields.  By constructing owl boxes near farms, owls move in to feed on the rodents that frequent farms.  This effort has allowed farmers to reduce the use of rodenticides.

  • Release of grass carp to control invasive plants.  Photo courtesy of the Lee County Hyacinth Control District

    Release of grass carp to control invasive plants. Photo courtesy of the Lee County Hyacinth Control District

    Fish to control weeds: The Lee County Hyacinth Control District’s biological program utilizes grass carp in some of the county’s storm water canals and ponds in a controlled fashion to deal with invasive aquatic vegetation. The carp are used in conjunction with chemical and mechanical techniques to keep excessive plant growth from taking over public waterways, disrupting the ecosystem and making boat navigation difficult.

  • The pesky mosquito: The Lee County Mosquito Control District uses a variety of techniques to control mosquito populations and prevent the spread of disease. Community outreach and education programs are an important part of LCMCD’s work.  By teaching the community simple ways to make their homes and yards less mosquito-friendly, the county as a whole is taking part in IPM.  LCMCD’s tips include: irrigate lawns to prevent standing water, stock ornamental ponds with fish so they can eat mosquito eggs, and change outdoor pet water bowls regularly to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs.

Prior to visiting these sites, I was most familiar with IPM when it came to schools, thanks to our IPM in Schools webinar series.  But, as you can see, IPM opportunities are everywhere, from farms to waterways.  It’s likely that your community, and mine, are benefiting from common sense IPM approaches to pest management, whether we realize it or not!

About the author: Colleen Keltz is new to the world of pesticides at EPA, but not new to EPA.  After spending some time working on the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), she’s now focused on increasing her pesticide knowledge as part of the Office of Pesticide Programs’ communications team.

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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Want Kids to Do Better in School? This Environmental Approach Can Help

Schools are busy places, with bustling schoolyards, kitchens full of lunchboxes and trays, and kids and adults who constantly come and go. These busy environments can sometimes have pest problems that need to be addressed – like flies, spiders, yellow jackets, roaches and ants, for example.

As a parent, I know how important it is to me that my kids and their classmates have a healthy environment to learn, thrive and grow. Unhealthy school environments – including poor air quality — can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance. Pest exposure can also trigger asthma, which can cause kids to miss class and a chance to learn.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Fix-a-leak to Keep Pests Out!

By Marcia Anderson

While on an inspection of a school, I walked into a kitchen, flicked on the light switch, and  several cockroaches went scurrying back to their hiding places. We discovered that the cockroaches were flourishing due to water collecting under the refrigerator, a valve leak under the sink, and grease that had collected under the oven.

Did you know that water leaks can cause pest problems in homes, schools, and businesses? Most people are unaware of the association between plumbing problems and pests, but the fact is that the two are intertwined. If you have a leak, it will attract pests.  To get rid of pests, and keep them from coming back, you have to deprive them their basic survival needs: food, water, shelter. Did you know that German cockroaches can survive a couple of weeks without food, but they will die within a few days if they do not have access to moisture?

Where do pests get their water? Take a close look around your home for plumbing leaks in the laundry room, under the kitchen sink, below the dishwasher, and around all your bathroom fixtures. If you notice rust around your drain, fixtures, or valves, that is a clue that moisture is going where it shouldn’t be.  Cockroaches and other pests find drinking water in leaky pipes, dripping faucets, and gaps around pipes.  Fix leaky faucets by replacing worn washers in the kitchen sink and bathroom areas, and ventilate moist areas.  Remember that pests, such as cockroaches, like it damp. A leaky sink trap can create a moist pest paradise under your kitchen cabinets.

Sometimes plumbing leaks are due to old shut-off valves that are located under and behind the sink. Those need to be replaced because if the problem is ignored, what could have been a simple repair could develop into a bug oasis.

In the bathroom, make sure that there is a good seal around the water pipes where they enter the room from the wall. A good caulk seal assures that even the smallest insects can’t enter. Check grout around bathtubs and toilets. A poor seal around a bathtub can allow water into the surrounding floor and walls, and if the wax ring around the bottom of a toilet isn’t sealing properly, you could create a watering hole for critters every time you flush.

Be PestWise! Regular maintenance such as fixing leaks, are key components of a smart, sensible, and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. Drip, drip, drip goes the faucet … stopping those drips saves water, helps the environment, and protects you from pests. For more information on controlling pests in your home, school, or business visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/dosanddonts.htm

About the author: Marcia Anderson is with the Center of Expertise for School Integrated Pest Management in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Management at Montclair State University. Marcia supports the Center’s efforts to promote a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control in the Nation’s schools.

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

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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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Are We Planet-Friendly?

By Lina Younes

During the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, everywhere we look we find messages and merchandise

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urging us to share our love with family, friends, significant others and even with our pets. But, on this special day and other days of the year, are we truly showing our appreciation to the Planet? Are we making sure that we don’t litter and that we conserve Mother Earth’s precious natural resources?

How about some simple things that we can do at home, at work, or in our community to protect our earthly home? Here are some suggestions:

  • Are you planning to buy a Valentine’s Day card today? Make sure it was made with recycled materials or even save more resources by sending an electronic card instead!
  • Reduce wastes and recycle the 365 days of the year.
  • We can’t live without water so don’t waste it! Close the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth. Take shorter showers instead of baths. Use WaterSense products to use water more efficiently.
  • Save energy in the home by using a programmable thermostat. Use EnergyStar appliances. These energy-efficient appliances save you energy and money and protect the Planet, too.
  • Combine your daily errands to save gas. Give your car a break and take public transportation.
  • In the spring, how about planting a tree? Planting trees will improve air quality and give you shade in the summer months.
  • Want to avoid problems with pests at home? Don’t give them anything to eat, drink, or shelter. These integrated pest management techniques will go a long way to create a healthier home environment for you and your family.
  • We’ve all heard the expression “cleanliness is next to godliness.” A clean home is essential for good health. So why don’t we use the greenest chemicals that are safer for us AND the Planet? Check out those with the Design for the Environment label. They perform well, they are cost-effective, and safer for the environment, too.
  • Do you want more additional Planet-Friendly tips to show your appreciation of Mother Earth? Visit our website .

Would you like to send us your green tips? We look forward to your comments on this blog or through our social media pages at Facebook and Twitter.  Looking forward to hearing from you.

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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Attic Squirrels

By Amy Miller

Honey, come quick, I called.
What, what is it?
Just come listen.

We listened. We waited. They scratched. And scratched. We looked at each other. And we knew. These were no mice, these were squirrels. Or raccoons. Or some animal that would laugh at a mousetrap.

By the next day the scratching had stopped.

Our neighbor was not so lucky. For months she tried traps and barriers to get rid of her squirrels. She paid experts. And in the end she had to chainsaw nine-tenths of the branches off her giant pine trees to eliminate the bridges the squirrels were using to her rooftop.

My friend’s mother also wasn’t so lucky. All the boxes stored in her attic fell apart because squirrels apparently munched on the glue holding the boxes together.

According to one web site, about 15,000 home fires each year are caused by squirrels and other rodents chewing on wiring. (Yes, a squirrel is a rodent).

While it’s not so hard to find a squirrel or its nest on a roof, once they are inside the house they will win the game of hide-and-seek hands down.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is one of the most common pests. At 16 to 18 inches and weighing about a pound, they get in through small holes that they gnaw wider. They bring nesting material with them and make noise scurrying around storing their nuts, seeds, fungi or fruit. They may fall down the chimney or down a wall from the attic and get stuck.

A survey of web sites makes it clear that solving this problem is no picnic. You can try trapping them, locking them out, or quickly sealing up holes if you know they are out to get lunch and water.
I heard one story of a mother squirrel and her babies that camped out in an attic, but when the babies grew up they all left on their own, taking up residence in a new nest in a nearby tree.

Be warned, if someone recommends using mothballs, forget it; it’s illegal. The EPA allows moth balls for moths and caterpillers only. This is because moth balls are toxic to humans and pets.

EPA tells landlords that if squirrels are in a house, the tenants should be told of integrated pest management techniques, and advised to fix screens, remove clutter and eliminate wood piles. In addition, holes should be patched with pest-resistant materials and mesh should be used to cover air intake and exhaust vents.

I wonder what tricks others have used to get rid of their squirrels.

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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, seven chickens, two parakeets, 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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Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

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 Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

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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Winter Tips: An Uninviting Home

By Lina Younes

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As the winter season is about to begin, many of us wish to create a warm and welcoming home environment for our family and friends. However, there are some little creatures we don’t want to roll out the welcome mat for, however they are attempting to seek refuge in our houses at this very moment.  What creatures am I referring to? The unwanted ones! Common household pests like rodents, creepy crawling bugs and the like.

So how can we prevent these pests from settling in your home? What can you do to prevent an infestation?

  • Tip number one: Set up barriers so pests cannot get into your house or apartment.

As temperatures start to drop, pests are looking for warm places to survive the cold months. Close off places where they can enter and hide. Seal around the doors and install door sweeps to prevent them from coming in through the bottom of the door. Caulk cracks and crevices around cabinets or baseboards. Use steel wool to fill spaces around pipes. Cover any holes with wire mesh.

  • Tip number two: Remove clutter such as stacks of paper, newspapers, magazines and boxes.

Clutter is a very appealing refuge for unwanted pests. Cluttered items create a warm setting where these pests can camp out and multiply during the cold winter months.

  • Tip number three: Don’t give these pests any food or water.

While I highly doubt that we purposely want to serve these unwanted creatures a meal at our table, we might not be aware that the crumbs, spills, or dirty dishes that we leave overnight in the kitchen sink serve basically as pest magnets while we are in deep slumber!

  • Tip number four: Fix leaky plumbing. Don’t let water accumulate anywhere in your home.

Water from leaky plumbing, plant trays, and even pet dishes attracts pests like rodents, cockroaches and other bugs. Moisture coming from leaks can also produce mold which causes a whole different set of health issues.

Hope these simple tips help you to create an unwelcoming setting for pests. Frankly, if they find a more welcoming environment, they simply will go elsewhere for the winter or any time of year.

If in spite of all your best efforts, you still have a bug problem? Use pesticide products wisely and always, read the label first!

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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Stink Bug Dilemma

By Amy Miller

The family is getting ready for a good game of Fastrack. It’s a bit like air hockey, but smaller and quicker. It’s one of the few things that will district us all from computers, TV, the iPod touch or cellulars.

And then a half-inch long, shield-shaped bug appears. “It’s a stink bug,” Lane and Benjamin proclaim.

My daughter forbids me to kill it. Our family is inconsistent on the looming moral question of whether killing an insect constitutes killing. But the problem here is not so high-minded. The problem is that my daughter says the bug will, well, stink to high holy heck if we kill it.

“Why do you think they call it that!” Lane demands, asking that exasperated rhetorical question that is a teenager’s main tool for communication.

Well, I have no idea, I dared not say.

But later, in the quiet after bedtimes, I scanned the web for information.

Turns out these bugs stink when they are scared, smushed, dead, annoyed, or slightly inconvenienced. And especially when they are collected in a vacuum cleaner. They are annoying homeowners in more US states than not these days. They are not native to this country and have only been around since someone or something coming from Asia brought them to Pennsylvania in the 90’s. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the bugs moved from Pennsylvania to most other parts of the country. They apparently got to Texas on an R.V.

Warm weather the last year allowed two separate generations of bugs to breed this year making the whole stinky mess worse. Stink bugs are not a threat to property or health, but do threaten agriculture.

Hundreds of stink bugs in your home is not a pretty sight, though. Instead of killing them, you are better off doing what I did – coaxing the little bugger onto a magazine and carefully carrying it to the doorstep to be tossed into the wind.

And if you didn’t notice, this is the time of year stink bugs move indoors. Soon they will be in hibernation until spring. But for now, the bugs — officially called “brown marmorated stink bugs” — are enjoying our digs.

There are researchers looking at how someday a tiny parasitic wasp from Asia might reduce the stink bug population. This, of course, did me little good when my 10-year-old son got in bed, found a stink bug on his sheets and declared that he could not sleep because of nightmares of invading stink bugs.

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, seven chickens, two parakeets, 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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