Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me…..

By Marcia Anderson

Summer is a glorious time for an outdoor family BBQ.  Those interested in nature can watch all of the animal families busily foraging for food. Rest assured it won’t be long until you hear the familiar buzz of house flies.

Adult house fly. Image: David Cappaert

Adult house fly.
Image: David Cappaert

The good news is that house flies cannot bite, unlike mosquitoes, because their mouth is no more than a spongy pad. The bad news is that one landed right on my macaroni salad. Like most people, I shooed the fly away and went back to eating. However, I pushed the food that the fly touched to the side of my plate and did not eat it. I also washed my hands when I went inside for there is no way to know where that fly had been, and where else it had landed.

Why am I so paranoid over a fly you ask? Because a house fly potentially carries twice as many pathogens as a cockroach, and they transmit infectious bacteria at levels high enough to be a significant public health risk. As a matter of fact, many common infectious diseases, ranging from food poisoning to respiratory infections, are transmitted by house flies. Some of the most common diseases spread by the house fly are typhoid fever, tuberculosis, dysentery, food poisoning, and diphtheria, all of which can be serious if not treated promptly.

The University of Florida recently found even more pathogens transmitted by house flies. The bodies of healthy people can usually isolate and fight off numerous pathogens before they become a problem. However, these same pathogens are a serious health risk to many people with developing or compromised immune systems, including infants, young children, senior citizens and those recuperating from illness. For me, ingesting a potentially harmful pathogen is just not worth the risk.

Since they do not bite, exactly how do house flies transmit diseases? House flies pick up pathogens from a wide range of feeding places such as organic matter, feces, fruits, vegetables, meat, and open wounds, just to name a few. At first, the fly regurgitates saliva and digestive juices onto their food then sponges up the solution. Their saliva actually liquefies their food. This way of feeding allows flies to contaminate large amounts of food.

Head of an adult house fly. Image: Pest and Disease Library; Bugwood.org

Head of an adult house fly.
Image: Pest and Disease Library; Bugwood.org

A house fly needs only a few seconds to contact a pathogen source in order to transport it elsewhere.  Sometimes, only a few microbes attached to the flies’ body, legs, or mouthparts can cause a serious disease. For all of these reasons, fly control needs to be taken seriously. You do not need a lot of flies to contaminate food sources, hence the need to heed health department requirements in school kitchens and restaurants. Limiting fly contact with food, utensils, food preparation areas, and people is an important part of hygiene.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the smart, sensible approach to controlling flies and other pests.  IPM is not a single pest control method but rather involves multiple control tactics based on the biology of the pest and site information. Consequently, every IPM program is customized to the pest prevention goals of the situation. Successful IPM programs use a tiered tactics that include: proper pest identification and monitoring; pest prevention through cultural controls such as sanitation; maintenance that eliminates entry points and food/water sources; pest control devices; and pesticides, as needed.

First, focus on pest prevention through exclusion. If flies cannot get into an eating area, they will not be a problem. Providing barriers, such as screens on doors and windows, nets, self-closing doors, and sealing cracks that provide entry points create a good first line of defense. Even air curtains (fans blowing air down over a doorway) will keep them out.

Next take up sanitation. Garbage should be placed in plastic bags and held in containers with tight-fitting lids. It should not be allowed to accumulate. Reducing the sources that attract flies, such as pet excrement, soiled baby or adult diapers that have not been discarded properly is key to IPM and fly prevention. Open piles of compost, animal manure, garbage, lawn clippings, decaying vegetables, fruits, and dead animals are also breeding sites and pathogen sources for flies.

For flies, the larval stage is the easiest to control. If breeding sites can be eliminated, the lifecycle of the fly can be broken, thus preventing more adult flies.

After sanitation and maintenance, there are devices that can assist in fly control. They include ultraviolet light, air curtains on doors, inverted cone traps that contain attractants, and the old fashioned fly swatter.

Penn State University offers an informative fact sheet on house fly control to help you get started. Once you’ve taken on the fly management challenge, you can enjoy your next meal without the buzz of these troublesome pests.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Pipe Dreams: Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

by Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

Standing Sewage in Lowndes County, Alabama

Raw sewage outside a home in Lowndes County, Alabama (source: http://eji.org/node/629)

When most of us think or speak about people who lack access to adequate drinking water and wastewater treatment — if we think or speak of them at all– it usually brings to mind folks in developing countries half way across the globe. Just as an upcoming United Nations Summit on development goals seeks to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” we want the people of those countries to have the basic human rights that we may take for granted daily at our taps and toilets. Unfortunately, we often overlook communities in our own backyard who lack access to clean water and sanitation.

Here in the United States, communities that lack access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation can be found in colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border, in rural Alaska Native Villages, in Appalachia, and in the Black Belt of the southern U.S. In EPA’s Sustainable Communities Branch of the Office of Wastewater Management, we focus on these communities.

Last year, we visited Willisville, a small, historic, rural community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia, considered one of the wealthiest counties in America. Yet in unincorporated Willisville, many of its largely low income, African-American families lived without indoor plumbing, relying instead on privies and outhouses, and drawing their water from shallow wells, as their ancestors had done since the community’s founding just after the Civil War. In 1998, the Loudoun County Health Department found that the majority of homes in Willisville had inadequate drinking water supplies, and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Additionally, the poor soil quality was not compatible with the installation of traditional septic systems, while more costly alternative systems were out of the price range of residents.

Bringing adequate infrastructure to Willisville had presented funding, planning, and installation challenges. In 2007, a joint venture of the County, the local water authority, and the community, provided an on-site community wastewater collection and treatment system that replaced outhouses and failing drain fields. The County covered most of the cost of connecting homes to the system, drilling new wells, and adding bathrooms, kitchen sinks, and washing-machine hookups. Yet even with these improvements, additional challenges remained. Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes, for example, would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, due to the determination of key individuals, Willisville residents were able to work with the County and nonprofit organizations to modify the tax base to allow residents to afford the new services.

Unfortunately, the situation that had plagued Willisville can be seen in other communities around the country.

Take for example, Lowndes County, Alabama, a mostly rural minority community with a 27 percent poverty rate. In 2002, it was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or were using an inadequate one. In addition, 50 percent of the existing septic systems did not work properly. The community had been built on highly impermeable clay soils that do not quickly absorb water, making installing sophisticated and advanced septic systems very cost prohibitive. It was not uncommon to see raw sewage in fields, yards, and ditches. Inadequate wastewater management became a public health hazard and an environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. In 2011, the situation was the subject of a United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry.

In 2010, EPA entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management plan for rural Lowndes County. The grant demonstrates the use of affordable or new technologies in an effort to address the inadequate disposal of raw sewage in Lowndes County. The grant not only signifies an important first step to improving the area’s basic sanitation services, but it provides a model to help protect water quality and human health in this community and others around the country.

Most people living in the United States enjoy access to safe water and sanitation. Yet, there are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County for which the opposite is true. Providing funding and technical assistance to underserved communities can help them tackle the complex issues of improving their water and wastewater infrastructure. But it’s not a task that can be undertaken by a single individual. These efforts will require multi-stakeholder engagement and the collaboration of public, private, and academic partnerships with the affected communities to achieve environmental justice. We’ve seen the success first hand, and we know it’s possible.

Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.