Mr. Superfund

By Wanda Ayala

In the comic books we have fictional superheroes like Batman and Superman whose mission is to safeguard the people of Gotham or Metropolis, communities that are similar to where many of us work or live. Here, in our Region 2 offices, we have our own hero. His name is Walter Mugdan, head of our Emergency and Remedial Response Division, and I call him “Mr. Superfund.” He is part of a great team of people dedicated to public service, many of whom started when the Agency was young (so were they!) as part of a movement that was taking place in our society to ensure that we safeguarded our people and our nation from the consequences of pollution. Mr. Superfund knows and explains to others that EPA is not just about consolidating authority over environmental issues, but that we work to establish standards for industry and life that directly and indirectly affect public health and our overall well-being. Having an EPA means the concerns over the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the ground that we walk on are reduced because our environment is being protected and maintained.

Walter Mugdan addresses Newtown Creek Superfund Site Community Advisory Group in Brooklyn, NY

Walter Mugdan addresses Newtown Creek Superfund Site Community Advisory Group in Brooklyn, NY

 

About the Author: Wanda Ayala is a community involvement coordinator in New York City.

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.

Confronting Plastic Pollution One Bag at a Time

By Marcia Anderson

Plastic bags are inexpensive, lightweight, durable and made of plastic, which does not readily biodegrade. Much of the plastic ever made still exists. Worldwide, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used each year and less than 5 percent of plastic is recycled. In the United States, according to the EPA, we use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, requiring 12 million barrels of oil to create.

1.Turtle ingesting plastic. Photo: Ron Prendergast, Melbourne Zoo

1. Turtle ingesting plastic.
Photo: Ron Prendergast, Melbourne Zoo

The big problem with many of these plastic bags is that we are not disposing of them properly. You can find them littering parks, roadsides, and parking lots. When it rains, storm sewers, sewer overflows, and drainage outflows transport litter to rivers which eventually carry the plastic into lakes or oceans. In addition, plastic collects water and can become a breeding site for mosquitoes and other pests. Did you know that it takes just one bottle cap of water for mosquitoes to multiply?

Living on the Atlantic coast, I have become accustomed to plastic bag ordinances. From Washington, DC, to Portland, Maine and numerous coastal communities beyond, many understand the importance of keeping plastic bags from reaching the shore. On the West Coast, Portland, Seattle as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and 120 other California towns have plastic bag ordinances. In Texas, 11 communities, like Austin and Brownsville, ban single-use grocery bags. In addition, many mid-western communities have also followed suit.

When I am in New Jersey, I bring reusable bags to the market. So, as creature of habit, I do the same when I visit other communities further from the shore. One of the communities I regularly visit does not have a bag ordinance and it often seems like I am the only one who is using reusable grocery bags.  Yet, I recently have seen glimmers of hope.

2.Royal terns with plastic around its neck. Photo:  WaterEncyclopedia.com

2. Royal terns with plastic around its neck.
Photo: WaterEncyclopedia.com

Some stores now have signs in their parking lot: “Did you remember your reusable bags?” A few weeks ago, I noticed that some local people were catching on and bringing their reusable bags shopping – just like me. I later found that the local middle school had an Earth Day program to educate students on the dangers plastic bags pose to wildlife. The PTA asked a local store if it would donate reusable bags for each student to bring home. The store was happy to comply and parents are beginning to use them.

Why is it important to keep plastic bags away from our coasts and waterways? In the ocean, turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. The bags do not pass through the turtles’ digestive system and block their intestines. They die of starvation. Studies on dead turtles have found that more than 50 percent have plastic in their stomachs. Similarly, seabirds, fish and other marine critters also mistake pieces of plastic for food, or become entangled in plastic, leading to exhaustion, starvation and eventual death. And plastic bags are just as much a hazard for wildlife in interior lakes and waterways.

Are there other reasons to focus on the plastic bags? Most people do not realize that plastic pollution also costs them in the taxes they pay. Some urban communities spend over $1 million annually to remove litter, and plastic bags are a big part of the problem. So, do you reuse your plastic bags or just throw them away? More and more communities are charging 5-25 cents per plastic bag with some shore communities charging as much as $1 per bag. So when the clerk asks, “Do you want a bag?” you should seriously consider whether you really need it.

To learn more, visit: EPA’s Trash Free Waters  or NOAA’s Ten Things You Should Know About Marine Debris and the NOAA guide to marine debris and turning the tide on trash.

 

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.

A Changing Population – Turkestan Cockroach Overtakes the American Southwest… and Possibly NYC

By Marcia Anderson

New York City isn’t the only place seeing changes in its roach population. (See Immigrant Cockroach found in NYC) In southwestern U.S. cities, the Turkestan cockroach (Blatta lateralis) is thought to be displacing the common oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis). Now that they are permanent residents of the Southwest, they can join in the rodeo fun like their cockroach cousins in the 1996 film Joe’s Apartment.

The most unusual thing about this immigrant to the southwestern US is that they are being spread via the Internet. The Turkestan cockroach is popular as live food among reptile breeders and can be easily bought and sold online. As a matter of fact, “this may be the first time that an invasive urban pest species is widely distributed via the Internet through the sale of live insects,” according to University of California-Riverside scientists Tina Kim & Michael Rust in their 2013 Journal of Economic Entomology article. So beware New Yorkers, they can easily be sent to a location near you.

Good to the last bite. Turkestan cockroaches clean up dinner dishes. (Photo: Angela Simental, nmsu.edu)

Good to the last bite. Turkestan cockroaches clean up dinner dishes.
(Photo: Angela Simental, nmsu.edu)

The Turkestan cockroach is also known as the rusty red cockroach or the red runner cockroach. It is a close cousin of the Oriental cockroach. It is primarily an outdoor insect, not known as an aggressive indoor pest, unlike some cockroach species such as the German and American cockroaches. “They typically inhabit in-ground containers such as water meter, irrigation, and electrical boxes, raises of concrete, cracks and crevices, and hollow block walls,” remark Kim and Rust.

This new cockroach is primarily an outdoor-dwelling native to an area from northern Africa to Central Asia. The species is distributed through the Caucasus Mountains, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, northeastern Africa; Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

The Turkestan cockroach first appeared in the U.S. in 1978 near a California military base.  This was followed by other discoveries near bases in Texas and other locations.  By 2001, they had spread to Los Angeles and, in 2005, infestations were noticed in Georgia. Researchers Kim and Rust believe the species may have arrived in the U.S. on military equipment returning from Asia or Afghanistan.

We may be looking at a demographic shift in the U.S. roach population. Turkestan cockroaches have been rapidly replacing the common Oriental cockroach in urban areas of the southwestern US. The Turkestan cockroach nymphs have a shorter developmental period, and the adult female produce considerably more eggs than do Oriental cockroaches. With a faster life cycle and larger broods, the Turkestan cockroach is outlaying and displacing its Oriental cockroach cousins in many locations.

No need to feel sorry for the Oriental cockroach. Remember that the U.S. is a country of immigrants. The American cockroach is believed to have entered the U.S. from Africa with the slave trade and the Oriental cockroach was believed to have come from the Middle East.

Let’s put this whole cockroach immigration into perspective. There are roughly 4,500 cockroach species worldwide, and only about 70 in the U.S. Correction – make that about 71!  Of all of these cockroaches, only about two percent are pests. For all their creepiness, the majority of cockroaches do little actual harm. They can even be considered beneficial outdoors. They are scavengers that recycle dead animals and vegetable material, and aerate the soil.  Thus, they provide an important ecological cleansing and fertilization service.

Roaches are really smart. Perhaps that’s why they are constantly trying to get into schools, homes, and other places.  How else do you think that they were able to survive for 300 million years, outliving the dinosaurs and surviving multiple mass extinction events?

They are highly adaptable to hot and cold. Plus, they have a special tolerance for many toxic chemicals. They survive some chemical and pesticide exposures and live to tell the tale. For instance, they can detect the application of a pesticide, decide they don’t like it, and make a decision to avoid it in the future. They can do that because they are equipped with fat bodies – pockets of enzymes. (That’s the white gooey stuff that gets on your shoes when you step on one.) These enzymes can detoxify some pesticides, so the roaches can go on living. They can also pass on their tolerance to their offspring. Thus, they can easily build up a resistance through only a few generations making some pesticides ineffective after a relatively short time. This resistance certainly keeps the pesticide industry busy developing new controls for cockroaches, and building better roach traps. See why roaches are so hard to eliminate. 

2.Male (a) and female (b) Turkestan cockroaches. (Photo: R. McLeod, tamu.edu)

Male (a) and female (b) Turkestan cockroaches. (Photo: R. McLeod, tamu.edu)

Still concerned about a roach invasion into your neighborhood? Until recently, efforts to suppress cockroach populations in the urban environment have relied almost exclusively on repeated applications of pesticides. This approach has become increasingly less popular, primarily due to the development of multi-chemical resistance among cockroach populations and increased public concern about pesticide exposure in their living environments. These two issues have greatly emphasized the need for a more holistic and prevention-based approach to cockroach management.

Prevent cockroaches from taking over your school, home or office. You can do a lot to prevent a cockroach invasion by following an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Cockroaches are most easily managed by means of exclusion (preventing their entry) and sanitation (eliminating their food, water and shelter). Not only will these measures prevent a future infestation, they will also help to reduce an existing cockroach problem. If the preceding measures do not solve the problem to your satisfaction, you can incorporate cockroach baits and traps. For infestations, having a pest management professional provide IPM-based advice is a wise decision and may save time and money, and prevent the unnecessary use of pesticides. More on cockroach IPM in part 2 of this series.

 

For information, see EPA’s Cockroaches & Schools webpage and the University of California’s cockroach guidelines webpage.  You can also read an earlier blog on another invasive cockroach.

 

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.

The Road Less Traveled

By Natalie Loney

I was headed back to our regional offices in New York City after a community meeting in Ithaca, New York. Being a city dweller and completely unfamiliar with the area, I relied exclusively on the modern day roadmap, my trusty GPS. While driving, I listened intently to the robotic audio as she directed me to, “turn right at the next intersection” and to “bear left” where the road divided. Within minutes of leaving downtown Ithaca, I found myself driving along a quiet two-lane country road. The road twisted and turned as it steadily climbed up the side of one of the large hills of the Finger Lake region. The GPS voice was silent as I drove on. I passed very few houses and my view of the area was blocked by dense forest on either side of the road. Needless to say, I was completely out of my urban comfort zone. When I finally came to a clearing, I stopped the car. Before me lay an incredible view of a wide expanse of meadow, sloping down into a valley with hills in the background. I actually got out of the vehicle to marvel at the view. There were no sounds of horns blaring or sirens screeching, just a blue cloudless sky and that view. I have no idea where the GPS led me, but on that day, choosing the road less traveled made all the difference.

Rolling hills outside Ithaca, NY

Rolling hills outside Ithaca, NY

About the Author: Natalie Loney is a community involvement coordinator in New York City. She has been in Public Affairs since 1995.

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.

Fall Can be a Batty Time for Schools

By Marcia Anderson

Just as children around the nation are back in school in the early fall, so are bats. Autumn is the time when many North American bats are beginning their trek south to overwinter in Mexico and Central America. Many schools are located along bat migration routes, so every fall, bats attempt to use them as rest stops.

Image: National Park Service

Image: National Park Service

Bats are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and economies. Some bats are primary pollinators of fruits and other produce. They spend their nights eating pests — mosquitoes, moths, as well as termites, ants and roaches in flight. A single Mexican freetail bat or little brown bat can eat 3,000 mosquito-sized insects per night. Their prey is easily found in open grasslands, parks, and school yards where insects are abundant. During the day, bats prefer to roost in tight crevices such as cracks in rocks, under exfoliating tree bark, and in awnings of buildings. Bats can enter buildings through openings as small as one-half inch in diameter.

One city’s high school experienced an annual bat problem. The building was over 100 years old, and every fall over 3,000 bats would spend time in the halls, classrooms, kitchen, and, primarily, the auditorium. The bats would fly in at dawn and exit at dusk at several sites scattered across the building. The custodians would go to work at 5 a.m., running nets through the school to capture the bats and release them outdoors. They would catch as many as they could before the start of the school day.

Then in 2005, the district began implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. As the program got underway, the facilities management team soon began to understand how the bats were entering the building. As with preventing other pests that enter schools, exclusion was part of the IPM process that needed to be implemented. An 80-foot lift allowed staff to get high enough to seal the openings where the bats were entering.

2.Little brown bat Image: Marvin Moriarty, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Little brown bat Image: Marvin Moriarty, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Over the next three years, there was a significant decrease in the number of bats entering the school. By 2010, only one or two bats would find their way into the building when someone on the 3rd or 4th floor would accidently leave a window open. The good news for the bats was that the district had the foresight to place bat houses on the roof of the school so the bats would have a place to rest, undisturbed, on their long journey south.

A related problem the school had to deal with was the bat guano deposited in the attic spaces above classrooms. There are health hazards associated with bat guano, such as Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungus which, if inhaled, can develop into a serious respiratory disease. Guano also needs to be removed from interior structures to avoid attracting other pests such as cockroaches and flies. A professional hazardous waste cleanup company was hired to remove the bat guano.

In another part of the country, a school had hundreds of bats spend an entire season adjacent to their gymnasium. The bats found a perfect roosting space between the gutter and the building that ran for 500 linear feet. The void was about four inches high and ¾ inches wide, in a very high location, and inaccessible to predators – a perfect spot for bats. The local health department shut down the gym. The guano that collected on the ground below the bats had to be swept up daily. Some, however, fell inside the gym wall void. The facilities staff applied an enzyme inside of the wall void to neutralize any pathogens in the guano. To solve the problem, the school removed the gutter, installed flashing, and then reinstalled the gutter. This bat incident cost the district over $250,000.

Yet another school had an overhang 30 feet off of the ground that the bats loved. To keep them from roosting, the facilities staff filled the voids, added metal panels, and sealed the seams.

Got bats in your school? Don’t panic. They’re rarely aggressive. Do warn students not to pet, catch, comfort, kick, or shoo them away, as some bats carry rabies. Teach them to stay back and notify a teacher or staff member.

Exclusion is an essential step in IPM. Close all potential bat entry points using sealant, weather stripping, flashing, or heavy-duty ¼-inch hardware cloth. Identify bat entry points by inspecting along roof lines and under gutters for rub marks – stains left by the oils and dirt rubbing off the bats’ hair. Also look on the ground for guano.

Before taking action, know the bat species involved. A few bats are federally protected, so it is important to comply with the law. There may be more than one bat species sharing a roost. Identification can also help if the district is considering building alternative housing for the bats. Each bat house should be appropriate for the species, large enough to hold several hundred bats, and placed away from students. Not all commercially available bat houses are suitable for North American bats. Bat Conservation International provides information on how to build, buy, and install a bat house. There are also free plans for bat houses available online. Install new bat houses a few weeks prior to the actual bat exclusion, to allow them time to find the new shelter.

Lastly, Texas A&M University provides good information on bat control in schools.

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.

Making a Visible Difference in Newburgh, New York

By Cecilia Echols

Between 1782 and 1783, General George Washington’s headquarters was housed in Newburgh, New York, a community with a picturesque view overlooking the Hudson River. Today, the headquarters is preserved as a landmark, while parts of Newburgh struggle to reclaim and rebuild themselves from harder times. Many community members living in the urban sections of the City of Newburgh continue to make inroads and strides to improve their quality of life.

EPA employees prepare for the meeting.

EPA employees prepare for the meeting.

Last week, a unique and important meeting took place at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. The City had to get the word out to discuss the issue of Perfluoroctane Sulfonate (PFOS), fluorinated organic chemicals, found in Washington Lake’s drinking water. Many people assisted in informing the public about this important meeting.

With “old school” boots-on-the-ground, door-to-door canvassing, emails and phone calls, “save the date” flyers, in English and Spanish, were distributed by the EPA, Riverkeeper and the 1199 Union, and area NGOs. The result of this extensive outreach effort – 250 concerned individuals showed up for the public meeting. Word of the meeting spread like wildfire!

The attendees drove, walked and carpooled. They came to the meeting strong, representing themselves as concerned citizens, as community-based organizations, as non-governmental organizations, as a local, state and or congressional staff, and just about every ethnic group you could imagine. They came committed to hear about the drinking water problem and solution. They asked questions to learn more about their drinking water, how it impacts them, their families and their community, and what they could do to help.

The speakers on the panel came from the City of Newburgh, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health, the Orange County Department of Health and Hudson and Riverkeeper.

The next public meeting to address the drinking water issue will take place on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 7pm at the Newburgh Armory Center 321 William Street, Newburgh, New York 12550.  We hope to see you there.

To learn more about PFOS and PFOA: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos

About the Author: For more than 20 years, Cecilia has worked on some of the most challenging Superfund sites in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is a long-time EPA employee and a resident of Brooklyn.

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.

Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets

By Marcia Anderson

Last week, a friend’s daughter was repeatedly stung by a yellow jacket during recess on her school playground. It was first thought that the children must have disturbed a nest while playing and that the wasp focused on one girl in particular. The playground monitor tried swatting it, but it kept coming back. She was stung three times. We later found that she was wearing a sweet smelling body lotion that may have drawn the attention of the wasp.

Avoidance: The best way to prevent unpleasant encounters with social wasps, such as yellow jackets, is to avoid them. If there is a chronic problem with yellow jackets around playgrounds, picnic areas, or athletic fields, inspect the area to locate the nests. Once you know where they are, have children avoid their nesting places. Avoid swatting and squashing yellow jackets because it is counterproductive. When a yellow jacket is squashed, a chemical (pheromone) is released that attracts and incites nearby yellow jackets. Avoid wearing bright colors, especially yellow, or floral patterns that may attract some foraging yellow jackets. Lastly, minimize the use of products with perfumes such as sweet smelling shampoos, lotions or soaps, as yellow jackets are attracted to sweet smells.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Stings and Symptoms: Yellow jacket stings pose a more serious threat to people than stings of bees. Because a yellow jacket’s stinger is not barbed like a honey bee stinger, it can repeatedly sting its victim, whereas a bee can only sting once. It can be very frightening to be the victim of multiple yellow jacket stings. The first impulse may be to run away, however the best strategy is to back slowly away from the colony until they stop attacking. Some people are more sensitive than others to stings due to allergic reactions. People who experience large numbers of stings at once, may suffer severe reactions to the inflammatory substances in the insect’s venom.

Yellow jackets that are foraging for food will usually not sting unless physically threatened, such as being struck or swatted. Multiple stings from yellow jackets are common because they are sensitive to disturbance and aggressive in defense of their nests. Sometimes merely coming near a nest, especially if it has been disturbed previously, can provoke an attack. Since problems with yellow jackets are most common in the fall, parents, teachers and school staff should be provided with this information soon after school opens.

Reduce Their Food Sources: In early fall, a yellow jacket’s food preference turns to sweets such as sugary drinks, ice cream, and fruit. Their behavior also turns more aggressive and they are more willing to sting. Since garbage is a prime foraging and hunting site for yellow jackets, garbage containers should have tight fitting lids and be regularly cleaned of food waste. Otherwise, the garbage (and the flies around it) becomes a food source for yellow jackets.

Repair windows screens and caulk holes in siding to prevent yellow jackets and other flying insects from entering the building. Playground and building inspections for pests should be conducted monthly to ensure that developing nests are found and removed before they become problematic.

Read more from the University of Florida on yellow jacket and wasp control.  Also check out EPA’s resources on smart, sensible and sustainable pest management in schools.

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.

Being Really Smart About Septic Systems!

By Kristina Heinemann

New York State Center for Clean Water Technology

This week is EPA’s national Septic Smart Week.  Septic Smart Week is an annual event designed to raise awareness and actions that protect both the environment and public health from septic systems that don’t function well. There are all sorts of things households can do to optimize performance of onsite septic systems and prevent some of the common causes of septic failure.  See https://www.epa.gov/septic/septicsmart-homeowners. However in areas where nutrient pollution is a problem as it is in lake front communities and communities near estuarine waters we often need to consider innovative and advanced septic systems that do a better job at removing nutrients from household wastewater.

New York State Center for Clean Water Technology

New York State Center for Clean Water Technology

I want to use this year’s Septic Smart Week to highlight the work of the newly created New York State Center for Clean Water Technology located at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York (http://www.stonybrook.edu/cleanwater/). The work of the Center is a nationally unique resource poised to make significant contributions to the field of advanced onsite and decentralized wastewater treatment. As the Center itself says, their mission is to marshal “the best science and engineering to develop and commercialize innovative solutions that will protect our waters regionally, and beyond.” The Center brings a lot of brain power to the challenge of developing innovative and affordable onsite wastewater treatment systems that reduce nutrient, and in particular nitrogen pollution to groundwater and surface waters. Stony Brook graduate students along with Professors Harold Walker and Chris Gobler — Hal is a civil engineer and Chris is a marine scientist –  have a lot of knowledge and experience that they apply and will continue to apply to developing decentralized wastewater treatment solutions in watersheds sensitive to nutrient pollution. You can follow the work of the Center by signing up for their listserv at: http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/cleanwater/Listserv.html

I am pleased that we have this nationally unique resource right here in our own backyard!

Three of the Nature Conservancy Videos Explaining the Link Between Septic Systems and Nutrient Pollution on Long Island

Three of the Nature Conservancy Videos Explaining the Link Between Septic Systems and Nutrient Pollution on Long Island

For those who want know more about septic systems on Long Island and the effects of nitrogen pollution on ground and surface waters, the Long Island Chapter of the Nature Conservancy developed several excellent videos that educate and tell a compelling story about the importance of our water resources. See:  http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/places-preserves/long-island-water-quality-videos.xml and enjoy!

One in five U.S. homes have septic systems. Yours may be one of them. If your septic system is not properly maintained you may be risking your family’s health, hurting the environment, and flushing thousands of dollars down the drain. EPA’s SepticSmart initiative is a nation-wide public education effort with resources for homeowners, local organizations, and government leaders.

About the Author: Kristina is the Decentralized (Septic System) Wastewater Treatment Coordinator for EPA Region 2.  Kristina lives on Long Island, New York where she is the not so proud owner of two antiquated onsite wastewater disposal systems also known as cesspools.  Kristina looks forward to upgrading her septic system to an innovative and advanced onsite treatment system in the near future!

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.

An Elderly Tenant’s Path to Overcoming Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Lynne Gregory of EPA Region 2 recently shared with me a compelling story about Vivian, a 70-year-old retiree whose bed bug story began on September 11, 2001.

Vivian lived in a high-rise on the southern end of Manhattan, in close proximity to the World Trade Center. Her building felt the effects of the tragedy, as did she. Vivian was forced to move out of her residence for both structural and air quality reasons and was never able to return. As a result, she has had to move multiple times, with her most recent move into an apartment infested with bed bugs.

Like most people, Vivian did not notice the bed bugs when she moved in. It was the recurring bites that tipped her off.  She captured some for identification. While searching online for bed bug information, she found the EPA bed bug website along with a list of EPA regional employees to contact, for bed bug advice. She called Lynne and has been in regular contact with her for the past six months.

A proud woman, Vivian was ashamed to discuss the bed bug matter with others, but Lynne gained her confidence and has coached Vivian on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for bed bug control ever since. Vivian refuses to tell the landlord about the problem for fear of being blamed for bringing in the bugs. She was also ashamed of the amount of boxes and clutter in her apartment that resulted from all of her moves.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Informing the landlord is normally the first course of action when finding bed bugs, or any other pest in multifamily housing. However, elderly tenants like Vivian are often apprehensive that their landlords will become hostile toward them. They may fear eviction, fear having to throw out life-long possessions (a directive many landlords issue to tenants prior to allowing any pest treatments), and worry that they will be forced to pay to solve a problem they did not cause.

Vivian contacted the NY City Housing Department and her state senator to find out about the city’s bed bug laws and what, if any, tenant rights she had. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to assist her.

Despite the challenges, Lynne was determined to help her. First, Vivian was told to put encasements on her mattress and box springs to keep the bed bugs off them.  Next, she was coached to reduce the clutter in her apartment – a challenging task for anyone, let alone a 70-year-old woman with no assistance.  On Lynne’s advice, Vivian put all of her clothing in tightly sealed plastic bags and heat treated items in a dryer set on high. She began laundering bed linens weekly. During the past six months, Vivian has decluttered her apartment, one box at a time. She keeps only one or two of her most precious items, and has gotten rid of the items she no longer needed.

While Vivian had read online about the use of various products, including dusts and foggers, to help combat the bed bugs. She was advised against their use by her physician because of her health issues. It is advisable to only use EPA-registered pesticides labeled to control bed bugs and to use them according to their label directions.

EPA bed bug general card draft final 5-2-12Vivian also asked if bed bugs could bite through clothing and was told that they cannot. So, she mummies herself in a sheet at night to avoid being bitten. That strategy has actually been working superbly. She no longer gets bites at night. In addition, Vivian has been using a petroleum jelly as a barrier on her bed legs to prevent the bed bugs from climbing onto her bed for a late-night blood meal.

Vivian has asked about cleaning the bed frame with mineral oil or soap. Regular cleaning will help to disturb any harboring bed bugs and will also help to dislodge their eggs. Rather than the oil or soap, it is the physical cleaning, a key step in the IPM process, that actually helps.

Despite her age, physical condition, fear of her landlord, and strong propensity for privacy, Vivian has now overcome bed bugs. One of the most difficult pests to manage under any circumstances has been brought under control by her strong will and determination, following recommended IPM practices, and heeding the coaching provided by Lynne.

For more information on bed bugs, review the resources on EPA’s bed bug information clearinghouse, including a bed bug information card and a bed bug prevention, detection and control flier. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on IPM, a smart, sensible and sustainable way to control pests at home and in schools.

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.

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.