Like it or not, our living spaces are occupied by a legion of other creatures; squirrels, mice, geckoes, bugs, flies, spiders, mites and more. It’s all too easy to strike back with deadly toxins when confronted by those we find repulsive or harmful. But while that may temporarily solve the problem, time has proven that [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Gone is the exterminator, enter IPM

In this final segment of our series ‘De-bug’ Daleena Samara writes on future options

Like it or not, our living spaces are occupied by a legion of other creatures; squirrels, mice, geckoes, bugs, flies, spiders, mites and more. It’s all too easy to strike back with deadly toxins when confronted by those we find repulsive or harmful. But while that may temporarily solve the problem, time has proven that indiscriminate spraying can cause long-term harm not only to pests, but ourselves and the environment.

Pest control has come a long way from the DDT handsprayer of yesteryear, says Raja Mahendran, Swiss-based entomologist and international consultant in agro and urban pesticides. Today, the industry stands at the cusp of change from exterminator to integrated pest management (IPM) mode, which focusses as much on preventing infestations as it does on elimination. IPM is also relatively cheaper, more environmentally friendly, effective and safer.

What’s wrong with slash-and-burn?

For consumers, awareness of the problems that indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides pose is the first step to healthy pest control solutions. The first generation of synthetic pesticides such as DDT, Dieldrin, Heptachlor and Chlordane, which became widespread after World War II, were found to maim more than the targetted pests over time. DTT’s toxic residues, for example, seeped into and contaminated water sources, caused eggshell thinning in some bird species, and serious ailments like nerve cancer and Parkinson’s Disease in humans. It took a while for the world to ban these pesticides.

The next generation, organochlorines, was also found to have toxic effects and they too have been phased out, except for a few stragglers, says Mahendran.

The new industry approach, IPM includes multiple pest-control methods including equipment like rat traps, integrated to have the maximum control with the least amount of chemicals used, says Mahendran. It is more protective of home, family and environment. Importantly, it includes the owner of the premises ensuring good hygiene and sealing off obvious points of pest entry. Thus the role of the pest-control professional has changed into one of protector and carer rather than exterminator.

IPM uses pesticides sparingly, strategically targetting pests. It circumvents methods like fogging, which tends to waste pesticide. With fogging, the pest being targeted may only be in five percent of the area that is treated, and the pesticide used would be several hundred percent more than what is required. The spillover when houses are fogged means neighbouring homes also stand to benefit, says Mahendran. However, it tends to be a waste of money for the consumer.

Look for carer pest control pros

Most pest control companies in Sri Lanka are at the protector level of development, while a few remain exterminators, relying more on chemicals to deliver results, says Mahendran. But the pest control industry evolves by its own initiatives and also because of consumer trends. So, consumers should know the available solutions and ask for them. Today we have better informed consumers, thanks to the internet and globalisation. Consumers today should expect more than protection from pests – they should expect caring professional pest control service providers who will look at the welfare of the client and the environment when developing the protocol for the treatment and also involve the client when deciding on the best control options.

In Sri Lanka, Pest Control companies obtain training and a licence from the Registrar of Pesticides. As a consumer or a purchaser of such services, don’t hesitate to ask whether your pest control company is licensed by the Registrar of Pesticides, and for documentary proof that they have undergone the required training.

Consumers could also inquire about method options, the chemicals to be used, safety data sheets, precautions they will take, and the limitations of the treatment. For example, will the treatment affect pests’ larval and pupal stages, as well as the adult stage. Go for a programme that emphasizes non-chemical methods all integrated to work by themselves, and which keeps the use of pesticides to the bare minimum by strategically placing them in tiny amounts for maximum impact on pests but minimum impact on the environment,” he says.

Some treatments, especially termite control and fumigation, are best left to professionals. Fumigation professionals should have special training. In terms of termite control, baiting technology is now available in Sri Lanka and so there is no need to drill holes in the flooring, as was previously practiced. Cutting-edge termite prevention options today are completely free of synthetic pesticides.

Insecticides or pesticides are used in either spray form, fogging or fumigation. Spraying is liquid, fogging is smoke and fumigation is gas, says Mahendran. Liquid leaves residues, fogging leaves some residues, and fumigation almost zero residues.

Follow instructions on the label

Synthetic pyrethroids used today are also harmful. If you read what the manufacturers say, they will all seem deadly, he says. However, whether a pesticide is poisonous depends on the dose. Scare-mongering stories tend to focus 100 percent on the active ingredient in isolation, and not necessarily as it being 10 percent of the total product, or just one percent or less when finally sprayed out of a sprayer strictly following manufacturer’s guidelines. Following instructions on the label is very important.

Follow instructions when using supermarket solutions. For example, if an aerosol has a straw-like tube, look at the label to find out whether it is for flying insects, whether it is a surface spray or both and use the tube to precisely spray into cracks and crevices, because without that it drifts everywhere. When spraying on flies and mosquitoes, it is effective without the tube, but remember that the spray gets everywhere and take steps to protect yourself and your family.

Mahendran says that the new pesticides are harder to detect in the body than the organophosphates and the organochlorines of yesteryear, because medical science has yet to catch up with chemical innovation, which targets new areas of the body.

He adds that in his opinion all pesticides must go eventually, but that they will remain until the right alternatives are found. Ideally, the future will be pesticide free Pest Control.

Do’s and don’ts for pest prevention

Do understand the nature of the pests and their habits. Awareness of their habits helps you to keep them at bay.

Don’t leave food lying around. Deny them food, shelter and water. Get rid of junk. In general, don’t leave nesting materials lying around. Keep a clean, neat home. Pests usually thrive in messy surroundings.

Do prevent pests from entering your home. Repair ripped windows and door screens. Seal cracks in floors, walls etc. Plug openings and all points of entry.

Don’t be careless when using insecticides. Follow instructions on the label. Go easy when using it on ground level use especially if you have infants or pets who crawl around where these chemicals are applied. There is high incidence of children ingesting insecticides and bait carelessly placed on the ground level.

Do keep pets clean. Regular shampooing is all it takes to avoid problems like flea infestations. If you entertain stray animals in your home, remember that they may shed fleas and bring in disease.

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