Are All Pest Control Methods Toxic?

The pest control I remember as a kid is the Terminix man coming to our house once a month. He would get out of his truck, nod at me in the playroom as he passed and proceed to spray in every corner of our house with his metal spray can — oddly reminiscent of the tin man’s spray can in the Wizard of Oz, only slightly more sinister. Then he’d get back in his truck five minutes later, $50 richer. I remember thinking, “Hey, that was an easy 50 bucks.”

So what was he spraying? Well, it could have been chlorpyrifos and diazinon, both banned by the EPA for their toxicity in 2001. Even today, pesticides can include anything from piperonyl butoxide to hydramethylnon, which are both potential carcinogens. That kind of pest control can most definitely be toxic, especially if you’ve got babies crawling around on the floor, chewing on and salivating over most anything.

These days, there are greener options for pest control that are less toxic to humans and, as it turns out, more cost-effective than traditional pesticides. That’s because much of green pest control focuses on preventing rodents and insects from getting into your house in the first place, rather than killing them once they’re already there. One such innovation? A door sweep, which covers up the hole between the bottom of your door and the floor. It may seem like a small space, but to a rodent, that space is pretty much like an open door. (Coincidentally, a door sweep will also help you save on your heating and air conditioning bill.)

The organization Beyond Pesticides works to educate the public about the potential harm in conventional pesticides while also offering alternative, less toxic means of pest control, such as integrated pest management, or IPM. Integrated pest management seeks to manage rodent and pest infestations in the least toxic way to humans and the environment. It should ideally involve a system of monitoring and prevention, and use chemicals only as a last resort. When chemicals are used, the least toxic chemicals should be chosen (of which a list can be found here). If you’d like to find nearby green pest-control services, you can look one up in Beyond Pesticide’s online guide.

Of course, you can always do your own pest control, and it doesn’t have to involve the toxic roach sprays you can find in your local supermarket’s automotive aisle.

A few tried and true tricks?

Keep your house clean. I mean, really clean. Even if dinner is all cleaned up, make sure to thoroughly wipe down all surfaces (countertops, stove, microwave) each and every night. Keep food covered tightly and in the fridge – meaning don’t leave any fruit out on the counter or on the kitchen table.

Then once your house is clean, make sure to seal up all leaks and cracks and potential gateways into your warm, inviting home. You might find this New York City pictorial guide to controlling roach and mice infestations (of which I experienced many before I moved to the virtually rodent-free state of New Jersey) helpful. And if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, give the green pest controllers a call. Or move to California. I’ve heard there are no bugs there.

— Chanie

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