You’ve seen the images. Pest-control operators in full-body suits, tanks of toxins on their backs and spray guns at the ready. These guys are dressed to kill. But that’s history.
“I think the industry has gotten a bad rap from old products and over-zealous spraying,” says Jacob Borg, owner of Pointe Pest Control in Spokane. “Now we’re helping people understand that we’re not just spray jockeys anymore.”
Much like other industries, pest control is taking a more environmentally friendly approach toward keeping your home pest free. Companies are weighing all of the options — safe chemicals, non-chemical products and barrier methods — to keep the creepy crawlies outside where they belong.
“I remember when the words ‘green pest control’ weren’t really common,” Borg says. The local entrepreneur has been in the pest control industry since 1996 and in Spokane for the last four years. His office walls are stark white except for posters of spiders and regional pests. His “little shelf of horrors” is lined with sticky mats covered with spiders, beetles and ants. The office even has a pet black widow named Lafonda — captured in a church, she’s kept alive, and fat, on a diet of crickets.
Borg laughs at the idea that his office décor is one big scare tactic and explains that his business is a mixture of removal and preventive work. His company deals largely with ants, spiders, wasps, rodents — and, most recently, bedbugs. He works hard to be ecologically friendly and use the right product for the right job.
“To me, green pest control means I’m doing everything possible to use the least amount of chemicals,” he says. “We’re really careful about what we treat.” The company offers chemical products that have been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and a selection of completely organic (botanical) products provided by EcoSmart.
EcoSmart’s combination of granules, dusts and sprays use active ingredients like rosemary oil, wintergreen oil and nitrogen to keep the pests at bay. But Borg says the products come with a larger price tag and limited warranty.
“Some of the strictly organic products are less effective over time because they are designed to break down pretty fast with the elements,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean consumers have to resort to more toxic chemicals. Borg recommends a multifaceted approach called integrated pest management — a method that includes exclusion, sanitation and safe chemical treatments.
“Green pest control doesn’t just have to mean using an eco-friendly spray,” he says. “It might mean coaching homeowners on the things they can do so they don’t have to use chemicals in their house.”
“Back in the day, you could get rid of ants by shooting the whole place down,” says Raymond VanderLouw, owner of Spokane’s Enviro Pro Pest Solution. “But it’s like shooting with a shotgun. You don’t have to have very good aim.”
At first, it seems a little strange talking to VanderLouw inside a donut shop, but within minutes the conversation feels fitting, as he examines the restaurant’s strengths (limited vegetation) and weaknesses (sugar) in regard to keeping the pests away.
VanderLouw says chemical regulation and integrated pest management have made the industry smarter and more efficient.
“You want to limit the products that you’re using in the treatment area, yet provide the biggest impact,” he says. “You have to be better at your job.”
Although he believes the use of organic pesticides hasn’t passed its learning curve, the products are also getting better. But before VanderLouw even thinks of a chemical or non-chemical solution, he examines the fundamentals: food, water and shelter.
“People say it sounds crazy, but you kinda have to think like a pest,” he says. “The main objective is to identify the conditions that are conducive to pest activity around your home and make sure you’re placing stress on those populations of pests.”
He encourages homeowners to answer questions like: Why are the pests here? What’s attracting them? How are they getting in? What are they feeding on? Where is their home?
Next, homeowners should analyze the outsides of the homes. Make sure the vegetation isn’t overgrown and touching the house. Make sure weather-stripping is intact and free from deterioration. Install door sweeps and seal piping holes and ventilation around attics and air conditioning units, and physically remove all webs, hives and nests.
“I don’t think a lot of people are being proactive with this,” VanderLouw says. “I get the call when it’s already too late. When cockroaches have completely taken over the kitchen or mice have eaten half the bag of dog food.
“Pests need food, water and shelter, and if you can eliminate two or even one of those things you’re going to get rid of the problem.”
Lately, bedbugs have been keeping VanderLouw busy. In the last four months, he’s treated 11 different apartment complexes and three hotels.
“Bedbugs are that 900-pound gorilla in the room that no one is talking about,” he says Vanderouw. “I mean, the nastiest bedbug job I’ve ever done was in Spokane, and there is a lot of crazy misinformation out there.”
But sometimes the problem is big and furry. That’s where Curtis Buyser of Critter Control steps in. The wildlife removal company specializes in large rodents, raccoons, skunks, marmots, birds and squirrels. And much like insect pest control, the solution lies in natural barriers around the home.
“Even if I take the animal out of your home, if the hole is not repaired they will come back,” Buyser says. “If you catch them and they get back inside, then you’re back to square one — with an educated animal.”
Buyser says even new homes have entry points for critters. Roof junctions, attic vents, piping, decks, foundations and garage doors are all problem areas. Most of these areas are difficult to access and are designed to keep the weather — not animals — out of your house.
“Most people aren’t climbing around their roofs or underneath their houses so they are unaware of these entry points,” he says. “But once you get in there, the problems are easy to detect. I’ve been in attics where there have been so many animals, there’s little freeways of tracks through the insulation, and defecation.”
As mandated by state law, Buyser uses heavy-duty live-catch wire cages. Buyser must either put the trapped animal down or release it on-site, as dictated by the homeowner. It’s also the homeowner’s discretion as to whether Buyser performs preventive measures like caulking holes, installing screens or sheet metal and, in the case of birds, putting up nets, gels, (non-lethal) shock tracks or spikes.
So regardless of whether you’ve decided upon organic, chemical or barrier approaches, weigh your options. “You almost always have more than one,” Buyser says.
EPA Rules on Pesticides
The EPA evaluates pesticides to ensure they will not have unreasonable, adverse effects on humans, the environment or non-target species. But according to the their website, “Because they are designed to kill or adversely affect living organisms, pesticides may pose some risk to humans, animals or the environment.”
That means the label is the law. The safety of pesticides depends on where and how the products are used.
The government officially regulates pesticides distributed in the United States. Before a product can be legally sold, the EPA must review studies on the pesticide to determine its potential risks. If approved, the EPA will register that pesticide for use in strict accordance with label directions.
In addition to federal regulation, most states (including Washington) place additional restrictions and guidelines for pesticides. For more information about EPA regulations visit epa.gov/pesticides. For Washington State regulations visit http://agr.wa.gov/.