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How To Win The Insect War

How to protect your family from biting insects. Plus, chemical misting systems are the hot new way to kill mosquitos. Our reporter Brent Flynn says they might not be as safe as they sound.
By D Magazine |

Win the war against summer insects while protecting your family from harmful pesticides.

As a child, I was on a first name basis with Jimmy, our household exterminator. I would routinely watch him spray translucent white liquid around every baseboard and behind each piece of furniture. There was always a faint smell and slight residue, but we implicitly trusted him and his choice of chemicals. On summer evenings, we would meticulously fog the bushes and outdoor area before eating on the patio. I shudder to think what we inhaled all those years.

Times have changed and so have many pesticides: With the arrival of West Nile Virus, pesticides are now considered a safety measure. Today, most substances must meet Enviromental Protection Agency standards, and some of the better-known and most toxic chemicals, such as DDT, have either been restricted or removed from the market.

Thanks to the abundance of residential mosquito misting systems, it has never been easier, or more tempting, to eliminate every flying insect in the yard with repeated blankets of airborne pesticides.

Better safe than sorry? That depends on your pick of poison.

When you consider that last fall, the chairman of the Texas Structural Pest Control Board went on record warning consumers about the hazards of mosquito misters, you may think twice about your role in the battle of the bugs. Many of the chemicals commonly sprayed by the misters are toxic and should be used very cautiously.

The biggest culprit, pyrethrum, is an age-old flower extract with a new marketing campaign claiming all natural, nontoxic power. But that’s only part of the story. Other ingredients in misters often fly under the radar as inactive components. For example, one of the most popular misters is three percent pyrethrum and 12 percent petroleum solvent “a substance with potentially serious health risks when inhaled or ingested.

And, unbeknownst to many, pyrethrum and its synthetic relatives are rated “unacceptable” by the Texas Organic Research Center. No wonder product directions instruct users to avoid the area when misters are in use.

Much the same can be said about other products commonly used to kill wasps, bees, roaches, and fire ants. But, if they are used infrequently and in very small amounts, chances are you and your family will be fine. However, overuse and carelessness puts the health of you, your children, and the environment, in danger.

As is the case with many synthetic products, the organic source is still very effective and safe. As you enter the heat of summer and wage war against biting, stinging, and crawling insects, remember that sometimes the simplest solutions are the safest. Check out the organic section of your favorite garden center before stocking your seasonal arsenal. The payback and peace of mind may surprise you.

Mosquito Protection
Research favorably compares the effectiveness of several natural oils with DEET in warding off mosquitoes. Citronella-based products and natural wood incense also work well. Try: Sandalwood Mosquito Sticks and Liquid Net: The Ultimate Insect Repellant (both available at Nicholson-Hardie Nursery).

Roach Bait
Homemade bait can be created by mixing two parts flour, one part boric acid, and one part sugar, moistened enough to form little balls. Place in areas where roaches have been seen entering your home – typically near doors, plumbing, and windows. Commercially made citrus oil products, such as Orange Oil also work well.

Fire Ant Control
Orange Oil and D’Limonene have been extensively researched at Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Sold under the name, Safer Fire Ant Control/Bait, this product is EPA approved and highly effective. Follow instructions closely for maximum results.


Mister Safety
Think your automated mosquito mister isn’t possibly toxic? Think again. 

by Brent Flynn

There’s a reason manufacturers of automated mosquito misting systems can’t use the word “safe” to describe their products in marketing campaigns. As entomologist Roy Burton of the Texas Department of State Health Services puts it, “Every pesticide has one purpose, and that’s to kill.”

Pyrethroid-based pesticides, commonly used in automated misting systems, are skin and respiratory irritants, that,  in small doses, can cause irritation to children and those allergic to the pesticides. In large doses or extreme cases, they can cause cardiac arrest.

The Texas Structural Pest Control Board, which licenses businesses that fill and refill the misting systems, warned consumers in September 2004 that the pesticides used in these systems are “potentially toxic to people and pets.” Consumers were also told to demand proof of licensing by the SPCB when selecting a vendor.

Two months later, MosquitoNix, Inc., which is an SPCB licensed vendor, received a letter from the SPCB warning the company that its marketing claims, describing its product as safe, amounted to “false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices…”

We attempted on several occasions to obtain a response from MosquitoNix, however, the company has declined to comment. Now  MosquitoNix describes its product as an “environmentally and residentially friendly application” and offers customers a rosemary-based solution, which utilizes plant oils instead of harmful chemicals.

But even that characterization may not be entirely accurate. The whole idea of a time-released pesticide system could be counterproductive to pest control efforts in the long run, and potentially dangerous. Dr. Roger Nasci is a research entomologist specializing in mosquito biology at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While serving as the president of the American Mosquito Control Association last year he wrote a letter to the EPA listing several “undesirable effects” from using automated misting systems. “Timed- space sprays may result in unnecessary insecticide use and lead to increased costs to consumers and unnecessary environmental impacts.”

Nasci explained that the Center’s approach is based on surveillance to see if there is a pest control problem and a human health risk in a particular area. If so, the solution might be to apply a pesticide, to drain a nearby ditch of standing water, or to use other control methods.

He says the problem with misting an area that doesn’t need it is the potential for mosquitoes to develop a resistance to the pesticide.

“We have only two classes of insecticides to control mosquitoes: organophosphates and pyrethroids,” he says. “We’re fairly careful how we use them because once they develop a resistance to one, we have only one left. Overspraying by residences could cause problems.”

Another concern with automated-release misting systems is the indiscriminate nature of the mist. There is no safeguard to protect children or adults who happen to be in the area when the pesticide is released. The mist may also kill beneficial birds and insects that naturally control the mosquito population.


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