By Brad Baker
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How do we make the most “green” application to the inside of a home or business? If that question seems strange to you, it may be because you don’t get into the “green” thing. Even if your company does not offer a green pest management program, you have probably asked the question: How do we approach making the best applications to the interior of a structure?
To answer either question, applicators should survey the situation by asking a series of additional questions. After satisfying themselves with the answers, PMPs can design the best solution to the issue. In the end, your solution just may be “green.”
Is the pest real or imagined? This may seem like a weird place to start, but how many times have we been tempted to treat for a pest that we were not sure existed? It happens more than you think. Sometimes we are in a hurry and just want to make the suggested issue go away and get to the next appointment. When we are responding to a client-reported pest issue, I advise our technicians against making an application until they have found and identified a pest. The danger is that you may be applying a pesticide to a structure when the real problem is that the occupant is experiencing delusions of parasitosis. In this situation, an application will not solve the problem — and in many cases, it will only make the situation worse when the occupant is convinced that he or she is reacting to the pesticide you applied.
Has the client taken any control measures prior to your arrival? Confusing isn’t it? We spend 15 minutes answering our clients’ questions about what we will be using, where we will put it and what impact it will have on them, only to find that they had scattered a white dust all over the carpet the previous night. Another 15 minutes may be needed to convince them that you need to be the one to make all applications to prevent over application of pesticides, and to ensure that one material does not interfere with the effectiveness of another.
What is the sensitivity level of the occupants? You can get a sense for this in the general conversation. Most chemically sensitive people will tell you early in the discussion, but listen for triggers that may indicate sensitivity. Allergies, breathing issues and skin problems warrant more questions before treating. Sometimes the sensitivity is less physical and more perception, as they think about a pesticide being applied in the place they dwell. Listen to their concerns; don’t argue. Instead, explain how the material you intend to apply works and observe their reaction. It is better to take a slower approach in some cases than to deal with the results of a sensitive individual. Do all you can to prevent real or imagined reactions to the applied material.
Are there any fears or phobias? There is a place for preventive applications, but more and more, interior preventive applications are becoming taboo. (But certainly not by those of us who know where and how to make targeted applications with materials that are safe by any reasonable standard). Unfortunately, the prevailing wind is blowing our clients away from preventive applications of any kind as they read and hear stories (true or false) of pesticide incidents. The idea being pressed is that all pesticides are bad and must be regulated out of existence. At a minimum, this line of thinking results in a strong reluctance to allow pesticides to be placed anywhere near their families or pets. Remember the fear or phobia does not have to be real for it to have a major impact on your client. Education is called for, and you should be ready to explain the truth. However, in the end, fear is irrational. Applications in this situation are most successful when you take the time to get the client to buy in and request the treatment.
What is the pest we need to control or prevent? Identification — we preach it daily. We must identify the pest in order to know the best control measure to employ. This is foundational in pest management, but too often bypassed in favor of finishing the service in the time allotted. We have a wide variety of products and formulations, because not all pests we need to control react the same way to a particular control measure. You may achieve some measure of control with many different applications, but for this pest, in this season and at this location, what will work best in the smallest application and the most reasonable time frame? This is the reason we need to make the identification. We simply cannot make the best application until we know what we are trying to control. Pests that are somewhat unusual, or that you are encountering for the first time, should be sampled and taken to your entomologist for lab identification, but be ready to make a field ID with your reference material, field manual or your smartphone. Your client has already made his or her identification on the Internet.
Can we gain control without making an interior application? Where is the target pest living, traveling and eating? Pest control inside a building can be achieved by many methods. Selecting where, when and how is the key. At times a small amount of a commodity that is infested with a stored product pest can be removed resulting in complete control. Other times you can intercept a pest outside and keep it from entering with a variety of methods ranging from mechanical to chemical. Sometimes, as in the case of a wasp nest, you can go directly to the nest and stop the entry. In many cases, mopping up the invaders cut off from the nest can be a collection strategy. Inspecting and observing to know the invading pest habits can make all the difference in your control method.
What material should I apply? Should I apply anything? Would we agree that if you apply nothing you have done a “green” service? Possibly — if you accomplished control with another method as discussed previously. But if you have not controlled the pest, and stronger methods must be applied at a later date, you have not completed a green service. Should we apply only natural (green) pesticides and products? While this is commendable, there are times when this would be the opposite of green to building occupants. Some natural insecticides have a distinct odor — thus, you can ignite the sensitivities discussed earlier. This is especially true with a breathing-challenged individual. However, many of the new natural pesticides on the market are low odor formulations, opening more options than before. What we apply inside is a concern. Of equal importance is where we make the application and how much we apply.
What application will be most effective on the pest we are trying to control? There are many applications that will solve a problem, but the best one is dependent on some of the answers to the questions previously considered, and, more importantly, to the specific pest that we are trying to control. To help illustrate this process, let’s consider fire ants in the kitchen of a residence.
More inspection should determine where these intense ants are entering the home. Once the route of entry has been located, I would cut that route off with a small barrier of a repellent insecticide. Continuing to treat a larger area, including the offending mound(s), would prove to be satisfying and provide immediate control. In the process, you would have applied a substantial amount of pesticide. However, if you had stayed with the small barrier, then used a relatively small amount of fire ant bait, you may have effected a greater measure of long-term control. In many of our accounts, we can use multiple materials, or we can find one material that can be targeted on the pest in small amounts, yet result in big control.
On the opposite end of the spectrum trying to control a fully carpeted house that has fleas in multiple locations with targeted application in small doses will actually be counterproductive. In the end you will apply a lot more than if you made the whole-house application the first time.
If all of these questions and processes seem familiar to you, there may be a good reason. We have used this guideline for many years to determine our treatment strategies. Integrated Pest Management combined with knowing your customer is the foundation for a green pest management program. The principle is the same. Do everything you can to control the pest prior to an application of a pesticide. When an application is necessary, take the method that is the safest for people, pets and the environment and still achieves control of the pest.
The author is an Associate Certified Entomologist and director of technical services at Gregory Pest Solutions, Greenville, S.C. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.