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THE FOLLY OF PESTICIDES
HOME, TOXIC HOME
How many pesticides were you exposed to today? Perhaps there was the ant poison in the yard, the houseplant spray in the living room, the fly spray on the porch, the herbicide on the lawn, the roach killer in the kitchen.
How about the long-lasting pesticides around the house? The termite treatment around the foundations, the mothball vapors in the closet, the vapor-emitting pest strip in the basement? And that's just at home. The restaurant where you lunched may have recently been sprayed. The office has a regular extermination contract. The bus you took may have just been sprayed or fumigated, as well as the bank, the doctor's office, the department store, and, of course, the park and the golf course. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, billions of pounds of pesticides are used annually. Every breath you took today may have had a little whiff of poison in it. The same goes for every bite you took. If you eat more than 1.2 pounds of broccoli, you exceed your legal dose of pesticides for the year. Same goes for a quarter of a cantaloupe. A 1999 Environmental Working Group report, "They Are What They Eat: Kids' Food Consumption and Pesticides," stated that 20 million children under the age of five eat an average of eight pesticides a day—that's 2,900 pesticide exposures per child per year from food alone—not water, not air, not skin absorption. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Oh, and forty suspected carcinogens now appear in U.S. drinking water. How much do you think your body can take?
Keep in mind, too, that if you use chemicals on your lawn, you have them in your carpeting. Once indoors, they could be present for up to a year. And after pesticides have been used indoors, residues have been found to remain on toys (think babies' mouths) for a least two weeks.
Most people think DDT went away when it was banned in the United States in 1972. Wrong. Its profitability lived on, and it continued to be manufactured and exported in enormous quantities to other countries. (Mexico and Brazil each used nearly 1,000 tons—that's 2 million pounds—of DDT in 1992 alone.) Today, it is one of the commonest pesticides found on food in U.S. grocery stores. It has been linked to breast cancer. Almost everyone has DDT-related compounds in his or her body.
Many houses today have become traps for even longer-lasting toxins. Before chlordane was taken off the shelves in 1987, it was used against ants and termites (as well as other pests) in more than 30 million homes. Because it was made to decompose very slowly, it could remain active indoors, protected from the elements, for twenty years. It also accumulates in body fat and is known to make people very sick. Chlordane is considered a carcinogen, as well as a hazardous substance, a hazardous waste, and a priority toxic pollutant (according to the EPA). And yet chlordane, like DDT, continued to be shipped to other countries by its manufacturer long after its ban here, and it probably returns to this country in imported food items in what is called "the circle of poison."
HOME, SAFE HOME
One control method that works for all pests is exclusion. Keeping them out of the house is the simplest and most efficient way to deal with them. Screens provide a true coat of armor for the home. One of the reasons malaria still rages in some hot countries is that many homes lack screens. Screens should also be placed over chimneys and vents. And since rats and cockroaches live in sewers, city dwellers should make sure that shower and bath drains have strainers. Houses should be thoroughly inspected for holes and cracks through which insects can enter. Any openings where utility wires and pipes enter the house should be sealed.
Because many pests require moisture, all pipes and faucets should be checked for drips. Toilet bowls should be bolted securely to the floor and have no leaks. Condensation of pipes should be prevented with wrapping. "Repair them out!" could be the battle cry of the tiny game hunter.
"Starve them out!" could be another. Always put food (and pet food) away, or store it in pest-proof containers. Counters should be kept scrupulously clean.
Regular vacuuming is a major tactical assault against pests. Also, make a point to do a thorough spring-cleaning at least once a year. Turn the whole house inside out and rout all the critters hiding in closets and behind heavy furniture.
Apartment dwellers have to protect themselves on two fronts: from pests that enter from the great outdoors and from those that wander in from the neighbors'. All the occupants of an apartment building should meet and coordinate a sound, safe method of pest control, including how garbage is to be managed and what kind of nontoxic pest treatments can be used. Having each lone apartment dweller fiercely fighting individual battles at different times just makes the pest population move around within the building.
There is no such thing as a permanent solution to our pest problems. Thinking that we can get rid of our pests permanently in one fell swoop is like believing we will be clean for the rest of our life after taking a shower.
QUITTING PESTICIDES FOR GOOD AND DISPOSING OF THEM
Giving up toxic pesticides is a little like giving up cigarettes. One day you think you can't possibly live without them, and the next you realize how much better everything is now that you no longer depend on them. Soapy water kills ants just as dead as the poison spray that used to go up your nose. The mousetrap kills just as dead as the poison, and it won't kill the dog, either.
When you give up these poisons outdoors, you may have a period of higher insect damage. Be prepared to plant more plants, handpick the bugs, and use a few repellent sprays. The natural predators may take a while to return to your garden. It may take a few years for the balance of nature to restore itself. Remember, the pests always show up before the predators, so don't panic. In the meantime, use the tactics described in this book to hunt them down. Improve your soil with lots of organic content and minerals so that the plants are strong enough to withstand insect attack. People who would prefer a garden completely devoid of insects should possibly find something else to do with their time. We have to live with insects; we just don't have to be overwhelmed by them.
The main problem in giving up house and garden insecticides is what to do with the poisons you aren't going to use anymore. Incidentally, if the label says POISON or DANGER—the highest warning given—the contents are highly toxic. WARNING or CAUTION means the contents are toxic, but not as toxic. PRECAUTION means the government doesn't know whether the contents are hazardous or not. Some people do not even call these chemicals pesticides; they call them biocides, because they kill all life.
If you want to know more about any of the pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides you have been storing at your house, you can call the EPA-funded twenty-four-hour hotline at (800) 858-7378. Or contact the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, 530 Seventh Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003, (202) 543-5450.
Do not pour any of these products down the drain, or bury them, or flush them down the toilet! Many of these pesticides are highly toxic to fish and other wildlife. Do not toss them in the garbage either. They must be disposed of according to the laws regulating toxic pollutants. Call your local waste management division or health department and ask if they have a collection program for toxic chemicals. Or look in the yellow pages under environmental groups. Many cities have established certain days and locations for people to bring in their paints, pesticides, motor oil, and other toxic materials, which are then disposed of in special toxic waste dumps to prevent their ending up in landfills and groundwater. When you realize how hard it is just to dispose of these chemicals safely, you begin to understand the problems of using them. And they won't stop being manufactured until we stop purchasing them.
Incidentally, pest control operators can't use soapy water, because it is not on their list of EPA-registered pesticides, a sort of catch-22 that, unfortunately, encourages more toxic pesticide use. If you do call an exterminator, look for one that uses the least toxic and most environmentally friendly methods. Interview the person carefully and ask a lot of questions. Look for exterminators who practice integrated pest management, or I.P.M. But make sure their interpretation of I.P.M. isn't "inject pesticides monthly." Don't automatically believe phrases like "environmentally friendly" in their ads. (A number of them have recently been sued for this kind of "greenwashing.") If you find yourself arguing over the semantics of "toxic" with an exterminator, or if one tries to tell you, "It's not how toxic they are; it's how carefully they are handled," go elsewhere. This is not a linguistic debate. Reducing the world's dependence on hazardous pesticides requires tangible, positive action, not compromise and consumer vacuousness.
You just can't make the excuse anymore that "it's just a little bit of pesticide." Pesticides are used by 1 million farms and in 70 million households in the United States. Those numbers attest to a lot of decision makers, and you are one of them. Take responsibility! In addition to not using pesticides yourself, talk your friends out of them too. Support activist organizations. And buy organic food, which is one more way to keep hazardous pesticides out of the home. When you buy organic, you are supporting a way of life—taking care of the earth—that has profound implications for the future.CHAPTER 2
Some people believe that the cockroach will take over the world, but we bet on the lowly ant. Breeding colonies of ants, sometimes known as superorganisms, are resistant to both radiation and industrial pollution. Colonies of some species can even survive in flooded ground. In terms of sheer biomass, ants, along with termites, are the dominant insect species on earth. They not only outnumber us; they outweigh us. When it comes to social organization and cooperation, they are in some ways more evolved than humans, acting for the survival of the colony rather than the individual. Various ant species plant crops, herd other insects for food, wage ferocious wars, take slaves, and live with elaborate caste structures. Interestingly, ant colonies are virtual female societies; males are bred only occasionally and only for procreation.
Besides being utterly impossible, it would be foolish to attempt to eliminate all your ants, because in many ways ants are our friends and allies, and we need them. In China, ants have been used for thousands of years to help control pests in orchards, making them the first insects known to be used for biological control. Ants actually help control pests that we haven't always been very successful controlling on our own. Both indoors and out, they eat the eggs and larvae of fleas, flies, spiders, bed bugs, and probably silverfish and clothes moths. They also go after cockroaches and conenose bugs. In addition, ants patrol the perimeters of our houses and keep termites, their mortal enemies, from establishing colonies in our homes. If we let them do their job, that is.
Of the more than 8,800 known species of ants worldwide, only a small number will invade homes, some arriving in search of sweets, others drawn to meat and greasy stuff. The most common ants seen inside of houses are the Argentine ant (very small, brown, nests outdoors, prefers sweets, eliminates almost all other species of ant in the neighborhood); the pharaoh ant (small, light yellow or reddish, nests inside of buildings, attracted to all kinds of foods); the thief or grease ant (resembles the pharaoh ant, prefers meaty or greasy foods, sometimes lives in the nests of other ants); the pavement ant (brown or black, hairy, will eat just about anything, nests under stones, around pavement, or in foundations); and the odorous house ant (small, brown or black, gets its name from its unpleasant coconut odor when crushed).
The worst ant to have in the house is the carpenter ant, which lives in wood and can be very destructive, chewing out burrows with its powerful jaws (see below).
* CONTROL INDOORS
Ants are one of the commonest pests in the kitchen and bathroom. Their habit of showing up in outrageous numbers, their single-minded, almost frantic scavenging, and the way they completely ignore us (at least cockroaches have the grace to flee) provide a veritable gold mine for pest control operators. Although we have no interest in encouraging ants in our homes, we do feel that a great flood of insecticides has been unnecessarily directed at these insects, for ants are fairly easy to discourage without using highly toxic poisons.
Of course, it's always a shock when your home is invaded—especially by creatures helping themselves to your food. Ants are lickers, constantly licking something—including each other. Their active salivary glands help them predigest their food, so don't eat anything the ants have swarmed on; it may be contaminated. In hospitals, ants have even been blamed for transporting pathogens from soiled bandages and linens to clean ones.
On the other hand, try not to overreact. Using organophosphates on ants is like using nuclear weapons to stop a riot.
Ants often move after rain disturbs their nests. Conversely, during the dry season, they come into the house in search of water, so it seems that we are constantly threatened. In dry weather, put a few sources of water outside—shallow pans or bowls or a dripping hose—and they may leave you alone. Some people even provide a food source, like honey in a container with ant holes, in hopes of keeping them happily outdoors. With that added food, however, they can raise more ants.
It may be hard to second-guess ants, but your kitchen is definitely under consideration for attack when you see solitary ants wandering hither and thither. Do not ignore them. The good tidings they take back to the nest will be bad news for you. This is the time to make your kitchen less hospitable to them. Clean ferociously. Store food in sealed containers.
Don't leave dirty dishes or garbage around. Rinse off sticky jars and bottles. Wipe counters down with a cloth soaked in vinegar to make the territory less appealing to the scouts.
If you do find a steady stream of them cruising determinedly inside your house, you can still take a number of simple measures without resorting to poisons that are needless overkill.
Soapy Water—The Best Defense Many household products such as Windex, furniture polish, and spray cleaners will destroy ants. But the cheapest, easiest, and most effective method is to put a teaspoon of liquid dish soap into a spray bottle of water and zap the intruders with that. Besides killing them instantly, it destroys the scent trails they lay down that lead other ants to food. A solution of blended citrus peels and water (or citrus rind oil, which you can purchase) will also kill ants (as well as fleas and garden pests) on contact, as will mint oil.
Before you kill off the invading ants, however, trace the columns back to their point of entry. This is where you really have to stop them. Powdered charcoal, turmeric, black or cayenne pepper (the hotter the better), cinnamon, citrus oil, and powdered cleanser all make good ant barriers. The barrier doesn't have to be any wider than a quarter of an inch, but it has to be a solid line, because ants are marvelously adept at finding the tiniest pathway. A silicone caulk will terminate the point of entry permanently, but in a pinch you can also squirt undiluted dish soap into their point of entry, dab it with petroleum jelly, or fill it with glue. Before sealing the cracks, use a bulb duster (and mask and goggles) to blow in desiccating dusts like diatomaceous earth or silica aerogel.
Sometimes it seems that nothing can keep those ants out of your kitchen. The battle goes on day after day. No sooner do you set up the barricades than these wily creatures find routes into your house you never knew existed. But since you are not using toxic poisons, the death count is entirely in your favor.
Place favorite ant targets—like the honey jar and the cat food dish—in bowls of water. Adding a little soap to the water will make such ant moats even more impenetrable.
In Germany, forest ants are protected by law because of their vital role in the health of the forests. Germans keep the ants out of houses by placing lavender blossoms near the doors. Other ant repellents include cinnamon, crushed mint leaves, oil of clove, and camphor. People who go to the trouble of putting out repellents have probably removed all the attractive food sources as well. But then again, ants rely on their sense of smell in ways we can barely imagine.
Ant Baits Baits are the best way to do the most damage to any ant colony that has selected your domain for relentless scavenging. Ants have two stomachs, one of which is the crop, a kind of communal stomach, so any food taken from your kitchen is shared with the ants back home. A good bait contains a poison that the ants find attractive enough to take back to the nest and pass along to others before it kills them. The aim is to kill the queen back at the nest.
Excerpted from Tiny Game Hunting by Hilary Dole Klein, Adrian M. Wenner, Courtlandt Johnson. Copyright © 2001 Hilary Dole Klein and Adrian M. Wenner. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
PART ONE: Tiny Game Hunting in the Home
The Folly of Pesticides
Home, Toxic Home
Home, Safe Home
Quitting Pesticides for Good and Disposing of Them
Clothes Moths and Carpet Beetles
Rats and Mice
Termites and Wood-Boring Beetles
Ticks, Chiggers, and Mites
Asian Lady Beetles
PART TWO: Tiny Game Hunting in the Garden
The Healthy Garden
The Fallacy of Pesticides
The Tactics of Tiny Game Hunting in the Garden:
Allies in the Air and on the Ground:
Toads and Frogs
Mail Order Mercenaries
Parasites of Flies
Good Bugs Gratis
A Few Good Flies
Distinguished Native Beneficials
Cabbage Loopers and Imported Cabbageworms
Colorado Potato Beetles
Fall Webworms and Eastern Tent Caterpillars
Mexican Bean Beetles
Wireworms (Click Beetles)
Slugs and Snails
Friend or Foe?
Centipedes and Millipedes
Sowbugs and Pillbugs
Yellow Jackets and Wasps
Resources and Mail Order
As a founder of a pesticide awareness movement in the local community, I have referred to this book many, many times over the past 8 years and am just getting around to writing this review. The authors' clear and concise research informs us that exposing ourselves, families, pets and environment to harmful poisons to combat insects goes against all sound judgement, especially when there are non-toxic controls. *(Asterisk)Chemical companies would, however, like us to believe differently. This is a reference book which will always be on my shelf, unless, of course, someone is borrowing it.
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