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Chemicals and Pesticides

These days many people are much more conscious of the potential hazards of synthetic chemicals. There is a general trend towards things organic and natural; if there is a way to do something naturally without the use of artificial chemicals, people prefer to. We often get calls from people asking if there is way to do “organic pest control”, or sometimes they say “pest control without chemicals” or ask if we use pest control chemicals and pesticides that are all natural. This is an interesting and timely question, but in order to get things straight we need to clarify our terms.

First, let’s look a chemicals. Chemicals occur everywhere in the world. They are substances made up of chemical elements; compound chemicals are made of two or more chemical elements. Most chemicals occur in nature – water, for example, is a chemical, as is carbon. Our whole universe is composed of chemicals. Therefore, it is not proper to speak of pest control without chemicals. Everything we use is a chemical. Even the steel in the cages we use to live trap raccoons is made of a steel alloy of iron and carbon with a chemical formula of Fe2C:Fe. Therefore, trapping raccoons uses chemicals. Chemicals are everywhere.

But it is true that some chemicals are naturally occurring and others are man-made. These man-made chemicals are called “synthetic” chemicals. Most pest control companies use synthetic chemicals that are especially designed for the purpose of killing specific pests. These are the chemicals that people typically worry about.

There are also naturally occurring chemicals used in the industry, such as pyrethrins, diatomaceous earth, cedar oils and borates. These chemicals are commonly considered low-risk because they are natural, but it should be pointed out that the fact that a chemical is naturally occurring does not mean it is “safe” or any less lethal. Whatever its source, chemicals used in the pest control industry are used for the purpose of killing living things; as such, they can never said to be “safe”, least of all for the insects! Safety and prudence are always necessary when dealing with any chemical, even one that is naturally occurring. These chemicals are all also regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The point is that there is no such thing as a 100% “safe” pesticide, whether it is organic or synthetic. Organic and natural pesticides have certain advantages over synthetic pesticides, but less toxicity isn’t necessarily one of them. When calling a pest control company, your question should not be “Do you use chemicals?” or “Are your chemicals safe?” but rather ask about how they are applied and how much active ingredient is in them.

Much depends on application method. For example, two companies may be using the exact same chemical to treat an insect problem, but one company may make a very limited, targeted application only at the point of activity, while the other company may do a very broad, general application of a large area (“bombing”). In both cases the chemical is the same, but the first application was done in a much less invasive manner and with a less chance of the pesticide getting onto non-target substances (dishes, furniture, etc).

Another question is how much active ingredient is in a pesticide. For example, rodenticide blocks are extremely lethal to mice. People sometimes get understandably concerned about what might happen if their dog eats the rodenticide. The level of active ingredient in the blocks is tailored to the biology of a mouse, not a dog, and so it even if a dog were to consume the bait blocks (which is not likely since they are locked in tamper- resistant plastic boxes), the rodenticide is not potent enough to kill it. In those rare instances where a large dog has consumed rodenticide bait blocks, they usually get a stomach ache that goes away later in the day.

There are many angles to look at when talking about pesticides, chemicals and toxicity. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call Creature Control at 1-800-441-1519.