Common Sense Guide for Consumers
Alternatives to Pesticides
Before you reach for the Raid, Roundup, or sign a year contract with a pest control company, think twice. Pesticides (which encompass herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) are linked with a long list of ailments including asthma, Parkinson’s, ADHD, cancer, autism and learning disabilities. If you’re not convinced that precaution is wise, delve into the database on epidemiological and laboratory studies linking public health effects with pesticides here. Environmental impacts of pesticide use are equally damaging, including toxicity to bees, and contamination of water: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, every waterway sampled across the United States contained pesticides.
You can minimize your exposure to pesticides in your home and on your property. If you have a pest or plant problem, first go to these resources online:
- The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has a library of documents showing how to deal with many pests and weeds without harmful chemicals.
- For toxicity summaries of pesticide ingredients, check out the Pesticide Gateway Index from Beyond Pesticides.
- King County’s Grow Smart Grow Safe Guide is online in .pdf form or available in a printed booklet. It ranks hundreds of pesticides, fertilizers and soil amendments, helping you find least hazardous products.
- Pets need protection too - the NRDC has a great page rating toxicity of pet flea and tick products here.
These resources teach us that chemicals alone do not solve pest problems. It’s the basic principle of Integrated Pest Management, the industry term for common sense approach to pest problems:
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a program of prevention, monitoring, and control which offers the opportunity to eliminate or drastically reduce the use of pesticides, and to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to any products which are used. IPM does this by utilizing a variety of methods and techniques, including cultural, biological and structural strategies to control a multitude of pest problems.
Once you are familiar with these resources, you can help educate people in your community about safer practices for pest control. Most often it is ignorance that fosters overuse and misuse of pesticides.
Hiring a Pest Control Company
If you need to hire a professional, read a fact sheet (from one of the above resources) on your pest, so you have some background before talking to contractors.
- Get a few estimates before you pick your contractor. Companies should offer a free estimate, sending someone to your home to identify the pest and outline a solution. Get MSDS sheets on products they propose using so you can understand toxicity. Use the Pesticide Gateway Index for this research.
- Make it clear you want to use Integrated Pest Management and least-toxic methods for pest control. This means they should include discussion of structural modifications, monitoring, and prevention techniques.
- Consider hiring a regional company instead of a national company. They sometimes have a better understanding of local ecosystems and pest problems.
Here’s a scenario I recently experienced, illustrating the different approaches to professional pest control:
I called three companies regarding a carpenter ant problem. Company #1 prescribed monthly spraying around the perimeter of the house, covering a 10 foot swath from the foundation, for a minimum one year contract. Company #2 recommended spraying four times a year, covering only a two foot swath from the perimeter. Company #3 advised spraying twice annually, also covering a 2 foot swath from the perimeter. Interestingly, Company #3 also stated that preventive spraying in the winter is pointless because carpenter ants are dormant during this time period here in the Northwest. Interesting that Company #1 wanted to spray year round regardless of the life cycle of this pest!
I chose Company #3, Progressive Pest Solutions. If you’re in the Seattle area and need pest control, call Progressive Pest Solutions, Johann Spieker, 206-444-6250. He is extremely knowledgable and honest.