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Common Sense and Good Science?

Thursday March 8, 2012

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Mr Pest Control

Question:

It is easily arguable that millions of people have died from malaria because DDT was outlawed. There is a continual and fanatical attack that will not end until no pesticides are used and our industry is ruined and pestilence and disease are out of control. Common sense even says that if you can treat soil around a deck or patio, but not the patio itself because it might get washed off onto that area, there's an incoherent reasoning. Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely careful with how I treat a structure to protect where the pesticides go. But is anyone in this industry fighting back against the ridiculous attacks against pesticide use? Or have we just rolled over and accepted the bad legislation and poor science that backs the attacks?

Roy, CA

Mr Pest Control

Answer:

You pose some good thoughts Roy, and this is a topic that I am also passionate about, so I will have to abbreviate some of my thoughts in this answer to keep it manageable. You also touch on several separate issues, so let's address them one at a time. First, I agree with you that there are large numbers of people in our society, many of them members of highly organized and well-financed groups, who would love to see all of our chemical tools eliminated immediately. Their desire for this may be well intended but it is also hypocritical and short sighted. Many of them advocate the use of "natural" pesticides to replace "synthetic" pesticides in the belief that there is something magical about natural substances that makes them safe for use. The fact is that toxic is toxic, and our bodies cannot tell the difference between natural and synthetic molecules. I personally believe that many of these people also place humans well below other living creatures on the Earth, and our health and welfare are secondary to environmental purity. This belief is unlikely to change, so we just have to accept it and fight their efforts to create unreasonable legislation. 


With a little luck there still are enough legislators to stop short of allowing humans to die unnecessarily, although it often does not seem that way. DDT unarguably saved hundreds of millions of human lives by killing the mosquitoes that spread malaria and killing other blood sucking insects that spread so many other diseases. In 1972 the head of the EPA personally signed the paperwork to ban DDT, even though his own Congressional Hearings concluded that it should not happen. However, William Ruckelshaus's statement when he banned DDT was that he was doing it "for political reasons", and this is not going to change. Many politicians are far too susceptible to what environmental activist groups want, and believe that pushing their causes may be politically correct. This is why we need our strong industry associations, and here is how we can effectively fight back and ensure that horrible decisions are avoided. 

I don't think anyone in our industry really loves the idea of spraying toxic substances into the environment or into homes, hospitals, and restaurants. It would be negligence on our part to pretend that these are not toxic. But, it also would be negligent to ignore the pest problems and the health risks those pests pose and just hope the pests go away on their own. I think we all would love to see efficient, effective, economically reasonable pest management done without the need to spray toxins. In the same thinking I suspect most doctors would love to see the day when all diseases are cured without the need to prescribe toxic medications, but until that day comes when we have the technology to cure the problems without the toxins we do what has to be done with the best tools possible. It is called Risk versus Benefit. 

One big concern that I have is that too many licensed, certified pest control professionals still believe that their job is "to spray", and that they are not going to get paid unless they spray something. This is incorrect, and our industry leaders have been educating for decades that much of the pest management process should rely on non-chemical techniques and tools, and this is the basis of IPM. We cannot continue to look at pesticides as the magic wand that takes care of everything. Instead, they are the stop-gap tool to quickly bring down the pest population while we then work to repair the contributing conditions. 

Along these same lines I hope that no one in pest management wants to see pesticide residues flowing into creeks and lakes and the ocean. First of all, they don't do anything to control the white grubs or ants on a property if they have flowed off that property, and this is the thinking behind these new pyrethroid restrictions. It is an effort to ensure that as little of the active ingredient as possible leaves the site where you want it to be. I suspect this new label wording comes into being because of continued sloppy applications, and of course much of this well could be from unlicensed and unregulated people using these materials - homeowners for example. The new wording on labels prohibiting the use of pyrethroids on "impervious" surfaces such as patios could, perhaps, be modified to address the patio that is surrounded by soil, but now we are leaving the interpretation up to too many people, and a simple, blanket statement probably was easier. 

I am confident that most people in our industry share your and my environmental stewardship feelings, but you and I have also seen the misuse - people spraying over fences into neighbors' yards, technicians literally washing off the sidewalk with the spray, over-applications that leave puddles of pesticide on the ground, treatments to surfaces or plants where no pests are present just because they want the customer to think something is being done. These are the things we need to correct within our own industry, and by doing so we demonstrate to those who would take away our chemicals that we can use them properly and for a good reason, and that we provide benefit to people from this use. 

I have seen some strong industry associations, the NPMA perhaps the top model, have tremendous impact on the regulations that are placed upon our industry. Belonging to your regional association as well as the NPMA makes them stronger, and with more members they have the financial ability to be effective lobbyists when it comes to fighting bad laws. The anti-pesticide groups are heavily financed by very wealthy people, but  our industry seems to have to do with relatively little funding for the political effort. So, my answer to you is that YES, our industry fights back constantly to make certain that our point of view is heard and believed by those who make the laws. In California, where you are, the PCOC is a very well organized and streamlined and effective organization. Over the past 30 years I have seen a great many issues modified because of PCOC's involvement with the state's politicians, and proposed laws that would have been devastating to us were toned down to reasonable and livable regulations. 

We cannot stop what other people think, but we CAN change their minds with education. The general public sees far more anti-pesticide rhetoric than they do pro-pesticide, and for a couple of reasons. First, bad news is really cool, and people just love to read bad things and believe them, and the news media make a lot of money headlining negative issues. Second, people with an ax to grind are more likely to spend time publicizing their anger, and the internet now gives them that unlimited (and uncontrolled) forum. So, you help to counter this with positive information you can provide with press releases locally, with company newsletters, with a presence at local home shows, etc. People generally want the truth, but just have a hard time getting our side of the story. 

Mr. Pest Control

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