In my thirty plus years in the pest control industry I’ve seen changes – very subtle and very slow, but as destructive as a glacier – in the thrust of our thinking and our views of reality. I find myself the only openly heterodoxical writer in our industry nationwide. Although based on e-mails I believe there may be a ‘silent majority’ out there. Let’s face it; heterodoxy isn’t for the faint of heart.
Timothy P. Carney [writer for the Washington Examiner] said Washington is a debate club for the logically impaired, with its share of fallacies, sophistries, oversimplifications and utter absurdities. I find this pattern repeats in more areas than just Washington. Through legislative power and massive amounts of grant money federal bureaucrats have had a great deal to do with undermining any natural sense of logic in the minds of everyone in the nation, including industry. Is the pest control industry any different? We now believe there really is such a thing as Integrated Pest Management in structural pest control, in spite of the fact there is no logical foundation, and we fail to grasp that 'green' pest control borders on neo-pagan mysticism.
In my years I have seen our industry go from being ardent defenders of pesticides universally, to a substantial number who are almost as anti-pesticide in their approach as anyone from the Sierra Club or the NRDC. Why? That’s where the fascination comes in.
In the early years of the modern green movement - started largely with the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s science fiction book, Silent Spring - the green movement insisted pesticides were a major cause of cancer. I remember those days, and I also remember the conversations by the older members of my family talking about this. People believed modern living was responsible. They were right, but for the wrong reasons. Industry [and cities and towns in America] were responsible for many sins against the environment, so it was easy to point the finger, but mostly it was pointed at industry. The real finger of blame should have been pointed at the personal habits of people themselves. That was where the rise in cancer rates appeared.
Over the years the rates of cancer have consistently dropped, and yet we still hear the irrational – and unscientific – mantra that pesticides cause cancer. If you were to take a plastic overlay of our modern demographic and put it over the demographics of those living in 1914 and those living in 2014 you would notice two very distinct differences. Very few people smoked and very few people lived past 65, the two major areas of cancer related deaths. The decrease I spoke of would be even more dramatic if we reduced the demographic of smokers and the aged from our modern demographic chart.
When the federal government banned DDT industry rose up as one to defend it, and it was the same for chlordane. By the time we came to the irrational elimination of Ficam and Dursban (chlorpyrifos), [Neither were banned in spite of what you may read. The manufacturers pulled their registration for structural applications] there was very little argument, and when Dow decided not to fight it the other companies manufacturing chlorpyrifos gave up. Was it a business decision? You bet! Chlorpyrifos was out of patent and it represented a very small percentage of their annual intake, at least from structural pest control, and the lawsuits kept coming. It is interesting that the last time I looked chlorpyrifos is still used as an agriculture product under the brand name Lorsban.
The makers of Ficam W (bendiocarb), which is still used in Australia and New Zealand and I’m told still works on bed bugs, gave up also. Why? We lost two whole categories of pesticides [organophosphates and carbamates] from our arsenal with that terrible piece of legislation called the Food Quality Protection Act, which wasn’t about food or protection. It was about making it too expensive to keep pesticide registrations active, thereby banning pesticides without having to go through all those nasty and potentially messy legal and scientific steps - where they would have lost.
Now we come to the new restrictions on pyrethroids, and there is hardly a peep, except from Ohio’s pest controllers. People at the national level may not like it, but if the Ohio pest controllers – who are responsible for the very existence of NPMA – didn’t stand up to be counted, and fight the good fight - a fight the entire industry should have been fighting and should still be fighting - nothing would happen. What’s worse it appears the manufactures of pyrethroids, known as the “Pyrethroid Working Group (PWG), an industry task force whose members are AMVAC, Bayer, Cheminova, DuPont, FMC Corporation, Syngenta and Valent’, were part and parcel of this pesticide reduction scheme. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the Pyrethroid Working Group was formed. I wonder, does this whole thing sound conspiratorial to anyone besides me?
I know…I know….there’s no such thing as a conspiracy. I often wonder why the people who have never read a history book are so ardent in that view. Just a thought!
And why were these restrictions applied only to structural pest control and not to lawn care or agriculture? We have substantial restrictions against where and how we make pyrethroid applications to structures, but the lawn and shrubs can be covered with them. Does that sound irrational to anyone besides me?
All this to protect an almost microscopic shrimplike creature known as Hyalella azteca, a creature that is capable of living in extremely adverse conditions, and is one of the most prolific creatures in North America and South America. Pyrethroids are used extensively everywhere. How can that be if these products are so deadly to Hyalella?
I have spent some time going over the information available and there are a number of things I would like to see answered. Since this “shrimp” is so impacted by small amounts of pyrethroid materials – even though one study claimed the appearance of chlorpyrifos created a more toxic impact, which I found truly interesting since we are no longer using chlorpyrifos in structural pest control, but it's still used in agriculture and there’s no effort to eliminate it for agricultural purposes - therefore there are questions I would like to see answered.
How can they tell these traces are coming from structural pest control and not lawn care, agriculture and DIY home applications? Thirty years ago when we were using a very large amount of liquids structural pest control only used 4% of all pesticides purchased. It must be far less now, so why would structural pest control need to be so restricted?
Since Hyalella are amongst the most prolific creatures on the planet, how long did these products impact the areas tested. Did they resurge? How quickly did they resurge? Was more than the San Joaquin Valley part of a national testing pattern? If California was the only area tested it should have been easy to determine what impact this had on the surrounding eco-system. What was it? What impact would this have on other areas of the country?
Canada is a heavy user of pyrethroids and yet the Hyalella population is thriving. I would like to see the study methodology, and how strong the study is and what wording was used? Mostly it seems to me the impact appears to be inconsistent. I would also like to see if the study determined what difference it would have made if they all died, or if some died. If they did all die; in what size area did it occur; how wide spread; how often did they find 2 parts per trillion in the water; what was the water mass; was it still water or a stream or river...or even a stream that is only a stream when it rains, AKA, a ditch with deposits left until the next rain. Finally what was the total number count living within the region before and after treatments?
The real question is whether or not these questions were asked by manufacturers, along with our national and other state associations - and if not - why not?
One of the things I have come to understand in my sixty seven years of life and thirty three years in pest control is this. Pesticide manufacturers – as allies – are at best leaky vessels. Their long range vision is about profits – and it should be – but we also have to understand they will do what is good for their bottom line even if it means abandoning a segment of the pesticide applicator industry, and those who use the least amount of pesticides are of the least amount of concern to them. And that’s us!
But that isn’t the whole story. This is where the story really gets intriguing. I have criticized manufactures for their bottom line mentality, but what about us?
In the last couple of years we had an anti-pesticide law passed in Cuyahoga County, Ohio on county property. We discovered this was going on at the last minute and could only testify against it at the third reading. That’s way too late to stop things, but we wanted to go on record. As the months progressed we came to an interesting insight. The lawn care people and structure pest control people weren’t upset by this. Why?
I don’t know what the lawn care contract was before, or ended up being afterward, but the cost of a two year contract for the county’s structural pest control program was approximately $45,000. After all the dust settled it ended up being approximately $145,000 for a two year contract. And I have to believe any pest problems that might occur could be explained away far more easily than before.
For many years I have been saying what we do isn’t a job, it’s a mission. Maybe it isn’t after all! For many years I have been saying we are the thin gray line that mans the wall telling the world no one will harm you on my watch. Maybe we aren’t after all! For many years I have been saying this should be treated as a moral issue, not a financial one. Maybe I'm wrong about all of this!
But one thing is clear to me. At some point we will have to come to a point where all this is going to create a disaster. We have bed bugs as a national plague, mosquitoes are carrying dengue fever right here in the U.S., and the tick population is increasing along with Lyme disease. Does anyone think that getting rid of pesticides might – just might – have something to do with that?
When disaster finally strikes I would like to know who will answer for it?