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Struggling With Pests at Home? Here’s What To Do

DIY Pest Solutions, Integrated Pest Management, and More

Everyone wants to have a place to call home, somewhere you can eat, sleep and hangout with your friends and family. But people aren't the only ones who want a home - rodents, ants, mosquitos, flies and cockroaches do too! If you suddenly find yourself with a few new creepy crawly roommates, your default reaction may be to pick up the phone and have an exterminator come into your home to shoo them away.

However, let's first think about what that means for your home and health. Traditional exterminators may use many toxic chemicals to get rid of pests and should be your last resort instead of your first.

Thankfully, there are safer methods to clear your home of pests.

The Issues With Exterminators

Most exterminators will go over the active ingredients in their pesticides and some will go over potential health effects, but that might not give you the full picture. It's super important to do your own research before hiring someone.

Pest exterminators can spray pesticides, herbicides and insecticides throughout the home (either inside and/or outside (16)) which can cause damage to health, particularly for children (13) and infants (8,14).

The most common active ingredients in insecticides are pyrethroids and pyrethrins which have been linked to increased risk of childhood cancer (11). And many insecticides are also composed of organophosphates and chlorpyrifos which have been linked to chronic neurological function (1), and neurodevelopmental issues (8).

If an exterminator tells you the products they use are safe after a couple of hours, that may not necessarily be true. Studies of chlorpyrifos have shown that residues persist for up to 2 weeks after a single broadcast application, with potential exposure to young infants reaching levels 100x greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended levels (15). Residual pesticide exposure is especially important if you have infants in your home, since minimal exposure can result in levels above the threshold of toxicological response in infants (12). Studies show this chronic level of exposure has been linked to risk of childhood leukemia (10).

The work done by pest control professionals - the routine extermination procedure and home treatment such as spraying pesticides - has shown an overall link between pesticide exposures and childhood cancers (10). We definitely don't want these chemicals unless we really have to.

DIY Solutions to Keep Pests Out of Your Home

It's easier than you think to prevent pests! Sometimes simple upgrades to your house or a new product are all you need. Here are some simple solutions for how to prevent pests at home and what to do if you have them.

1. Block Any Entry Points for Pests

Show your home some love. Take a day off and spend time doing the following:

  • Seal gaps and plug holes with copper mesh.
  • Repair torn screens, keep weatherstripping in shape (a.k.a. make sure there are no gaps around doors and windows).
  • Make sure the damper on your dryer vent is properly closed.
  • Trim plants against your house.

Not sure where else pests could be coming from? Sometimes pest control professionals can help you identify their entrypoint and help you plug it up without having to fall back on spraying. Integrated pest management professionals (see below) are especially good at this.

2. Update Your Cleaning Routine

Pests seem to have a sixth sense for clutter and crumbs! A deep clean can help stop these unwelcome critters from getting too cozy.

  • Keep your kitchen sparkling clean by sweeping regularly and be sure to dry up damp areas.
  • Immediately clean up any crumbs or spills from countertops, tables and shelves, and dispose of garbage regularly. Avoid walking around the house while eating, as you may leave crumbs in unwanted places such as your couch, bed or carpet.
  • Store ingredients and snacks properly in containers with an airtight seal to prevent pests from getting inside. While you're at it, check out these tips on how to Stock Your Pantry Shelves With Non Toxic Packaging Materials. If you have a pet, be sure to store away their food overnight.
  • When at the grocery store, inspect packaging for any holes before purchasing to avoid bringing any pests home with you.
  • Check the expiration dates on ingredients before use. Throw out items stored for an extended period of time.
  • Clean up clutter, especially stacks of newspapers, cardboard boxes, and paper bags as these can be a favorite home for pests.
  • Avoid dampness in your home by keeping it well ventilated. Pests thrive in humidity higher than 70% (9). Measure your bedroom's humidity levels and use a dehumidifier if necessary. Here's a compact dehumidifier and a rechargeable dehumidifier.

3. Invest in Some New Products

We did some research and found some recommended safer products to use on your own:

Know When to Call an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Professional for Help

If you live a busy life-style and don't have time for DIY's or if it's too late to take matters into your own hands, don't worry. IPM has your back.

What's IPM? It's a cost-effective holistic approach to eradicating pests from your home by taking into account which pests are in your home, how they got there, why they are there, and where they're coming from. IF chemicals are necessary, then companies will use products that are just as effective on the bugs but safe for humans and pets. But again, always do your own research! Look into any products an IPM company is recommending to make sure it's actually a safer choice or an EPA registered product. Studies have shown success in the implementation of IPM (3). Check out the WSPEHSU's helpful toolkit to avoid traditional chemically invasive pest control.

Here's how to hire a pest management professional who does IPM.

Dealing with pests can be overwhelming and frustrating but it's important to remember you have options! Calling an exterminator to spray your home with pesticides is not the only solution to getting rid of pests. There are better, safer solutions!



References

  1. https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/33/1/91/966989
  2. https://eartheasy.com/insect-dust-diatomaceous-earth-4-4-lb/
  3. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.6069
  4. https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products
  5. https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/list-pests-significant-public-health-importance
  6. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/do-you-really-need-use-pesticide
  7. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/integrated-pest-management-ipm-principles
  8. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/abs/10.1289/ehp.02110507
  9. https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/natural-insect-pest-control/
  10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10552-013-0205-1
  11. https://www.nature.com/articles/jes201036
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1532945/
  13. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/4/719.short
  14. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/6/e1845?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:+No+local+token
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12515682/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23558445/
  17. https://www.ortho.com/sites/g/files/oydgjc116/files/asset_files/T46024_020301205_LB9902_082117_CFL.pdf
  18. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-bugs-in-your-house
Life

Flame Retardants in TVs Need a Commercial Break

Watching your favorite shows doesn't have to involve harmful chemicals

Beth Kemler is the Mobilization Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The holiday season always feels like a great time to buy a TV- think of the Black Friday sales! Plus, watching holiday movies is always better in HD. But did you know that the plastic casings of many TVs on the market contain hazardous chemicals called organohalogen flame retardants. Of course, you don't want your TV to catch fire during a binge-watching session, but there are better ways to protect ourselves rather than flame retardants.

What's the problem with flame retardants?

While they may seem like a good idea, flame retardants actually do more harm than good. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders, impaired fertility, and developmental problems. They also don't stay in your TV (or other products where they're found)—they leach into the air and stick to household dust. Children and adults alike breathe them in, eat them when they touch surfaces coated with them and then handle food and even absorb them through their skin.

Studies have found them in the bodies of adults, children, and fetuses in the womb. They've even been found in breast milk and scientists suspect that the rise in flame retardants in our homes is linked to a rise in thyroid disease they've seen in indoor cats.

And when products containing flame retardant chemicals burn, the chemicals can make the smoke even more hazardous for firefighters. They can also be especially dangerous to workers and children who recycle the plastics from TVs and other electronics in facilities around the world. And these chemicals make it much harder to recycle the plastic—adding to our global plastic waste crisis. There's basically nothing good about flame retardants.



Toxic TV Binge: hazardous flame retardant chemicals uncovered in Best Buy, Amazon TVs

Despite the hazards, it's almost impossible to find a TV in the US that doesn't contain flame retardants. A recent investigation by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I work, and our partner organization Toxic-Free Future found flame retardants in every TV tested. Every single TV contained organohalogens, the worst class of flame retardants. One TV even contained deca-BDE, an organohalogen flame retardant that is banned in five states.

There are other ways manufacturers can reduce fire risk without relying on these harmful chemicals. Apple, for example, has replaced brominated flame retardants with safer alternatives and, in some cases, the company "eliminated [them] altogether through the use of naturally flame retardant materials such as aluminum." Remember when your Macbook used to be made out of plastic? That's a key reason they switched from plastic to aluminum — so they didn't need toxic flame retardants.

Let manufacturers know you're ready for a change!

Here's the good news: electronics companies can replace these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. Some companies are already using alternative chemicals or innovating to avoid these chemicals altogether. Some electronics brands, like Apple, have done this for computers, and TV brands can innovate too!

In fact, the European Union recently voted to ban these chemicals in TV plastic casings starting April 2021. If the European Union can do it, so can the US!

That's why we started a petition to Best Buy, North America's #1 electronics retailer. We're asking the company to use its power to get toxic chemicals out of the TVs it sells. If European families will be getting TVs without these toxic chemicals, American families deserve the same. And Best Buy has the power to make it happen!

In the meantime, how can you reduce your family's exposure?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid all organohalgen flame retardants. Since manufacturers and retailers aren't required to disclose their use of chemicals in most products, we can't recommend any alternative TVs. But research has shown that you may be able to reduce your family's exposure with frequent cleaning. Dust, vacuum and wash everyone's hands often, especially before eating. Because flame retardants end up in household dust, reducing exposure to dust can help. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and regularly wet dust and wet mop.

The bottom line is that buying a TV shouldn't pollute your home with toxic chemicals—or exacerbate the plastic waste crisis. If you agree, please sign the petition to Best Buy!

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