Scary Pest Control
The problem with the pesticide industry is that a large number of pest control operators (PCOs) are poorly trained and not well regulated. Many of them are not familiar with the label or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the chemical they are applying.
If a PCO tells you the pesticide he is spraying is perfectly “safe”, you may have a problem. He is incompetent. If he says it is so safe you can drink it, offer him a glass! If the PCO is spraying your baseboards with a pesticide, it means he doesn’t know what he is doing and you need to be concerned. If you see a pest control truck on the street and it has hand sprayers and other small equipment loose in the back so anyone can grab it, stay away from that company. If they haven’t got enough sense to lock up their equipment, they are in the wrong business.
One of the most egregious incidents of pesticide misbehavior occurred in Mississippi in 1996. Two unlicensed and untrained boneheads sprayed 300 homes and businesses with methyl parathion, an agricultural pesticide intended for outdoor use only. There were complaints of foul odors, staining of walls and carpets and pets dying for no apparent reason. Many residents fell sick with flu-like symptoms. These so-called “pest management professionals” sprayed the walls and floor with this pesticide. Tests confirmed that the levels of contamination were at least five times the level that requires immediate evacuation of humans and animals. Hundreds of families were evacuated from their homes and several businesses had to be shut down until all the sites were decontaminated. This episode of pest control negligence cost the taxpayers of Mississippi over $50 million and put thousands of people in a very serious situation. Fortunately the people who perpetuated this act were tried and convicted for their crimes. Methyl parathion had a DANGER label and is no longer permitted to be used in the U. S. It was used as a foliar spray on cotton as well as an insecticide and miticide on many other plants.
I got a letter with some bugs in it from a lady in Alto, NM. She said she had the local exterminator out four times at a cost of over $1000 to control them and she still had them. He said they were the larvae of some sort of flying beetle. The specimens she sent were actually duff millipedes, a completely harmless little millipede that will shortly die of dehydration once it enters the home. No pesticides were necessary to control it. In fact this fellow tried every pesticide in his truck and failed to control it because he didn’t know what it was. The only thing he succeeded in eradicating was the lady’s bank account.
There was another instance where one of the major companies treated a home several times for carpet beetles, without success. Actually they mistook duff millipedes for carpet beetle larvae. The misidentification of pests is common in this industry and the results can be devastating in the money spent and the pesticides incorrectly used.
Then there was the fellow who went out to a house and identified the pest as fleas and did a flea job, which consisted of spraying the carpets and furniture and fogging the house. He did it three times and was unsuccessful each time in controlling the bugs. The customer called another company who properly identified the pests as harmless springtails that did not need control. Fortunately, the owners of this house were attorneys and they sued the first guy out of business.
Consider the story of the Immovable Secretarial Object and the Irresistible Pesticide Man. She wouldn’t get up from her desk when he arrived to spray the office. (“He wasn’t very nice about it. He just said, ‘Lady, you have to get up for a minute. If he had asked me instead I would have moved...”). He sprayed anyway, “around” her feet. She was wearing sandals and ended up at the emergency room with welts on her toes, being one of the increasing numbers of the population that is allergic to synthetic pyrethroids.
Along the same line, my sister Linda, in Florida, told me their company exterminator came in the office and sprayed the baseboards and then sprayed all of their chairs! Was he spraying for some kind of butt bug? No one knows why as my sister ran him off and told him never to return.
During the outbreak of false chinch bugs in New Mexico a couple of years ago, the pest control companies’ phones were ringing off the hook. One lady called one of the largest pest control companies in the country. A salesman went out, identified the pest as Johnson beetles feeding on her Johnson grass and wanted $450 to control them. She called me to confirm the diagnosis. Of course it was wrong as there is no such thing as Johnson beetles and very few people have Johnson grass growing in their yard. She had false chinch bugs which required no control at all.
There was the case of a pest control company spraying a home for carpenter ants several times because he said he found carpenter ant poop on the floor. The “poop” didn’t go away with the spray. Actually they were very small beetles that feed on mold and were present because the homeowner had a plumbing leak that caused some mold. The exterminator couldn’t tell a beetle from ant poop.
In another case, a woman called because she had weird worms in her house, particularly on the kitchen floor. The pest control operator came out, identified them as boll weevils, said they would get in the closet and eat her clothes, so she needed the whole house fumigated. The lady was skeptical and got another opinion. It turns out they were blow fly maggots falling from the ceiling where a dead animal was being consumed. Now the question is; is the PCO a crook scamming this lady or was he just so stupid and uninformed that he really believed his diagnosis? In either case, that is Scary.
In a similar case a man was told he had codling moths in his clothes closet. Since codling moths only eat apples, that would only be possible if he had an apple tree in the closet. The customer was smarter than the PCO and didn’t let him treat the house.
If you have pets, you should never use pesticides of any kind or use an exterminating service that sprays pesticides in the house. Recently a lady called me and told me she hired a pest control company to eradicate some crickets from her home. Rather than use bait, which would be safe if properly applied, the PCO sprayed the baseboards. He ended up killing $2500 worth of her son’s snakes, yet didn’t kill any crickets. She successfully sued the company.
In another case a pest control (non)-professional sprayed the baseboards in a pet shop. The pesticide was sucked up into all the aquariums and he killed all the fish in the store.
There was a pest control company power spraying around a school in Chama, NM, when children were standing close by waiting for a bus. One kid got sick and passed out and was rushed to a hospital. He survived, but the company was correctly sued. This company is still in business and has their office in Santa Fe.
In another incident reported in Proceedings, Association of Avian Veterinarians, an organophosphate chlorpyrifos was used in a home where pet birds were bred and raised for six years. The target pests were cockroaches but after five applications, fledglings began to die off, followed by a cessation of egg production. Finally the adults deteriorated and died. The owner realized that this tragedy meant he was also in danger and that was the basis of his lawsuit against the pest control company. The final report read: “The case was settled to cover the cost of the birds and for creating a health hazard for the occupant of the house.”
Of course who can forget the fellow who just finished up a termite job and had a little bit of the termiticide left in his tank. He offered to spray the family’s cat and dog for fleas with the leftover chemicals and wouldn’t even charge them.
In a case in California in 2001, a person who is now a pesticide lobbyist, treated a warehouse with pesticides and didn’t post notification. Six policemen responded to a call and had to enter the warehouse. All of them got sick and had to go to the hospital. They all survived, but the pesticide lobbyist was fined $1000. This fellow is still on the discussion boards telling everyone how safe pesticides are for bees and how dangerous automobiles are, as, according to him, they kill more bees than chemicals.
A lot of the horror stories that I related to you have one thing in common; the inability of the pest control person to properly identify the pests. Many of them use the Spray and Pray method. That is if you spray enough pesticides and pray it kills something, you won’t get a call back from the customer.