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What You Don’t Know About Pests, Can it Hurt You?

Sep 27, 2017, 10:53 AM

Dr. Green is an entomologist and directs the IPM Institute of North America, a non-profit based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Missing or damaged door sweeps and seals are public enemy number one! Mice can enter a gap the size of a nickel.

One of my most satisfying experiences as a professional, and as a parent, is to visit schools to do IPM inspections. IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management, a common sense approach where the focus is denying pests food, water and shelter, rather than relying on pesticides as a first line of defense.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that schools use IPM – – a Smart, Sensible, and Sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier learning environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water, and shelter for pests in school buildings and grounds. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.  Research at the University of Florida showed that pest complaints in schools can be reduced by as much as 65%, just by having well-sealed exterior doors!  That’s how IPM works.

I typically start the inspection by visiting with the facility manager.  I ask a lot of questions and look at records for pest complaints and pesticide use. Most often the picture is fairly rosy! Management is happy with the program, pest complaints appear to be few and far between, and pesticide use looks to be minimal.

Then we head out to the schools.  Most times, it’s a whole different world out there!  I find unauthorized pesticides in teachers’ desks, kitchen shelves, coaches’ offices and elsewhere. I see mouse and cockroach droppings, and flies in teachers’ lounges, stockrooms and locker rooms. I spy food debris in hard-to-reach places like under and behind equipment in kitchens and cafeterias.

Dirty floor drains in food service areas are public enemy number two!  They feed flies, ants and cockroaches, and can harbor harmful bacteria and fungi.

Dirty floor drains in food service areas are public enemy number two! They feed flies, ants and cockroaches, and can harbor harmful bacteria and fungi.

I hear things like, “Well, we stopped complaining about the mice because nothing changed when we did complain. They’d send someone out who would put some bait here and there, but the mice preferred the French fries under the counter in the kitchen!” Or, “I know I’m not supposed to use pesticides, but it’s not healthy to have these flies in here either!”

Not healthy is right!  Flies, cockroaches and other insects can carry pathogens which can cause food-borne illnesses.  Mice, cockroaches and dust mites generate allergens that can trigger asthma attacks.

How is your children’s school doing?  Are you, your kids or your kids’ teachers unhappy with the pest control at your school? Do you see pests, or signs of pests such as mouse droppings?

Do you see poorly sealed exterior doors, doors propped open, overflowing trash bins or dumpsters, plumbing leaks, or holes in walls or ceilings? Are pesticides applied frequently, or on a regular schedule?  Are pesticides sprayed indoors?

Public enemy number three is food debris in hard to reach places. Out of sight, out of mind, but plenty here to feed families of mice and insects!

Public enemy number three is food debris in hard to reach places. Out of sight, out of mind, but plenty here to feed families of mice and insects!

If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions[1], help is available!  In 2012, the US EPA rolled out its Strategic and Implementation Plan for School IPM.  The initiative is being led by EPA professionals at EPA headquarters in Washington DC, and implemented by a team housed at the new EPA Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas, and at regional offices throughout the US.  These professionals are connected with experts at Land-Grant Universities and elsewhere, all around the country.

As a parent, you want your child to be educated in a safe, nurturing environment that’s free of pests and allergens.  Talk with your school administration about their pest management policy and whether it’s IPM-based.  If it’s not, have them contact EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM at school.ipm@epa.gov.


[1] The questions above have been adapted from those developed by Dr. Albert Greene, US General Services Administration.