Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pesticides not to blame for bee woes?

According to Science Daily, new research shows that imidacloprid, an insecticide often blamed for the decline of commercially managed honey bees, is not likely to harm honey bees at field realistic levels.  The three year study, conducted by Galen Dively and associates at the University of Maryland, supports the contention by many U.S. bee researchers that proper applications of this insecticide is not likely to be the sole, or major, explanation for colony collapse disorder (CCD).

New labeling for some plants
sold by The Home Depot alerts the
consumer to neonicotinoid-treated
plants.
Despite those who claim CCD is clearly the result of dangerous insecticides, the issues surrounding CCD are complex and technical. Much of the debate in the research community recently has centered on what constitutes "field realistic levels" of imidacloprid and its cousin insecticides, the neonicotinoids. Industry representatives have contended that recent critical studies, cited by environmentalists as justifying a ban neonicotinoids, were flawed because they were based on unrealistically high levels of the insecticides. Dively and colleagues tried to allay these concerns by feeding their bees imidacloprid in protein supplement patties at doses of 5, 20, and 100 micrograms per kilogram (parts per billion).  The lowest dose, 5 parts per billion, is generally recognized as field realistic based on several studies of pesticide concentrations in the nectar and pollen of treated crops. The insecticide-laced protein supplement was provided to the bees over a continuous 12 week period. Even so this was, the authors contend, a higher exposure scenario than would likely occur in agricultural settings, where the contaminated pollen and nectar is not likely to be present continuously.

As one of the first studies to look at honey bee colony health over multiple seasons, the results were more rigorous than previous research.  They did showed a significant negative effect on colony survivorship as dosage increased; however the lowest, field-realistic dose showed no significant impact on key bee health indicators, foraging or winter survivorship.  The major impact of higher imidacloprid exposure were increased broodless periods, caused by weak queens during late summer. Such effects could lead to lowered overwintering survival, a character of CCD.

Nevertheless, the authors conclude that while short term exposure to high imidacloprid levels (represented by 100 part per billion dosages in this study) in agricultural settings does occur, it is not likely to occur continuously throughout a crop cycle.  Also, data from the study showed that bees were efficient in metabolizing imidacloprid, so that short term spikes in insecticide levels in nectar were likely to be quickly diluted and eliminated by the bees. They concluded that while imidacloprid might be a contributing factor to some overwintering losses in bees, seed treated crops in particular were likely to have negligible effects on honey bee colony health.

In the ongoing debate over bee health, this is one piece of good news for pesticide manufacturers and users; but it will not be the final word. And it should not justify anything less than the utmost caution for pesticide applicators when they use neonicotinoid insecticides.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Get updated on fire ant baiting

Fire ants remain the most prevalent outdoor ant pest in most areas of the southern U.S.  Throughout the U.S. we estimate the annual cost of fire ant control at over $6 billion.  But the cost of this pest goes far beyond measurable dollars.  Fire ants reduce the recreational value of our parks and backyards, disrupt wildlife populations, and send thousands to emergency rooms each year from their painful stings.  

So as we get ready to enter fire ant season, it may be a good time to bring yourself and your staff up to speed on fire ant control. Many people are surprised to learn that fire ants are not an especially difficult pest to manage, once the biology and control tools are understood.

One of the best places to learn about fire ant management is the E-xtension fire ant website, a place where the best information about fire ant is assembled by Extension agencies throughout the South. This information was recently summarized and presented in an informative webinar by Dr. Fudd Graham, fire ant specialist with Auburn University.   Dr. Graham focuses on fire ant biology and use of baits for fire ant control.

It's worth knowing something about how fire ant baits work because they are the most economical, ecologically friendly, and effective control methods for fire ants. The webinar will provide you or your technician with an hour of training that should pay for itself many times over.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee meeting

It was a cold, wet day in Austin this week as the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee met to discuss the business of pest control regulation in Texas. Much of the meeting was going over rules drafted by the SPCS staff that will impact just about anyone who does structural fumigation, provides termite estimates, or who want to get continuing education units online.

Mike Kelly, staff member for the Structural Pest Control Service (SPCS), presented a rough draft of new document requirements for termite treatment disclosures, or as they are now called: "Subterranean Termite, Drywood Termite and Related Wood Destroying Insect Treatment Disclosure Documents" (The new name may be good for clarity, but sometimes I think government rules eat as much wood--in the form of paper--as termites).  Most of the changes are minor, designed to make the regs easier to read; however one positive significant change is that written estimates using these documents will now have to be made by a licensed technician or Certified Applicator--not an unlicensed sales person or office staffer.

Following up on industry recommendations from last meeting, Kelly also presented proposed changes for Structural Fumigation Requirements.  To anyone who is not a fumigator, fumigation requirements are about as exciting as a wait at the DMV.  But to fumigators, any change in rules can be grounds for fightin'.  Acting on our last meeting's discussion, the biggest changes to the rules included an attempt to clarify the responsibilities of fumigation contractors and subcontractors.

Danielle Dean (right) and Betty Thornton explained the new
CEU course they have developed for pest control office
managers and staff. 
Now if it were up to me, I'm not sure I would let anyone subcontract fumigation jobs. Fumigation is risky and technically complicated, and way too many things can go wrong (communications wise) between the customer and the subcontractor(s) who actually does the work.  But that's not the law, so these new rules attempt to reduce the risk of misunderstanding between fumigator and customer. As you might guess, there will be more paperwork.

One proposed rule change specified that only a registered apprentice, licensed technician or certified applicator (CA) can assist the supervising CA with introducing fumigants, or performing reentry and aeration activities. Also Kelly proposed to clarify wording on the required condition of tarps used in sealing in fumigant gases, and what the official time for a start of fumigation should be based on.  Both Brian Springer, Bevis Pest Control, and Debbie Aguirre, Elite Exterminating, commented passionately on the requirements--Springer noting the stellar human safety record of structural fumigation in Texas in recent years.  If you have anything to do with fumigation in Texas, you'll want to review these new regs carefully when they come out this spring. None of the rules are official until you get a chance to review them, and if you're a fumigator I'm sure you'll have an opinion.

We also discussed online CEU courses as supplements or replacements for face-to-face training. There have been numerous proposals over the years to allow applicators to get training remotely; but concerns about accountability, quality of courses, and security have slowed approval of this option.  The committee heard from AgriLife Communications specialist Holly Jarvis and representatives from online training provider, eStrategy Solutions.  According to Jarvis, there are now multiple ways to make these courses interactive, and accountability can be even better than live courses. Committee members felt that it was time to make electronic courses a routine way for license holders to get the CEUs they need.  In addition to the convenience of getting training on any day you need it, online CEU courses allow the applicator a choice of training topics, including difficult-to-find CEUs, like fumigation.  We recommended eliminating the proposed restriction that online CEUs be allowed only every other year.  Such changes won't mean that CEU workshops with face-to-face training are going away anytime soon, but do they mean you'll have more choices when it comes to getting your CEUs.

The highlight of this month's meeting was a presentation by Betty Thornton, Alvin Pest Control, and Danielle Dean, bwi Companies.  Thornton and Dean met earlier in the year with staff at the SPCS to educate themselves about regulations that might affect office staffers at pest control companies. It turns out that a number of laws and rules limit what advice an unlicensed staffer can say to customers over the phone. An unlicensed person, for example, cannot diagnose a pest problem or offer price quotes to someone over the phone or via email. They took lessons-learned and developed a course for office staff and technicians that includes what you can and can't say over the phone, going paperless in a pest control office, role playing, how to get a new technician registered to take their license exam, how to survive a 14-point inspection, and avoiding the top 10 non-compliance issues.  Both Thorton and Dean were engaging and enthusiastic.  They have given their (approved CEU) course several times and are willing to go on the road for groups that want to sponsor them.

Office staff are a critical, and often neglected, segment of the pest control industry.  I commend the SPCS for their train-the-trainer efforts, and hope that all these efforts result in better trained office staff throughout the state. I think bringing office managers and staff into the training picture could turn out to be one of the single most significant things we can do to improve compliance with our pest control laws in Texas.

Perhaps not many of you make it to the end of these long reports.  But the last thing I want to say is that this meeting was very significant to me in that it marks the end of my appointment to the SPCS committee.  By completing the end of my second term I am required by another one of those dern rules to step down and let someone else get to drive to Austin four times a year.  I anticipate that my replacement will be Dr. Robert Puckett, our newly hired extension urban entomologist in College Station.  I know he is excited about the chance to serve and will do a great job representing Texas A&M AgriLife.  My thanks to all the faithful committee members who have served this committee on their own dime over the years, and to the TDA/SPCS staff who take the time to listen.  It's been a pleasure.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bed bugs in China

A recent article published in the Journal of Medical Entomology by entomologists at South China Agricultural University caught my eye today. The study reported on bed bug infestation rates of homes in two south China cities.  While the results were not very detailed, they do give an interesting peek inside the world's most populous country with some of the world's most crowded cities.

The size of its cities, and the potential pest control market, in China is staggering. The combined population of the two cities in this study is 18.75 million (Texas population is about 27 million), and each of the two cities in the survey support approximately 1000 pest control companies (Texas supports about 3,000 companies statewide).

In addition to dense urban populations, city residents are highly mobile.  In one of the cities, the transient population (recent arrivals from the countryside and other cities) was estimated at 78%! Such conditions seem tailor-made for bed bugs, who are easily transported in luggage.  In addition, in the winter most of the population in the two cities simply vanishes into the countryside for the very important Spring Festival.

Surprisingly, until now the bed bug has not been reported as a major, widespread pest in China; though according to this survey, that may be changing.  A preliminary survey of 11 companies from the two cities estimated that 35% of all accounts being treated involved bed bugs. In examining the records of two medium to large sized pest control companies, 29-42% of all service visits involved bed bug infestations. In the largest city, Shenzhen, 91.1% of all rooms in apartments treated were infested with bed bugs, and 56% of workers quarters were treated for bed bugs.  In the neighboring city of Dongguan, 83.7% of serviced apartments had bed bugs, and 61% of worker quarters treated were infested.

By the way, China has double trouble with both the tropical bed bug, Cimex hemipterus, and the common bed bug, C. lectularius.

With its 1.3 billion citizens, China is a huge pest control market. The same with Mexico and other Latin American countries.  I've been thinking about this recently because the U.S. is hosting the International Congress on Entomology in 2016 in Orlando, FL. This will be the largest gathering of entomologists in the world, including top experts in urban and structural pest control.  It seems to me that PMPs as well as research and extension entomologists have a lot to learn about the way pest control is conducted in other countries. So if you are ready to learn more about your global partners in pest control, consider making a trip to the ICE in two years.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Best essential oil products for bed bugs

If you're a pest management professional in the bed bug business, I suspect the last thing you might want to hear about is a good consumer treatment for bed bugs. But the latest study published the Journal of Economic Entomology by Changlu Wang's lab at Rutgers University may hold a little good news for everyone.

In the study results recently reported in PCT magazine, Narinderpal Singh, Wang and Richard Cooper identified two low-toxicity, over-the-counter products that are surprisingly effective against both bed bugs and their eggs. EcoRaider™ and Bed Bug Patrol™ are essential oil-based insecticides available both in retail stores and via the Internet.

One of the experimental setups used in the Singh et al paper in
the Journal of Economic Entomology. Laboratory tests are
not always good predictors of what will work well under real
world conditions; but they are most useful in identifying
products less likely to work well.
The researchers looked at nine plant oil-based products and two detergents marketed for bed bug control.  In the first evaluations bed bugs were sprayed directly with the 11 products, as well as with the pyrethroid standards Temprid® SC and Demand® CS. Only two of the consumer products provided greater than 90% control.  A product called EcoRaider™ (1% geraniol, 1% cedar extract, and 2% sodium lauryl sulfate) provided 100% control of bed bug nymphs after 10 days. A second product, Bed Bug Patrol™ (0.003% clove oil, 1% peppermint oil, and 1.3% sodium lauryl sulfate) provided 91-92 percent mortality after 10 days in two trials. These essential oil products were slower than the professional insecticide Temprid® SC, but after 10 days they provided the statistically same control as Temprid®.

We all know the toughest life stage of bed bugs to kill is the egg. Singh et al. applied each of the sprays directly to exposed 2-3 day-old eggs.  EcoRaider™ controlled 86% of eggs, better than any other product, including the professional standards which gave less than 17% control.

Of course a good insecticide should not only kill on direct contact, but should leave a residue that continues to kill, and not repel, after it dries. Singh and colleagues pitted EcoRaider™ and Bed Bug Patrol™ against the two pyrethroids by confining bed bugs for five minutes on one-day old residues on cotton fabric. They then removed the bugs, placed them in clean dishes and observed. After ten days, EcoRaider™ and Bed Bug Patrol™ provided an impressive 93% mortality, equivalent to Temprid® SC, and significantly better better than Demand® CS. However when bed bugs were allowed to choose between resting on treated or untreated surfaces, the two professional products were significantly better.  

So don't dump your Temprids, Transports and Tandems just yet. Bed bugs always have a choice where to rest and walk in the real world, and these results suggest that when given a choice they might avoid spots treated with plant-oil products. And even the researchers admit that all spray exposures in this test were applied under ideal conditions. It's likely that results in the field, where bed bugs are almost always protected in cracks and crevices of furniture and bedding, will not be as good. Perhaps most importantly, even the best bed bug treatments miss directly contacting all bed bugs.  Hence residual control is very important and rightly remains the holy grail of bed bug control.  Today's modern insecticides may not always excel at long-term residual control of resistant bed bugs; but they are likely to be better than the best essential oil-based insecticide. The plant oil-based sprays in this test were only aged for a day, and given the volatility of plant oils I would not expect them to last much longer.

Nevertheless, low-toxicity "organic" pesticides have established a strong niche in the professional pest control business today. I applaud the efforts of the Rutgers researchers in sifting through the many "natural" products vying for bed bug market share. Singh et al's work may not be the last word on the subject of which green products work and which don't; but the methodology appears sound and the work thorough.  Based on what I read in the paper, if I were looking for a green insecticide to supplement my bed bug program (even one that was available to consumers), I would take a hard look at their top two performers.

The other insecticides evaluated in this study included Bed Bug Bully, Bed Bug Fix, Ecoexempt IC2, Essentria, Rest Assured, Green Rest Easy, and Stop Bugging Me. The two detergents tested included Eradicator and Bed Bug 911 Exterminator.

Please note that mentions of trade names in this article does not imply endorsement, but are included for educational purposes only.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Most common inspection failures

Inspections are never fun, but are mandated for every school
district, non-commercial applicator and commercial business
in Texas.
If you own or work for a pest control business, you know that it's no fun getting inspected. So many things can go wrong!  To make things worse, if you mess up, chances are that you'll see an inspector again soon, much sooner than if you pass with flying colors.

Fortunately, you don't need to have a bad inspection. At last month's Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee meeting, the good folks at TDA provided a list of the most common mistakes being found by regulatory inspectors during routine business and school inspections.  As you'll see, most of these mistakes relate to paperwork and record keeping--stuff that's relatively simple to correct.  So as the end of the year approaches, it might be a good time to use these  non-compliance lists as checklists to see where your team stands. Take the test and see if you pass:

Most Common Mistakes for Commercial Pest Control Businesses in 2014
Most Common IPM Rule Mistakes for School Districts in 2014
  • Are you creating and maintaining records showing approval of use of Yellow Category pesticides? (d)(6)(B)(ii)  (30% failure rate)
  • Do you maintain written guidelines defining action thresholds (a)(1)(f), at least for your key pest problems?  (24% failure rate)
  • Are you maintaining your IPM records for two years (b)(3)(B)(do you even have all your records?)? (16% failure rate)
  • Do you have a system for storing and retrieving all records (b)(3)(B) of facility inspection reports, pest-related service reports, pesticide applications and pesticide complaints?  (14% failure rate)
  • Do you keep training records for all employees approved for incidental use of pesticides?  (10% failure rate)
  • Would you be ready to provide all your IPM program records on the spot to an inspector if they were to request them? (b)(3)(B) (9% failure rate)
  • Are you creating and maintaining records showing approval of use of Red Category pesticides?  (d)(6)(C)(ii) (8% failure rate) 
  • Have you the IPM Coordinator provided the required training for any employee on the District making incidental use applications of pesticides?  (e.g., electricians carrying wasp spray for when they open electrical panels with a wasp nest inside) (8% failure rate)
  • Do you have a plan for educating your employees about their role in an IPM program? (a)(1)(E)  Note, this includes teachers, administrators and staff outside your pest control staff.  (8% failure rate)
  • Do you have a pest monitoring program in place? (a)(1)(B) Word to the wise: if you don't have properly-maintained sticky cards in your school kitchens you definitely do not have a monitoring program! (8% failure rate, and I'm surprised this isn't higher)
  • If you're a new IPM Coordinator, have you got proof of taking your 6 hour mandatory IPM Coordinator training?  BTW, we can help with that. (8% failure rate)
  • When any pesticides are applied outdoors, is your staff in the habit of posting pest control signs  (d)(2) at the time of application until the minimal reentry time?  (8% failure rate)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's going on with pest control in Texas?

Who wants to go to a committee meeting?  Especially if you're not on the committee? So if visitor counts are any indication, either things are pretty slow in Austin these days or the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee is a hot ticket right now. Most visitor chairs around the room were full at last month's meeting in the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) headquarters building.  

Texas Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee at work
Bad picture, I know.  But here's proof that
the SPCAC was hard at work last month
at the Texas Department of Agriculture
offices in Austin.
October 30 was the first followup meeting to last spring's lively session focused mostly on TDA Structural Pest Control Service's (SPCS) enforcement activity.  It's no secret that many in the industry feel that "the bad guys" (shady pest control companies operating under the radar and outside the rules in Texas) are not being sufficiently policed by regulators since the former Structural Pest Control Board merged with the Texas Department of Agriculture and formed the new SPCS division.  Based on what I heard at this meeting, I think the TDA has heard those complaints, and is responding, especially when it comes to fumigations.

Several inspection issues were brought up and solutions suggested at the meeting.  Pretreatment notifications have historically been a slow and cumbersome process with inspectors often not receiving word of a planned termite pretreatment until it was starting or already completed. According to official Mike Kelly, the department wants to bring this process online for increased speed and efficiency. This will allow pest control companies to go online to report a pretreatment appointment, and will allow inspectors to get electronic notifications of all planned pretreatments twice a day.  Current rules require operators to call, email or FAX notifications to the department. Last year there were 6,275 notices of termite pretreatment and 1,076 fumigation notices received...a lot of office time.  This change in procedures could save significant staff time handling notifications. Lots of smiles around the table!

Most of us were especially interested in a followup report from last spring's discussion of a May 2013  apparent violation by a fumigator that occurred in Boerne, TX and was detailed at that time by committee member Warren Remmey.  Mike Kelly of TDA explained some of the circumstances around the event including lack of evidence to verify that the fumigator was actually carrying gas cylinders when delivering tarps to a home in an unmarked truck (a violation of SPCS rules). After the meeting the inspector on the site, Kelly reported, the fumigator claimed that the reason no notification was filed was because a truck carrying gas was delayed with mechanical problems, and he didn't know when it would arrive--skeptical looks around the table. Nevertheless the tarps that were installed on the day of the incident remained in place over the house more than a week before the gas arrived and the SPCS was finally notified, and attended the fumigation. 

No citations were issued in the case (no smiles around the table), but Kelly reported that steps have been taken to improve training and enforcement of fumigators by their inspector staff.  For one thing, Larry Riggs of Ensystex, a former regulator, has agreed to help provide fumigation training for inspectors.  Dr. Rudy Scheffran at the University of Florida will also host four inspectors at his fumigation training school in Florida this year. TDA has also formed a task force to advise the agency on fumigation-related issues. Debbie Aguirre of Elite Exterminating, Corpus Christi, has been leading the group. Since the April 11 meeting, TDA has conducted 11 fumigation inspections.  The committee thanked Kelly and the staff for responding to concerns from the last meeting, especially the training initiatives for inspectors. The committee was smiling again.

After this Debbie Aguirre presented suggestions from the task force for changes to the structural fumigation requirements.  One of the major problems her team has identified is that companies often subcontract or sub-sub-contract fumigation jobs, and its not always clear who is the responsible party is when communicating instructions to the customer and when planning the job. TDA staff have agreed to review the fumigation committee suggestions and bring back legally suitable language for a second review by the SPCAC.  

Kelly also announced that TDA is planning to eliminate fees for CEU course sponsors.  Currently anyone organizing a CEU class must pay TDA a $48 fee for each CEU provided.  Kelly says the department has determined these fees were not necessary and will be eliminated.  I sensed CEU providers all over the state smiling at this one.

Also bringing smiles to all the PMPs on the committee was a proposal to change the long problematic rule on advertising.  A problem with this rule has been that the rule was written to require licensed companies to not use false or deceptive advertising. The current wording makes it difficult for the department to penalize unlicensed operators from making false or deceptive claims online or in newspaper.  The advertiser would have to be actually observed making a pest control treatment to be penalized under the existing rule.  Two new paragraphs will be added to the section expanding the rule to apply to anyone offering to perform pest control services. In addition all advertisements must include the official business name as listed on the business license. The committee objected to an additional requirement to include the business license number on all advertisements, and it was removed.  

Also in response to requests to provide more information about enforcement actions, Stephen Pahl introduced new staff members including new chief counsel Martina Berrera, a former prosecuting attorney and judge.  She has been with the department for two months and is eager to get to know the industry and work to address concerns. She replaces outgoing counsel David Gibson.   

The SPCS includes both "Program staff", including inspectors, and "Enforcement staff". Program staff are required by law to conduct 480 inspections of non-commercial applicators, 200 use observations of structural licensees, 950 commercial business inspections.  In addition they must inspect approximately 250 school districts each year.  Also program staff must respond to complaints (46 so far in FY2014). Not all violation cases investigated by program staff get turned over to enforcement.  In 2014, we learned, program staff forwarded 40 cases involving unlicensed activity to Enforcement. For schools with unlicensed activity a non-compliance advisory letter is usually sent without a fine.  For violations at commercial businesses and non-commercial locations, Enforcement may issue a Notice of Violation (NOV), a warning, or take no action (e.g., when a business has shut down or the complainant may not be willing to pursue the case).  

Numbers of consumer complaints (46) have decreased significantly this year from prior years (ave. 181 per year 2011-13).  Although the agency reports that the number of consumer complaints have been decreasing for the past 12 years, this year's large drop appears due largely due to the department no longer accepting consumer complaints about poor service or failure of a company to control pests. Now the only complaints accepted for investigations are those involving possible infractions of the rules or law. As I see it, this amounts to a significant change in policy, redirecting the agency away from  consumer advocacy, to being a law enforcement agency only.  These changes appear to be necessary given tighter budgets over the past several years.  Mostly blank faces on the committee.

Visitors who attend these committee meetings do get an opportunity to comment if they wish.  Don Ward left a comment from the Texas Pest Control Association suggesting that SPCS host a class for pest control office staffers to appraise them of what they can and can't say and do.  He also indicated TPCA support for the advertising changes. Bryan Springer with Bevis Pest Control, Houston, commented that with all the regulations and safety requirements in place, the safety record of professional fumigation is good.  Harvey West of Coastal Fumigators, Houston, encouraged SPCS to provide and train inspectors to carry fumigant gas measurement devices to ensure accurate dosing of commercial fumigations.  He also urged the department to do something to discourage the practice of allowing spot treatments for drywood termites to suffice for passing real estate transactions.  Spot treatments are notoriously unreliable for eliminating drywood termite infestations in homes.

The committee adjourned after approximately a three hour meeting.  Smiles all around.