THE Russians may have sophisticated equipment to bug foreign embassies in Moscow, but it took American know-how to debug the American Embassy in Moscow of a pest more persistent than electronic -- the cockroach.
A few years ago, says H. Tim Crowe, vice preisdent and secretary of Rollins, Inc., the American Embassy staff thought "no one in the Soviet capital had any knowledge in dealing with this common American household pest." Entomologist Glenn F. Burkhalter of the Orkin division of Atlanta-based Rollins, Inc., traveled 11,000 miles (round trip) to get the problem under control.
Before his departure for the bugged embassy, Burkhalter was sent two vials of roach specimens in alcohol for examination. The roaches, which were light brown in color, turned out to be the common German food roach. The German food roach, despite its name is found worldwide and originated in Africa. Like other species of roaches, it travels well and can adapt to almost any climate. The roach species holds the dubious distinction (along with termites and sharks) of having existed in the same form since prehistoric times.
Ron Groves, manager of Terminex International, says, "Although roaches are more dominant in this area and farther south than they are up north, they are pretty universal all over this country."
If despite your best precautions (listed last week in this column) you still have bugs, you have the option of becoming your own exterminator or hiring one.
Doing it yourself is cheaper. However, warns Rollins spokesman Crowe, beware of two difficulties:
"First, the householder usually just attacks the problem where the insect is seen. This doesn't help. You have to locate the source.
"Second, most homeowners treat the problem by spraying or applying the insecticide repeatedly. This doesn't help either since the roach, ant or whatever, will quickly build an immunity to the poison."
In addition, Shirley Briggs, executive director of the Rachel Carson Council, Inc., says that "just because something is on the market, it doesn't mean it's safe to use." The Rachel Carson Council, Inc., is an organization that deals with the chemical contamination of the environment.
Since 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency has had the job of registering pesticides. Briggs says that the law provides that pesticide testing is the responsibility of the pesticide manufacturer. It's up to the manufacturer to prove the ingredients are innocent of doing any harm to humans or to the environment. She questions whether a built-in bias might let harmful materials go on to the market.
"And in the unlikely event that a pesticide manufacturer cannot prove its innocence, the insecticide might be banned or more likely, just highly restricted," Briggs adds.
EPA spokesman Herb Harrison disagrees. "It is absurd to think that an insecticide manufacturer might falsify data toxicology in order to get a product on the market. They could lose their shirts in a court case if their evidence didn't hold up. In addition to the manufacturers' testing, we [the EPA], as well as the National Cancer Institute, do some spot checking."
Harrison, who is the branch chief of the Insecticide-Rodenticide Program of the Registration Division of the EPA, says, "There is no way anyone can extrapolate evidence from animals and say that the same holds true for humans. What we do is weigh the benefits against the risks. We set the criteria. The insecticide label tells the consumer what is hazardous. It's then up to the consumer to decide if his/her bug problem is so bad that it requires the insecticides with the stronger chemical contents."
Insecticides work in different ways. Some are foggers -- a mist that saturates an area with killing fumes. Some are aerosol mists that are used for buzzing pests. Some are aerosol sprays that are best used on surfaces such as counter tops and floors. Some come in powders that are especially good in hard-to-get-at cracks. Baits, made up of insect food and poison, work well, but should not be made accessible to small children and pets. Tape consists of a 1-x-4-inch strip coated with adhesive on one side and poison on the other. Fumigant cakes are hung in closed closets, where their fumes choke out ants, roaches and silverfish.
Read the insecticide label carefully. Some insecticides have a child-protective closure, some cannot be applied near children and/or pets, some can not be used around pollen-sensitive people, some can't be used around people who are seriously ill and on medication and some are a fire hazard.
Consumer Reports did a study last year of household insecticides that were safe for use in the home. The following chemicals, although many are contained in a number of on-the-market insecticides, were not recommended for household use; kepone, arsenates, sodium fluoride, diazinon and dichlorvos.
EPA's Herb Harrison again thinks it's up to the consumer. "In some parts of the country where infestation is rampant you need a strong insecticide. And in regard to the Consumer Report article, I see little toxic difference between the chemical diazinon, which they judged harmful, and the chemical chlorpyrifos. I guess it was an editorial decision on the part of CR."
Briggs of the Rachel Carson Council feels dichlorvos should be thoroughly examined. "Those No-Pest Strips have dichlorovs, and when it gets into the air we breathe it has been known to cause a number of bad effects."
Dichlorvos is also on EPA's "blacklist," or in the Rebutable Presumptions Against Registration stage (Rpar), Dichlorvos is being tested since, as Briggs says, the fumes it emits may be dangerous to humans as well as to pests. Spokesman Harrison says that when a chemical is in the RPAR stage its beneficial and hazardous effects are analyzed. In the past RPAR has resulted in leaving the product as it was.
A variety of chemicals make up these poisonous bug killers. Insecticides employ pyrethrins effectively against flying and crawing insects, if used with sufficient concentration. Pyrethrins degrade in a day or two. However, warns Briggs of the Rachel Council, they should not be used near asthmatics and others who are sensitive to pollen. Consumer Reports agrees. "Inhaling or even touching those chemicals could bring on a severe allergic attack."
Resmesthrin is another chemical found most often in aerosol spray products. Although its residual doesn't last long on surfaces, it is excellent for killing flying insects, such as wasps. Another effective poison, particularly against roaches, is chlorpyrifos lasts from 7 to 10 days.
An even stronger roach exterminating chemical is propoxur. Propoxur lures the pests from their hiding places and poisons them once they come in contact with sprayed surfaces.
Boric acid is contained in hardly any insecticides yet has been proven to be a slow-acting poison that destroys ants, silverfish and roaches. It works on its own or as part of packaged insecticide. The powder, Roach Prufe and the bait, Harris Famous Tablets, both have boric acid components. Briggs recommend boric acid: "It's the best toxic substance you can use -- environmentally speaking -- for roaches."
Another good -- and safe -- safe (as long as you don't inhale it), Briggs says, is silica gel, or Dry-Die, as it's known commercially. Briggs says that Dry Die is most often used out West for termite extermination. It is one of the components of D-Con's "Warpath" spray. Dry Die is a natural herbal product tht looks like fine dust. Applied in small amounts, it eats away the shell of the insect and then dires up its innards, which are mostly liquid in nature. Dry Die can be bought for $4 a pound, "which is enough to last you a lifetime," says Briggs. The only drawbacck to Dry-Die is that it doesn't work in wet places or in high humidity.
Insecticides should be selected carefully and then used with caution. The Better Business Bureau offers these tips on insecticide selection:
Always read the label before buying or suing insecticides. Use them only for the purposes listed and in the manner directed.
Do not apply more than the specified amount. Overdoses can harm you and the environment.
Keep insecticides away from food and dishes.
Keep children and pets away from insecticides and sprayed areas.
Do not smoke while spraying.
Avoid inhalation of insecticides.
Never spray outdoors on a windy day.
Pesticides that require special protective clothing or equipment should be used only by trained, experienced applicators.
Avoid breaking or spilling insecticide containers.
If you spill an insecticide on your skin or your clothing, wash with soap and water and change clothes immediately.
Wash with soap and water after using insecticides.
If someone swallows a pesticide, check the label for first aid treatment. Call or go to a doctor immediately and keep the insecticide label with you.
If all this sounds too complicated to do yourself, you might want to hire an exterminator. The price can be high. Orkin charges anywhere from a one-time treatment fee of $75 to a yearly $300 charge; they also offer free inspection and estimates. Womack Exterminators charge a flat initial fee of $55 that includes outdoor treatment if you have a yard. H & H Exterminators' prices range from $40 to $48 for the first time -- more for outdoor treatment. Western Termite and Pest Control, as wellas Terminix International, Inc., do not offer free inspection and estimates.
If you do use an exterminator, Shirley Briggs suggests finding out what sort of fluids and chemicals they employ, so you can have some idea of the safety of the ingredients. "However, this can be difficult, since exterminating companies don't have to tell you and sometimes won't."