Pest Prevention

Sept. 1, 2004
Schools and universities beginning an IPM program don't need to start from scratch.

When Isaac Newton wrote a letter to fellow scientist Robert Hooke in 1676, he made a statement that would resound for generations: “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton credited his success to the fact that he was able to build upon the knowledge of those before him.

Problem-solvers seldom test new ideas without researching which ones have worked and which ones have failed. Schools and universities searching for a way to initiate a pest-management program that is both safe and environmentally friendly should not start from scratch. By using strategies and examples from other education institutions, they can form an integrated pest management (IPM) program to eliminate pests' sources of food, water, and shelter in the best way possible for their institution. They also can use others' ideas to set up a plan where pesticides are applied only when necessary and are properly documented to ensure a higher level of safety.

Doing some homework

The first step in initiating an IPM program is to gather information. It's important to look at examples of how other schools have approached IPM and to understand state requirements regarding pest control. Some states have a mandated IPM program, some have a voluntary program, and some have no program at all, says Dini Miller, an urban pest-management specialist and assistant professor in the department of entomology at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a school IPM webpage ( that offers a link to an online directory of each state's pest-management program and policies, as well as contact information for each state. Additional websites that may offer guidance include Virginia's IPM website (, the University of Florida IPM website (, and Texas A&M's IPM website ( Using the directory, websites and other resources, a school just beginning an IPM program can build upon the practices of schools with established programs in other states instead of struggling to develop an original program on their own.

Laying the groundwork

A school or university should write its own guidelines for pest control based on its specific situation. The websites listed above give examples of guidelines and instructions for anyone wanting to start an IPM program. Guidelines will differ from school to school, depending on whether the institution uses in-house or contracted pest-control services.

Dealing with in-house pest control is much easier, says Miller. In this case, the person works for the school, and is experienced and licensed. Workers communicate with teachers and staff to understand the pest problem and are able to observe pest behavior because of the amount of time they spend in the facility.

In schools that hire out for pest control, it's typical for the school to choose a price first and then receive whatever services it can for the designated price, says Miller. But the school doesn't know what services it will receive, and it rarely has an accurate record of what pesticides were applied during a visit.

“You'd be amazed at how many schools have no idea what their pest-control operator applies in their buildings,” says Miller. “And that's a huge issue.”

To avoid this situation, education institutions should write their own pest-control contract, state the services they want, and then ask how much it will cost, says Miller.

Managing pest control

Montgomery County, Va., Public Schools (MCPS), Christiansburg, struggled with pest management before it established an IPM program. Under the district's previous pest-management contract, a pest-control operator would come into the building, touch base with the administrative assistant at the front desk, spray the walls in the offices to ward off pests, have the ticket signed by whoever was there at the time, and leave. The ticket might describe what chemicals were applied, but the language used often was too difficult to be understood by anyone but a professional. Tickets could be misplaced easily because there was no designated place to file them.

With Miller's guidance and the help of other school IPM websites and publications, Lou Ferguson, the former assistant engineer for MCPS, wrote a set of IPM specifications for the district and bid out contracted pest-control services based on the integrated pest-management concept.

“One of the things that we learned was that monitoring is the key to integrated pest management,” says Ferguson. “That's what integrated pest management really means. You monitor for the pests and then only treat if you find them.”

MCPS began its IPM program with an initial inspection of the facility. Traps were placed in designated areas throughout a building and monitored to identify pest problems upfront. After gathering this initial information, the district developed a regular monthly monitoring schedule.

Ferguson set up a management plan in which all information pertaining to the district's IPM program was kept in a three-ring binder. The pest-control operator was asked to use a floor plan and numbering system to keep track of each trap's location. This allowed the pest-control operator to identify how many pests were found in which traps and document that information on the designated forms in the binder.

The plan for MCPS was designed for in-house custodial services. A senior custodian at each building works closely with teachers and principals. For the plan to be used in a school district that contracts out its custodial services, the school system would have to appoint someone in each building to be the IPM manager in that facility, says Ferguson.

When there is a pest complaint, the IPM manager puts a note in the management plan. The pest-control operator will see the note on the monthly visit, talk to the IPM manager for the facility, ask where the problem is, and find a way to deal with it. Using this method, the pest-control operator doesn't have to inspect a huge facility each month. The people that work in the building find the problems because they work there every day, says Ferguson.

When a pest problem is identified, the pest-control operator should act as a consultant to the IPM manager by helping to identify the pest and discover the least dangerous method for treatment, says Ferguson.

Schools can get recommendations for products that are more appropriate for IPM than spray formulations and fogs, says Miller. The school should authorize which products can be used and which are off-limits. In the management plan at MCPS, a list of all chemicals approved for use is kept in the management plan binder. If the pest-control operator wishes to use a chemical that isn't listed, the IPM manager for the building can research the chemical and evaluate its pros and cons before issuing authorization for its use.

Enduring a rocky start

After understanding the benefits of an IPM program, most school facilities personnel are eager to begin a plan of their own, but gaining the initial support needed to make a change can be challenging.

“If it isn't broken, they don't want to fix it,” says Miller. “And if schools haven't had any problems and no parents have complained, and nobody's getting sick … why would they bother doing something that they perceive might be more difficult?”

Miller does full-day training with school facilities personnel, and she says that by the end of training, everyone agrees that the change is not a big hassle, it's not a big change, and it makes sense. They also begin to see that the way they have been controlling pests is not very smart.

“Not keeping any records of pesticide application on school grounds is just begging for trouble,” says Miller. “And so they tend to agree.”

Although it might be a little rough in the beginning, many of the school districts that Miller has done training with have adopted IPM.

“I have not run into anybody who has adopted IPM and then didn't think it was a good idea after they got into it,” says Miller.

Strahle, associate editor, can be reached at [email protected].


Four points of integrated pest management (IPM):





Source: Integrated Pest Management: A Catalog of Resources, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Pest-control toolbox

Aside from basic sanitation practices, education facilities can use a variety of tools and strategies to control pest problems in a way that is safe and environmentally friendly:

  • Sticky traps

    Sticky insect traps are useful for monitoring and identifying pests. “They don't control pests or pest infestations, but they let you know whether you have a pest problem or not,” says Dini Miller, an urban pest-management specialist and assistant professor in the department of entomology at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. Light traps also can be used to attract fleas.

  • Baits

    Because bait is a non-deterrent, pests carry it back to cracks and crevices to share, which works to wipe out the population, says Lou Ferguson, former assistant engineer for Montgomery County, Va., Public Schools (MCPS), Christiansburg.

    Gel formulation baits work well because they have a very low-toxicity chemical that is in a food source that cockroaches are willing to eat, even when they sometimes have a choice of potato chips or pizza.

    The University of California — Berkeley uses bait stations and traps to control yellow jackets. Traps with attractant in them are placed in trees around daycare centers, sports facilities and outdoor dining facilities. At one sports day camp, the use of traps to catch yellow jackets reduced the number of stings from 30 to only four the following year.

    The university also controls yellow jackets at football games by placing about 30 traps around the stadium. The number of stings per game has gone from 10 to one or two because of the trap use.

    Placing ant bait around the perimeter of campus buildings at the university has lowered the amount of ant complaints by about 80 percent. Ant bait only has to be applied once a year, and it shouldn't be applied in areas where children might be exposed.

  • Boric acid powder

    By placing boric acid in the walls in housing units and in vacant apartments, UC — Berkeley almost has eliminated cockroach problems, says Margaret Hurlbert, environmental health and safety specialist at the university. Because the boric acid is in the walls, cockroaches must pass through it if they try to move from one room to another. The boric acid also is placed under appliances and in cracks and crevices in housing units. The university has family/student housing with about 1,000 apartments, and it receives between zero and three calls each week for cockroach complaints. It also uses boric acid in kitchen facilities, offices and other areas on campus with cockroach problems.

  • Insect growth regulators

    Growth regulators can come in the form of a small plastic disc that can be placed out of the way, behind appliances or inside cabinets. The disc contains a mimic of a hormone that cockroaches have. It doesn't kill the cockroaches outright, but it sends the wrong message to their bodies, making them develop incorrectly. They still develop into adults, but they will be sterile and unable to reproduce new generations, says Miller.

  • Parasitic wasps

    UC-Berkeley uses parasitic wasps (Comperia merceti) to kill brown-banded cockroach eggs. This is a wasp, about the size of a flea, that is inserted into an environment and lays its eggs in a cockroach's egg cases. The university has used this method to destroy cockroaches in some of its research labs and in 14 research buildings, which contain more than 2,000 rooms. The wasps work more slowly, but they are able to find egg cases in cupboards and inside boxes, says Hurlbert.

  • Controlling larger animals

    UC-Berkeley also is faced with the challenge of controlling larger animals. Where they are causing damage, the university excludes raccoons, opossums, and skunks from crawl spaces and other areas. Wildlife is excluded from buildings by using a one-way door and sealing the openings. The university has a feral cat management program in which it uses live traps to catch feral cats, and works with low-cost vets to fix and release the animals instead of euthanizing them. The university also works to find homes for tame cats.

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