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Unsafe and Unnecessary

by Lois Huff

Mid to late summer is typically the time of year when we find our patience with biting and stinging insects wearing thin. Our attempts to relax outdoors on warm, humid evenings are disrupted by buzzing hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Our garage has been deemed a perfect nesting site by wasps, and the family pets have become unhappy hosts to a wide variety of nature's tinier creations. In a desperate quest for relief, we may be inclined to reach for the aerosol can of bug killer, and with reckless abandon, proceed to storm these pests with chemical weaponry. However, there are a number of things to consider before reacting too enthusiastically to the use of toxic chemicals to eradicate bugs.

First of all, it is almost impossible to determine the exact chemical composition of most pesticides, as 90% or more of the ingredients in a spray can or box of powder are not listed on the product label, but concealed by the term "inert ingredients." The term "inert" as used here is a legal term, not a chemical one, according to Bryan Jay Bashin ("Bug Bomb Fallout," Harrowsmith, June 1989). "Inert" simply means that the chemicals are not being used for the purposes for which they were formulated. Many extremely toxic substances, including DDT, benzene, and xylene, have been used in pesticides as inerts.

Secondly , in many cases the pesticides' active ingredients have not undergone rigorous testing in terms of possible health hazards. Active ingredienis (lindane, dichlorvos, carbaryl, methoxychlor, and DEET, to list a few) in many of the most widely used insecticides were introduced in the 1940s and '50s, before newly developed chemical compounds were subject to intensive testing. In 1963, Congress required that new chemicals be tested for possible adverse health effects before being placed on the market. However, retroactive testing of pesticides already in use did not begin until 1972, and currently lags far behind. Defínitive testing of the older household pesticides may not be completed until well into the next century.

All this uncertainty and potential risk seems a high price to pay for the illusion of a bug-free environment, especially in view of the fact that insecticides provide temporary relief at best, and must be used constantly to achieve consistent results. The problem can be approached from a different angle, one that takes into account the habits and preferences of nuisance insects, as well as those of their natural predators.

An important step in the control of mosquitoes, for example, is the elimination of breeding habitat. This involves removal of items in the yard which hold standing water, such as empty flowerpots and old tires. Low spots in the driveway should be filled in to avoid puddles. Containers such as birdbaths and pets' water dishes should be emptied and scrubbed frequently . If there is a small pond on y our property , consider stocking it with fish; goldfish and guppies have voracious appetites for mosquito larvae. Invite frogs and toads to set up camp nearby by placing some large rocks near the water's edge. Set up a birdhouse for purple martins; the diet of these birds consists largely of adult mosquitoes.

Wasps become pests in late summer when their feeding habits center on sugars rather than the proteins they preferred earlier in the season. For this reason, fruits and vegetables should be harvested and brought indoors before they become overripe, and damaged produce should be removed to the compost pile. Keep in mind that wasps are valuable predators of many types of garden insects, so if wasps have chosen an old stump on the perimeter of the yard as a nesting site, weigh your priorities and be willing to compromise.

For optimum safety , the application of insect repellents or insecticides directly to the skin, or to your pets' fur, should be avoided. It has been demonstrated that DEET, the most widely used active ingrediënt in insect repellents, is absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream. While most people do not appear to suffer adverse effects from DEET use, documented cases of convulsions and death have been attributed to DEET. Carbaryl, the active ingredient in some brands of flea and tick collars , and dichlorpyrifos, used in flea collars and no-pest strips, may be responsible for mutations and birth defects in animals and leukemia in children.

As an alternative choice, the B-complex of vitamins has been shown to possess insect repellent properties which can be beneficial to humans and animals alike. The B-vitamins appear to increase the vigor of the skin, thereby helping to build a resistance to various skin ailments and external parasites. The B-vitamins can be taken internally in the form of dietary supplements of brewer's yeast, or in tablets. Brewer's yeast can also be applied to pets' fur and skin to help repel fleas and ticks.

Some of the mints, notably pennyroyal, thyme, catnip, and citronella, have been used in the past for their repellent qualities. A strong tea made f om the fresh or dried leaves of these plants and applied to the skin helps to discourage bugs. The dried, crushed leaves can also be sprinkled onto pet bedding or sewn into fabric strips for use as flea collars. The oil of citronella is most commonly incorporated into candles, but its fresh or dried leaves can be used in much the same way as the other mints.

Another approach when venturing outdoors is to dress appropriately . Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in lightweight, loose-fitting fabric. Avoid dark or bright, flowery colors; biting insects seem to be least attracted to light colored clothing. Tuck pant legs into boots, secure sleeves with rubber bands. Wear a protective hat if necessary.

In nature, insects serve a number of valuable purposes, an important one being their place on the food chain for birds, fish, bats, and other creatures. Natural insect control methods, unlike their toxic chemical equivalents, intend only to discourage bugs from feeding on us and from breeding nearby, not to obliterate insect populations. Ultimately, we can 't eliminate insects, but we can make ourselves and our immediate surroundings as uninviting to them as possible, while maintaining the integrity of the environment. They won't bug us much longer in any case; the first hard frost of fall will see to that.

Raid FLEA KILLER for Dogs & Cats*





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