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Flowers & Power: Getting rid of bugs without pesticides

New Contributor III
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Bugs are a big problem. They spread diseases, and people also can develop allergies to them. And, of course, they’re icky.

They often are a really huge problem in densely populated, urban, low-income public housing dwellings, where there’s lots of food, clutter, moisture build-up, and cracks and crevices for bugs to crawl through and hide.

Families in Boston public housing developments, for instance, rank pest infestation, pesticide use and pest allergies second only to crime as matters of concern.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the world spends about $40 billion a year on pesticides to get rid of the creepy-crawlies. But is this really the answer? Some pesticides contain substances that can be harmful to humans at high levels, not just bugs.

Chensheng Lu and colleagues wondered about that. So they studied exposure to 19 pesticides among children in 20 families in Boston’s public housing. They wanted to see whether these children might be exposed to large amounts of pesticides in their everyday lives.

They found pesticides in all of the homes, along with indications — such as sighting of live pests or pest debris — that traditional pesticides were not effective. “The results from the current study, as well as other recent studies, conducted in low-income public housing, child care centers and randomly selected homes in the U.S. should accentuate the need for alternative pest management programs,” the report states.

So called “integrated pest management” (IPM) measures include less reliance on pesticides and more emphasis on neatness and blocking cracks where insects can enter. It also focuses on minimizing bugs’ access to food and water.

What do you think? Could IPM methods really replace pesticides?

“Household Pesticide Contamination from Indoor Pest Control Applications in Urban Low-Income Public Housing Dwellings: A Community-Based Participatory Research”

*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing


Credit: Hemera/Thinkstock

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