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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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New Contributor

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

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



I see the article is in an ACS journal. Puzzling why the PDF can only be shared with journalists.

As this is an ACS sponsored blog.

Would think that if you wanted folks to answer the question about IPM replacing pesticides, you'd give access to all about the facilitate answers by anyone interested, not just journalists.

Understandable there are licenses involved, etc, etc, etc.

Just feeling I am getting mixed messages here about wanting comments, but not providing the whole article.

Contributor II

I have used IPM methods in the garden. For example, releasing lady bugs to kill aphids is a solution that many organic gardeners employ. I can see a lot of value in employing IPM to control bugs such as mosquitoes (screening or netting porches instead of spraying replants), and stink bugs (sealing cracks). Stink bugs are a real problem in MD and PA and aren't easily controlled by insecticide, so blocking entry and removing bugs is about the only solution. On the other hand, bugs like termites are impossible to deal with without chemicals.

New Contributor

Hi Katie; IPM may stand for "Intelligent Protection Management"

I don't think pesticides could one day totally be replaced by IPM however. I think huge changes are ahead of pesticides. The most harmful ones will be banned in the neat future. In Europe REACH is segregating chemicals depending on whether they are dangerous or not for human beings and for the planet; but I'm sure you've heard about REACH already!

We'll maybe also find new bio-derived pesticides to reduce the use of oil-derived chemicals.

But I am convinced we'll also start using alternatives to pesticides: IPM looks like a good one. However pesticides (new ones) will keep on existing to my point of view.

I want to share below a "real-life" example showing how pesticide-alternatives can be easily found and implemented; it is all about behaviors and habits. If you have in mind only chemicals are efficient, once you'll face a problem you'll quickly look for a chemical to solve it. If you have in mind chemicals should be carefully selected and adverse effects evaluated before using them, then I am convinced chemicals will be used only when it's needed, and only when it will not bring other (environmental) issues.

I have hornets in my garden these days; a good number I should say because it's the right time for grape fruits here in France (lots of sugar inside). I also have 2 young kids and hornets could be very dangerous. I therefore initially planned to buy some pesticides / efficient chemicals. But before buying them I also took a look on the web and found an interesting way of making hornet traps, which everybody can make at home with a small saw and an empty PET water bottle. After 3 to 4 days the 4 traps I made captured more than 12 hornets (died right now). After 2 weeks I am not able to accurately count the number of hornets trapped: in the 30+ range! I did not buy pesticides at the end. This is I think a good example of alternative ways to pesticides, which will become more popular in the coming years. However, having pesticides available could be a solution when nothing else, less harmful, maybe also cheaper is available.

I love chemistry; I am amazed by the huge amount of innovations where chemicals are the center piece. But I do not think over-using chemicals is the right thing, although it helps short term sales results of chemical companies. I think the right solution is more advanced chemicals, less harmful (which requires a lot of technology advances in the coming yrs), more efficient at lower rate, easier and cleaner to produce. There is still a lot of work ahead of us!

New Contributor III

Thank you everyone for your comments! Thibaud, I removed one of your replies, as I think it was an earlier draft of the same response. As this paper argues, IPM does appear to be a good, viable alternative to pursue before running out to buy pesticides. As I mention in the blog post, IPM could reduce the use of pesticides, but I think there will still be a need for traditional pest-management practices in some instances.