Choosing a Pest Management Professional

When autumn cools the nights, bugs and critters seek warmth inside. Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests without exposure to harmful chemicals is an effective approach that is healthier for your children, pets and the environment too.

IPM best practices include depriving pests of food and water sources inside your home; sealing off entry points; and using manual methods to eliminate or control bugs.

If you prefer to call a pest management professional (you might know them as pest control companies or exterminators), take time to contact two or three companies and compare their IPM plan for your situation.  Even carpenter ants and bedbugs do not require panic mode! Consider these questions:

  • Is the pest management professional (PMP) licensed? Washington State Department of Agriculture requires any person who “uses, sells or consults on the use of pesticides” to be licensed.
  • Will the PMP physically inspect your home before formulating an assessment of your pest situation?
  • Will the technician give you a written plan that identifies the pests, the extent of the infestation and the methods of control?
  • If a pest management professional suggests chemical treatment first, without mentioning IPM, keep looking.
  • Does the PMP seem knowledgeable about this particular bug, its life stages, food preferences and habits?  This information is invaluable in formulating IPM strategies.
  • If a PMP recommends using a pesticide, have non-chemical approaches been tried first?  Is there another pesticide that is less toxic and is as effective in this situation?
  • Will the company provide a list of the active ingredients and MSDS information for each?
  • Are your safety concerns respected and addressed?
  • Do you feel pressured or rushed into signing a contract or making a decision?

How do you know if a pesticide is least-toxic?  Read the label! As a first step, look for signal words that will warn you about the acute (immediate) risks. To learn more about the chronic hazards such as cancer or endocrine disruption, research the active ingredient(s) listed on the label at the Pesticide Action Network database.  The label will also tell you “other” or “inert” ingredients are present. These may be just as harmful, but disclosure is not required unless deemed “highly toxic.” If you don’t know the active ingredient, you can search the National Pesticide Information Retrieval System database using an EPA registration number or product name.

What does EPA registration tell you?  Pesticides must be registered with the EPA and list a registration number on the label. These products are evaluated by EPA scientists based on information provided by the manufacturer but it does not mean the product is free of toxic chemicals. Minimum risk pesticides are exempt from EPA registration, but must list both active and “other” ingredients on the label.

When it comes to bugs, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Remember, you can apply IPM techniques to prevent pests, too

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