You Can’t Win the War Against Cockroaches with Pesticides Alone.

Cockroaches, of whom a few species are among the most insidious and revolting pests known to humanity, are often a fact of life for city dwellers and homeowners, alike. Given their constant contact with the unsanitary underpinnings of human existence, i.e., sewers, garbage, what-have-you, they are the perfect conduit for spreading infection and disease. Did you know that cockroaches are the leading cause of asthma amongst children raised in inner-city areas? (Rosenstreich et al. 1997; Wang and Bennett 2009) Around 9 million children under age 18 are thought to suffer with asthma, with a large proportion attributable to exposure to cockroach allergens.


Why are Cockroaches Such a Problem?


Periplaneta americana species of cockroach*

Widespread exposure to cockroaches and allergens starts with humans creating a haven for cockroach procreation through a combination of poor building hygiene/maintenance and ineffective pest control. Many building managers maintain regularly scheduled pesticide spray regimens in order to meet the standard for their city’s legal compliance codes. This questionable approach has resulted in cockroaches developing such a remarkable resistance to pesticides that their populations have actually exploded. Once multi-unit buildings become infested, cockroaches can become almost impossible to eliminate. In the short term, spraying actually encourages infestation by forcing pests to scurry to safety, away from treated areas. (Owens and Bennett 1982; Koehler et al. 1987; Schal and Hamilton 1990; Miller and Meek 2004). Additionally, periodic spraying is causing asthma rates to soar: cockroaches who survive being sprayed often manufacturer increasing amounts of the allergens known to trigger childhood asthma. (Gore and Schal 2007).


Using Integrated Pest Management to Deal with Cockroaches.


Unlike contract sprays, IPM methods can significantly reduce and/or even eliminate cockroaches. A number of studies have now shown that IPM methods can reduce cockroaches and their associated allergens, as well as the amount of pesticides utilized. (Greene and Breisch 2002; Miller and Meek 2004; Wang and Bennett 2009; Wang and Bennett 2006; Sever et al. 2007) IPM Methods for eradication of cockroaches include: monitoring, prevention, exclusion, sanitation, education, the application of boric acid, cockroach baits and insect growth regulators.


The most basic professional IPM program is targeted baiting, which requires traps and poisons combined with rigorous sanitary measures. Increased sanitation results in the denial of food and water. As the cockroaches become increasingly desperate for sustenance, they will turn to the bait traps, becoming more vulnerable to the poisons in the process. Using this strategy, cockroach populations should be reduced or completely eliminated


Using IPM to Reduce the Application of Pesticides.


A range of studies have actually shown that IPM methods can reduce pesticides and provide more effective pest control than scheduled pesticide spraying. The Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC) applied structural IPM methods to 140 buildings on 1700 acres at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in Mountain View, CA, reducing applied pesticides by 87% (Daar 1997). Greene and Breisch (2002) converted more than 100 government buildings in Washington, DC to IPM management. Before IPM, 99.6% of all service calls resulted in spray applications of organophosphates. Conversion to IPM methods resulted in a 93% reduction in amounts of applied pesticides. Use of cockroach baits and IPM resulted in an 89% reduction in pesticide service requests, and presumably, a similar reduction in cockroaches.


Even cost restricted IPM programs containing only basic components can be effective. One basic program combined monitoring with an initial vacuum cleanout and the use of cockroach baits. Average cockroach populations were reduced by approximately 84% during the course of one year.


Do Reduced Cockroach Populations Result in Lower Allergen Levels?


Unfortunately, some studies have shown no specific reduction of allergen levels following IPM. However a 3 day study of multi-unit housing where 50-1,000 cockroaches per residence (Approximately 99%) were trapped using cockroach baits (Sever et al. 1997) resulted in a 91% reduction in kitchen based allergens, an 89.6% reduction in living rooms, an 82.2% reduction in bedroom floors and a 36% reduction in beds. A clear link between the reduction of cockroach based allergens and lower incidences of childhood related asthma has, as yet, not been definitely established.

Bottom line, if you’ve got a cockroach problem or know someone who does, you owe it to yourself to find a company that utilizes the most up to date, Integrated Pest Management methods available to eliminate these disgusting pests.

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons