id you know that using tires in a play area for kids can provide breeding sites for disease-spreading mosquitoes? Rain water collects in tires, and even small amounts of water can be enough for the culex mosquito, which transmits West Nile Virus, to breed. In addition to mosquitoes, many other outdoor pests can pose serious health risks to children, including rodents, stinging wasps and bees, and, in the southern states, fire ants.
In the past, most people tried to deal with pests by killing them with a pesticide. Increasing concern about the potential harmful effects of pesticides on children has caused many people to reexamine this approach. Several states have passed legislation restricting the use of pesticides in childrens environments and calling on schools and childcare programs to adopt non chemical pest-control methods. One alternative is called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and many other organizations now recommend the use of IPM to control pests in childrens environments.
So what is IPM? IPM is a long term, environmentally sound pest control process based on an understanding of pest biology and habits. It uses multiple strategies, not just pesticides, to control pests. These strategies include reducing the food, water, and living space of pests, require and maintaining healthy outdoor landscapes. The best way to reduce the risk pests pose for childrens is to minimize the potential for contact between them by reducing their numbers.
IPM begins with a thorough inspection of the site. Whether your childcare setting is in a home, church, school, or center, this inspection should include the perimeter of the building(s), dumpster areas, play areas, and the surrounding turf and landscape. This initial inspection should identify both existing infestations and conditions that might attract pests in the future.
It takes some knowledge about pests needs and habits to recognize these conditions, so it is best to have a pest management professional conduct the inspection. Another important principle of IPM is, if you do not have a pest, you do not need a pesticide. Instead of using pesticide sprays preventively, IPM practitioners monitor for pest problems and only apply pesticides when pests cannot be eliminated any other way.
Inspect buildings for structural gaps (under siding, shingles, etc.) that can provide nesting habitats for wasps; whenever possible, seal access to these gaps.
Do not plant low evergreen shrubs next to buildings because the low drooping branches create hiding places for vertebrate pests like moles, mice, rats, or even larger animals. Remove these shrubs or keep the lower branches trimmed and off the ground.
Clean gutters frequently to avoid accumulation of debris and water, which can provide breeding habitats for mosquitoes.
Use trash containers with self-closing, hinged lids. During summer months, keep the containers away from building doors and other high-traffic areas; garbage and trash attract stinging insects like yellow jackets.
Place trash and food waste in quality plastic trash bags and tie the bags closed before placing them in the dumpster; avoid overloading the bags. Wrap excessively wet food wastes in newspaper to minimize organic liquid wastes.
Keep dumpster lids closed. This will keep rain out and odors in, and help to reduce the attraction of pests.
Keep dumpsters or other trash receptacles as far as possible from buildings both to reduce the chances of pest-to-people contact and the risk of pests moving indoors.
Keep the area around dumpsters and waste containers clean.
Turf, Landscapes, and Grounds
Select plant species that are less attractive to pests. For example, fruit trees may produce colorful blooms in spring, but also are highly attractive to bees and wasps. Contact your local extension service for information about the best plants to use.
Mow grass often and high; never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade. This will keep the turf thick and healthy and help prevent weed encroachment.
Use hand weeding, weed whackers, or spot sprays to eliminate weeds in turf rather than using blanket herbicide treatments.
Check your property and remove any type of container that can collect rainwater, including tires and kiddy-pools. If you want to maintain a birdbath, change the water about every five days to kill breeding mosquitoes.
Safe Pesticide Use
Sometimes pesticide use is warranted to protect childrens health. A pest management professional or local extension agent can help you make this determination. If a pesticide application is needed for your childcare facilities, keep the following important safety tips in mind:
Never apply a pesticide when children are present! Make applications when the property will be unoccupied for a day or more.
Only apply a pesticide for pests that pose a threat to childrens health, such as yellow jackets or fire ants.
Pesticides should only be applied by certified licensed commercial pest-control experts; applications should be limited to the immediate area of the pest infestation.
Use the least hazardous pesticide product and application method that will effectively control the pest problem. Less toxic products such as insect baits and insect growth regulators are favored over traditional spray treatments. One rule of thumb is only to use products with a Caution label; never use products with Warning or Danger printed on the label. Always follow label directions.
Do not store pesticides at the childcare site. If onsite storage is necessary, pesticides must be kept in their original containers and stored under lock and key.
Notify parents and staff members in advance if pesticides will be used. Some children and adults can have a hypersensitive reaction to pesticide residues. In addition, this notification is required by law in some states.
Al Fournier, Coordinator, Purdue University IPM Technical Resource Center, Ph. Candidate in Entomology
Integrated Pest Management in Schools, Purdue University, Department of Entomology, 1158 Smith Hall, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1158; 877-668-8IPM; www.entm.purdue.edu/Entomology/outreach/schoolipm/default.html
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Pesticide Information Center,