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Nonchemical Prevention of Cockroaches Proves Successful in Low-Income Urban Environment
(Beyond Pesticides, January 6, 2004) A recent study of 131 families in East Harlem, New York, found that integrated pest management (IPM) can be an efficient and cost-effective way to control cockroaches in urban environments. Integrated Pest Management in an Urban Community: A Successful Partnership for Prevention found that more than 80% of the families documented the presence of cockroaches at the start of the study, while only 39% still had cockroaches six months later. Findings were published in the October 2003 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).

IPM relies on nonchemical approaches plus education, along with careful placement of the least toxic baits. The concept is that pest populations can be controlled by removing their basic survival elements, such as air, moisture, food, and shelter and by blocking their access by sealing cracks. The traditional approach, on the other hand, involves applying pesticides in large areas. In 1998 in Manhattan alone, for example, commercial pest control firms applied more than 270,500 pounds of pesticides. Exposure to these chemicals has been found to cause developmental delays, hyperactivity, motor dysfunction, behavioral disorders, and brain cell death in laboratory animals.

Participants in the study were split into two groups: an intervention group that received IPM training and support services, and a control group that did not. While infestation was cut in half for the intervention group, the control group showed a small increase in cockroach infestation over the study period.

“Some researchers have argued that IPM will be effective in multiple-unit apartment buildings only if it takes place in the context of a building-wide program of repair and pest control. We found otherwise: In the present study, we observed that individual tenants can successfully control cockroach infestation in their own apartments without using chemical pesticide sprays,” the study authors write.

The key to success, according to the authors, is having a coordinated approach that includes education, repair, least-toxic extermination, reinforcement, and repetition. It also helps a great deal to have members of the community involved in the process, to increase the receptivity of participants to learning new methods. The study found that costs of IPM were $46-69 per unit in the first year (including repairs) and $24 per unit per subsequent year. Traditional chemical treatment is estimated at $24-$46 per unit per year.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for EHP, says, “To say that we can deal successfully with these pest populations without exposing ourselves unnecessarily to chemicals, and to say that we can do this cost-effectively, is very good news. If this sort of pest management is widely adopted, we’d expect to see a positive impact on human health.”

The study team was led by Barbara L. Brenner of Mount Sinai Medical Center. Other authors include Steven Markowitz, Maribel Rivera, Harry Romero, Matthew Weeks, Elizabeth Sanchez, Elena Deych, Anjali Garg, James Godbold, Mary S. Wolff, Philip J. Landrigan, and Gertrud Berkowitz.

Preliminary results of the study were released in July, as covered in the July 23, 2003 Daily News. To read more on IPM methods, see Beyond Pesticides’ Alternative Fact Sheets, or contact Beyond Pesticides for further information.