Environmental Health

Eliminate the Pesticides Along With the Pest - Take Some Action

Limit the need of pesticides in the first place
Preventing pest problems allows you to limit or eliminate pesticide use in your school. A comprehensive system of prevention strategies is what makes the long-term solution of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) so successful. You can learn more about IPM in our Go the Extra Mile section. In this section, we’ll just point out one of the biggest preventative tips that you should consider…

While designing and managing the school’s landscape, you can choose to plant only trees, shrubs, and plants that originally grew in your local area, not ones that are from other parts of the country or other parts of the world. Vegetation native to your area will already have natural defense mechanisms in place for dealing with attacks from local insects and fungi. Furthermore, the local soil will already be well suited for the plant, providing the appropriate nutrients and water concentration. Even rainfall amount and temperature ranges will be appropriate, as well as countless other factors that help foster an integrated ecosystem. This reduces the need for pesticides and the need for unnecessary quantities of fertilizers and inappropriate types of fertilizer, both of which can contribute to environmental damage.

Guides available on the internet provide information about the range of vegetation native to specific areas. Some of them are regional, such as this guide based on the Northwestern Region of the United States developed by the Washington Toxics Coalition. Other websites are much more specific, focusing on a state and even different sections of a state, such as this example of Maryland. If you have trouble finding information about your local ecosystem, check out this guide from National Geographic that provides a map of the world where you can zoom in to your specific region and click on the specific colored area covering your territory. It will provide basic vegetation information and specific climate details, which will give you a starting point for understanding the particular types of species that can grow in your local ecosystem.

If you want to include your students in the process of learning about local vegetation and even designing a native plants garden, check out this lesson plan from National Geographic.

Take action through responsible fertilizer use
Pesticide/Fertilizer combinations can especially be a threat to the local environment and to your health because they are often used irresponsibly. According to the Washington Toxics Coalition, the danger with Pesticide/Fertilizer combinations is that even when only one or the other is needed, both are applied every time the substance is used, which results in excessive chemicals and nutrients entering the environment.

Fertilizers alone, without pesticides mixed in, can also cause problems because when they are applied, they affect more than just the target plant; just like pesticides, they affect the rest of the nearby ecosystem. Also, according to the Washington Toxics Coalition, some of them can cause negative health effects to humans depending on exposure levels and the various contaminants that are in them.

To use fertilizers as responsibly as possible, begin by planting local plants rather than non-native species as described in the previous section. And when you do have to use fertilizers, make sure you use the appropriate kind of fertilizer and the appropriate concentration of ingredients according to the particular nutrient needs of your plants. You should make informed decisions between all purpose vs. specific fertilizers and between synthetic vs. organic fertilizers. This guide by the Washington Toxics Coalition will help you make informed decisions about these topics.

What are the alternatives to pesticides, and how can I use them?
One great resource is a directory of fact sheets provided by Beyond Pesticides. It’s organized by the name of the pest you are trying to control. Clicking on each pest will provide you with prevention strategies for avoiding that specific pest and then controlling strategies for existing problems.

Beyond Pesticides also has a broader directory of fact sheets organized by the type of problem or topic.

Also, check out Washington Toxics Coalition’s website for some other least-toxic solutions to pest control. For their indoor pest-control tips and least-toxic alternatives fact sheets, click here. For their outdoor pest-control fact sheets, click here,

A final website to consider for fact sheets on controlling specific pests is Our Water Our World. Many of their fact sheets are available in both English and Spanish.

How can I find pest management companies that offer least-toxic alternatives?
Check out Beyond Pesticides’ Least Toxic Service Directory. Just click on your state and it will list providers in your area who use least-toxic strategies to control pests.

Still have questions about pesticide alternatives?
Try the “Ask the Expert Function” from Our Water Our World where you can ask them questions about managing indoor or outdoor pests with least-toxic methods.

Also, try this directory of information on multiple pesticide-alternative topics provided by Beyond Pesticides.

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for and want to do your own research, start by checking out this list of safer, alternative pest-control websites with a little review written about each of them by Debra Lynn Dadd, a consumer advocate hailed as “The Queen of Green” by the New York Times.