Study Shows IPM Reduces Cockroach Allergens in Schools

Nobody wants cockroaches crawling around the kitchen. Yet in many schools, that is exactly what cafeteria staff have to live with, even after the pest control professional has come to spray. As administrators from two North Carolina school districts found out while participating in a 2003-04 study, integrated pest management can rid the school of pests—and keep them away.

Led by entomologists at North Carolina State University and published in 2009, the study compared the effectiveness of conventional pest control to IPM with respect to lowering German cockroach allergen levels in schools. Schools – in both urban and rural districts – are prone to cockroach infestations and have very high cockroach allergen levels. These allergens, Blattella gemanica allergen 1, or simply Bla g 1, are associated with development and exacerbation of acute asthma in school children.

Researchers collected cockroach populations in three school districts—two of which were using conventional methods to control cockroaches and the third of which was using IPM. For the conventional methods, technicians simply applied insecticides on a monthly basis, or on an “as needed” basis. In the school district using IPM, technicians conducted visual inspections monthly, and documented conditions that might be conducive to pest infestations. Sticky traps, also for monitoring purposes, were also employed. These monitoring and record keeping methods are very important to an effective IPM program.

During the course of this study researchers placed traps throughout each school to monitor cockroach populations. In the kitchen, the team put traps under the sink and under food prep areas. In the cafeteria, they put traps behind vending machines and in serving line areas. Traps were also placed in teachers’ lounges and restrooms. In addition to these traps, the team vacuumed school kitchens and classrooms, in order to collect and quantify Bla g 1 samples.

In the two school districts using conventional pest control methods, including insecticide sprays along baseboards and cockroach baits, researchers found on average anywhere from 9 to 187 cockroaches per week in the traps. In the school district using IPM, no cockroaches were ever found in any of the 41 traps.

No, the school district using IPM didn’t have smarter cockroaches. Staff from the schools that had been using IPM had been setting traps, well before the study began. Because their monitoring program had been in place for some time, they were able to effectively reduce the numbers of pests entering the schools. They had sealed cracks from the outside of the building, and kitchen staff made sure counters, sinks, and floors were always clean at the end of the day. All of these practices serve to enhance an effective IPM program.

When results of the study showed that the two school districts that had been using insecticide sprays had more cockroaches and higher levels of Bla g 1 in the vacuum dust than did the school district using IPM, administrators from the first two school districts took notice.

They also immediately switched to using IPM to control cockroaches.

Under the Schoolchildren’s Health Act, North Carolina schools must convert to IPM by 2011. However, many school district administrators have been reluctant because of cost.

“The monetary costs for IPM might be higher initially, but it pays for itself down the road and provides a healthier school environment,” said Godfrey Nalyanya, one of the researchers in the study, as quoted in ScienceDaily.

The results of this study should serve as a strong incentive to switch to IPM—fewer pest problems, fewer health problems, and a healthier learning environment.

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