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Danger Down the Drain?

By Nancy Firor · June 17th, 1999 · Working Parents
It's a fairly typical progression: Wait until your income can sustain it, then buy a house in a good neighborhood with the type of schools you want to send your children to.

Move in, redecorate, spend every extra minute you have getting things just the way you want them. And just when you think you're done, notice the flying ants that are having a picnic on your patio. Upon closer examination, these ants have two body sections instead of three, which means that your ants are really termites, and they might be eating your new investment.

If they are, there are some under-publicized findings in the world of termite eradication that you should get acquainted with before choosing your weapon.

Simply put: In some homes, traditional termite treatments don't work and could be posing a health hazard. But for some reason, possibly price, some people whose homes are not good candidates are using traditional treatments anyway instead of newer termite baiting systems.

If homes in your neighborhood have sump pumps and a community storm drain system -- like the one my niece and nephews wade in when they go frog hunting -- you also will want to become familiar with the terms organophosphates or synthetic pyrethroids.

The exterminators who use them will tell you that these pesticides, often used to combat termites, are relatively environment-friendly -- a point that is hotly contested.

But the exterminators also should tell you that, depending on the type of sump pump and drain tile system in your home, you could wind up dumping these pesticides into your neighborhood creek or storm drainage system while your termites go unscathed.

Using the traditional chemicals in a home where the sump pump is sending storm water to a creek or community drainage system "is something we walk away from," says Tim Pope, termite service manager for Scherzinger Pest Control.

Barry Kempf, a partner at Arab Termite and Pest Control, agrees. In addition to polluting creeks or storm drains, the sump pump system also might render liquid treatments ineffective by removing the chemicals, he says.

What's the danger to children?

Don't ask these guys. It's not their field. And don't look for cut-and-dried answers in research.

It is known that pesticides in large doses, such as those one might be exposed to on a farm, have been linked with certain types of leukemia and aplastic anemia.

But for less casual contact, the studies have been less compelling, Dr. Bob Arceci, director of hematology and oncology at Children's Hospital Medical Center reported in this column last July.

Still, he said, "If I can avoid toxic chemicals in my environment I try."

And questions about the effects of smaller doses on small children are being widely promoted by groups like Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, headquartered in New York City.

"Infestations of subterranean termites have been treated conventionally by applying chemicals such as chlorpyrifos ..., and permethrin to the soil to act as a barrier and repellent," reads the Mothers & Others 1998 Green Guide. "Exposure to (chlorpyrifos), an organophosphate pesticide, may cause acute poisoning and chronic neurological damage. The EPA classifies permethrin as a possible human carcinogen."

This excerpt is among many included in the Green Guide to underscore what it calls the urgency behind the Environmental Protection Agency's 1997 announcement of a new national agenda on children's health that will examine a child's total risk from all exposure to toxic chemicals.

Also fueling the fire are a 1998 National Cancer Institute report that the rate of childhood cancer has been steadily rising for a decade at an increase of about 1 percent a year, and a documented increase in asthma cases.

Mothers & Others, like many environmental groups, is attributing the problem to chemicals and pollution in food, water, air and numerous other places. Their newsletter cites an array of already completed research such as a 1987 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that showed that children exposed to pesticides in the home or garden were three to six times more likely to develop leukemia than children who were not exposed.

Termite baiting systems like Sentricon are getting rave reviews from some environmental groups, and not just for their ability to work in homes with sump pumps.

Instead of coating the ground with chemicals that poison termites or migrate to other areas, it feeds the termites a growth regulator called hexaflumuron, which eventually wipes out the colony.

Pope says there are pros and cons to consider in using baiting systems as well as traditional liquid barrier systems. And that, should they migrate from their targets, chemicals used in liquid treatments are easy to identify and neutralize.

In five years of using both types of systems, Scherzinger has found a 2 to 3 percent recurrence rate in homes that used a liquid system after the initial problem was eliminated while the recurrence rate with Sentricon treatments has been less than 1 percent, Pope says.

Kempf says that after seeing the success the Arab company has had with Sentricon, it's hard to push customers to use liquid treatments.

Termite colonies, he says, are being eliminated in eight to 18 months and when certain obstacles like sump-pump systems exist, "it's letting us take jobs we normally wouldn't have taken."

It's true that there's no definitive proof that chemicals in my neighborhood's storm-drain system, which during a heavy rainfall resembles a pond, are harming kids who have been known to play there. But the way I see it, it's like the doctor said, avoid it if you can. Why take the risk, especially when the chemicals might not solve the termite problem?

So the baiting systems cost, as Pope says, "a few hundred dollars more."

Maybe you get what you pay for.

· · ·

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is the topic Thursday and Friday of a seminar featuring educators and authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

Faber and Mazlish are the authors of books that include Liberated Parents/Liberated Children, Siblings Without Rivalry, Between Brothers and Sisters and How to Talk so Kids Will Learn.

The seminar, from 7 to 9 p.m. June 17 and 9 a.m. to noon June 18, is being organized by the Alan R. Mack Parents' Center for Jewish Family Service.

The center is trying to spur better communications between children and adults. Adults will be told about ways to encourage children's cooperation and set limits while maintaining good will and building their children's self-esteem.

It is being held at Rockdale Temple, 8501 Ridge Rd., Amberley. For more information or tickets, call Sally Brush (ext. 108) or Ellen Golub (ext. 117) at 469-1188.



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