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Carpenter Ant Treatments

by Bob and Tom Kerns
July 1997

One of my brothers has been researching fixes for his carpenter ant problem. A couple weeks ago, I asked y'all on the net about ideas for getting rid of the ants, and y'all had several suggestions. Bob incorporated some of them in his research.

After he made a decision about how to confront the problem, he then wrote up the results of his research in a little 4-page text to give to his neighbors. I think it's a nice little summary, so asked him if he'd allow it to be posted to the list. He said sure. He just wants everyone who uses any of the ideas in this summary to pay him a whole lot of royalty money for all his work summarizing the stuff. I assured him you would.

The specific companies to which he refers are in Portland, OR, but they may have franchises elsewhere, for all I know. And the products they use are probably available quite widely.

Knowing how much you enjoy reading (almost anything), I thought I'd send you the 4-page thingie I wrote for my neighbors. If I were you, I'd print it up and set it next to your toilet so that the next time you need a little something to kill time, you can examine this:

Carpenter ants are very common in Oregon. Normally, they help break down dead trees in the forest. But sometimes, they like to help break down our homes. They start their nests in soft, decomposing wood, but will expand their nests into solid wood quite easily. They can be very destructive to the structure of a house.

Pest control companies will spray pesticides into your walls and on to your grounds, returning every year (or more often than that) to repeat the practice. The bugs will die. But evidence now exists that the most of the pesticides they use are harmful to us as well.

My older brother Tom is one of those people who is very sensitive to chemicals. Alerted by his experiences, I have done some research into how to deal with this problem in a safe, yet effective manner.

I'll start by listing the pest control companies I've talked to. I'll then describe the chemicals they use and share with you some of my research.

Pest Control companies:

Good Earth Pest Control

Steven Benedict

-Recommended treatment: Tempo (a pyrethroid) sprayed inside the walls and around the house, but will use boric acid in walls (Borid) on request.
-cost: $275
-will offer $60 discount for each neighbor that gets treated on the same day for a grand total of $215 each.

Nature First Pest Control

Randy Witten
Web site address http://www.greenmarket.com/COMPANIES/NF/

-Recommended treatment: boric acid (Borid) and diatomaceous earth in the walls. Would spray a pyrethroid in the attic to keep the carpenter ants from escaping up there. Wants to spray Knox-Out (a diazinon) around the house and perimeter of property. Also would spray Elizabeth's garage with Knox-Out.
-cost: $400
-seasonal perimeter sprays $69

Alpha Ecological


-Recommended treatment: Dragnet (a pyrethroid) spray inside and outside the house.

Ladybug Exterminators

800 900-0855

-Recommended treatment: Dursban 50 (a chlorpyrifos). He will apply Tim-Bor for an additional $100
-cost: $200; with Tim-Bor $300
-Will offer a discount to us if a neighbor joins in

Research comes from the following sources:

National Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP)

Web site address http://www.efn.org/~ncap/
(541) 344-5044

Washington Toxics Coalition

206 632-1545

Common-Sense Pest Control, Oklowski, Daar, Olkowski

All of the sources I've used are non-profit groups (except for the book) whose main concern is protecting people from environmental hazards. As far as I can tell, they have no hidden agenda. For their part, all of the pest control companies insist all of their chemicals are safe and say that they wouldn't be using them if they weren't. I've listed the options starting with the most safe and ending with the least safe.

Research from these sources indicates the safest solution is prevention. Keep the wood in your structure dry, repairing all plumbing and external leaks. Keep wood from touching the ground. Remove stumps. If you bring firewood into your house, shake off bugs before burning it in the fireplace. Keep branches from touching your house.

The next safest method is finding all nests, removing them by hand, repairing damaged wood (they'll return to the same spot later even if that nest is killed) and following the prevention measures mentioned above.

The next safest measure is to use boric acid and diatomaceous earth on the spots where the nests are only. Diatomaceous earth is a dust made up of fossilized diatoms that is harmful to humans only if it's directly inhaled.

There are two brands of boric acid that I've learned about. Tim-bor is a product made by Borax. Along with boric acid, it also includes arsenic, a highly toxic chemical. Borid contains only boric acid and is considered much safer. Boric acid is harmful to humans if ingested. The downside to boric acid is that once it gets wet, it's useless. It also takes longer to kill the ants. As long as 2 months. But everyone I talked to said it does eventually work.

The next safest route is pyrethrins (or pyrethrums), an ancient, natural insecticide made of chrysanthemums. It is highly toxic to insects and moderately toxic to humans. None of the pest control companies I talked to recommended its use, possibly because of its cost.

Now we get into the area considered by most of my sources as unsafe.

Pyrethroids are the synthetic version of pyrethrins. They are designed to last longer and withstand moisture. Since they are synthetic and thus "controlled" by the EPA, companies can use legal loopholes to include other (sometimes hazardous) chemicals in the product without listing them. NCAP recommends staying away from pyrethroids entirely.

None of these sources recommend traditional chemical treatment products for use against carpenter ants. They say Dursban and Knox-Out should be avoided. Like in many pyrethroid products, they are allowed by the EPA to include chemicals under the "inert" category. Inert chemicals don't have to be listed and are therefore unknown to anyone except the manufacturer. In some cases, these "inert" chemicals are far more toxic than the active ingredients. Plus some pesticides are extremely harmful to birds and other wildlife. They leach into the groundwater system and eventually into our rivers.

Our Conclusion:

We have chosen to use Good Earth Pest Control (listed first) and ask them to spray Borid boric acid dust into our walls. I'm trimming back bushes and looking for leaks. There are a couple of stumps under my deck I'm going to try to get rid of too. If another neighbor goes in with us on this, the price for each of us will drop to $215 (if the houses are sprayed on the same day).

In addition:

I've got materials available if you want more information. There are a couple, short, easy-to-read pamphlets, company brochures, and Material Safety Data Sheets required by the EPA. In addition Common-Sense Pest Control is a huge book with lots of info on how to take care of lots of bugs. You can borrow that anytime. In fact I'll keep all this stuff on file forever because I've got lots of friends and family who will, because they live in the Northwest will someday get carpenter ants themselves.

Thanks for wading through all this. I hope it's helpful.

Bob Kerns
30 July 1997

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