By The Bugman RICHARD FAGERLUND For the Journal
Q: The pest control company that routinely sprays our house is using something called Talstar. When I asked the fellow if it was safe, he said I could drink it. That seems a bit far-fetched to me. Is Talstar safe enough to drink? — S.M., Santa Fe
A: Offer the fellow a glass the next time he comes by. Just kidding. The active ingredient in Talstar is bifenthrin, which is a mild pesticide as pesticides go. However, Talstar contains a number of inert ingredients that are not as safe, including xylene; butanol; ethylbenzene; cumene; 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene; and a few others. High doses of xylene have produced negative effects in the liver, kidney, heart and adrenals of laboratory animals.
Ethylbenzene is moderately toxic by ingestion and mildly toxic by inhalation and skin contact. It is irritating to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. In high concentrations, ethylbenzene may cause stupor and coma.
Butanol is moderately toxic by ingestion, irritating to skin and severely irritating to eyes. Prolonged exposure may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness and nausea. Longterm overexposure may cause some loss of hearing.
Cumene is moderately toxic by ingestion or inhalation. It is a central nervous system depressant, with potent narcotic effects of long duration. 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene is moderately toxic by ingestion or inhalation. The toxicity by skin exposure is moderate to low. It can cause central nervous system depression, anemia and bronchitis.
These aren’t chemicals I would allow around my children or pets.
Also, there is no reason to spray anything at this time of year as there is limited insect activity. You can spray around the house yourself in the spring using diatomaceous earth (natural grade) mixed with water. When the water evaporates out, it will leave a film of diatomaceous earth that will kill any insects that walk across it but won’t hurt your family or pets. Diatomaceous earth is more effective and lasts longer than most commercial pesticides that contain all those so-called inert ingredients that can be more dangerous than the active ingredients.
Q: We are having ants already and it is still winter. I have a baby and don’t want to use pesticides. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations of pest control companies that are not quick to spray chemicals? — J.L., Albuquerque
A: You are correct in being concerned about using pesticides around your child. Children, particularly babies, spend a lot of time on the floor and can come in contact with pesticides and they often put things in their mouths. Children also breathe differently than adults. A 1-year-old child will breath 50 percent more air each minute relative to body weight than adults do. This, of course, gives them the opportunity to inhale more pesticides. Pesticides should never be used where children crawl around — in homes, in day care centers, or in schools.
You will have to determine what kind of ants you have to put in effect a workable control program. Once you know the type of ants, you can use the proper ant repellents and baits to eliminate them. You may try vinegar, cayenne pepper, citric extracts, cinnamon and even perfume.
Several baits that work are boric acid and yeast. Mix a tablespoon of boric acid with 6 ounces of peanut butter and jelly or wet cat food or mayonnaise or whatever the ants are feeding on. You can also mix 1 part dry yeast with 2 parts molasses and 1 part sugar. If you prefer to use a pest control operator, I can help you find one that is environmentally friendly.
Richard Fagerlund is an entomologist. You can contact him by e- mail at
[email protected]; by cell
phone at (505) 553-6660 or at his
home address, P.O. Box 1173 Corrales, NM 87408. His Web site is