What is IPM, and how does it work?

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a continuous system of controlling pests (weeds, diseases, insects or others) in which pests are identified, action thresholds are considered, all possible control options are evaluated and selected control(s) are implemented. Control options-which include biological, chemical, cultural, manual and mechanical methods are used to prevent or remedy unacceptable pest activity or damage. The choice of control option(s) is based on effectiveness, environmental impact, site characteristics, worker/public health and safety, and economics. The goal of an IPM system is to manage pests and the environment to balance the benefits of control.  IPM takes advantage of all appropriate pest management options.

IPM System Components
IPM systems rely on accurate determination of optimum control timing and selection of the appropriate method(s). Implementation requires current comprehensive information on pests and control options. As a system, IPM programs include a series of three steps:

1. Monitor the site for the presence of the pest. Critical components of monitoring include accurately identifying the pest, the presence of the pest, level of infestation and acquiring knowledge of requirements and life cycles of the pest.

2. Determine the action threshold below which the pest can be tolerated. Action thresholds are determined by factors such as the severity of the problem caused by the pest, health or property concerns related to the pest, and user needs for the site where the pest is found.

3. Initiate preventive or curative action to avoid surpassing the established threshold by selecting the appropriate control method(s): biological, chemical, cultural, manual, mechanical. The selected method(s) of protection must balance considerations of economics, efficacy, worker/public health and safety, and potential hazards to property and the environment. Following applications, the continuous IPM process begins again.

IPM in Schools
Pests pose serious risks to children’s health in schools. At the same time, the use of pesticides in schools can be challenging because of heightened concerns and misinformation. It is important to remember pesticides can be used safely and responsibly to control pests such as insects, rodents, and weeds as part of a balanced integrated pest management program.

Cockroaches, ants, wasps, head lice and rats are the pests most commonly found in schools, and they do more than disrupt the learning environment. These pests pose increasing health and safety risks to children. Children, just by nature of their size, are more vulnerable to vector-borne diseases (carried by insects) because their immune systems are still developing. Consider some of the problems with pests in the school environment:

  • Cockroaches can live and breed by the thousands in classrooms and cafeterias. They carry germs from filthy surfaces to cafeteria tables and classroom desks. Cockroaches are the leading cause of asthma incidents in urban youth. The more children are exposed to cockroaches, the more allergic they become.
  • Mosquitoes carry deadly diseases. West Nile Virus, a deadly encephalitis virus that is transmitted to people, birds, and horses by virus-carrying mosquitoes, is rampaging across the country. The number of cases of West Nile Virus continues to escalate as the spread of the disease marches across the country and into Canada. The CDC reported that for the year 2004 there were 2539 total human cases of West Nile virus reported in the United States. Of these, 100 were fatal.
  • Rodents contaminate stored food with their droppings and urine and spread the deadly hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), an infectious disease. The American Lung Association reports that as of September 2004, a total of 379 laboratory-confirmed cases of HPS have been reported in the United States, including 32 retrospectively identified cases that occurred before 1993. Thirty-six percent of all reported cases have resulted in deaths.
  • Fire ants build their nests and routinely forage on school grounds, lawns, parks and even in schools, homes, health care facilities and nursing homes. These nests often contain more than 100,000 ants. During recess and physical education classes, children are often stung when they step into nests while playing. Fire ants can inflict hundreds of painful stings to children. Scientists reported at the 2005 Imported Fire Ant Conference that 80 human deaths have been attributed to anaphylactic shock from bites. Five of these deaths occurred in nursing homes. More than half of the U.S. population, including children, are allergic to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Contact with each of these plants causes severe skin irritation, intense itching, and burning, as well as blistering. A Wisconsin school district banned the use of herbicides to control poison ivy and other weeds. The decision was later reversed when a student had to undergo a 22-day course of steroids to treat a poison ivy rash. Other weeds, such as crabgrass and dandelions, can cause injury when children trip over them on playgrounds and sports fields.

These types of problems have caused schools to implement pest management programs. Many are turning to Integrated Pest Management or IPM.

Communication Is Key
To be effective, a pest management team has to establish clear lines of communication and designated roles of responsibility. Often, the school board sets the overall pest management policy, provides funding and monitors the results. It is important that the school board has an understanding of IPM. Sometimes school boards are pressured to completely eliminate the use of pesticides by activists politically opposed to pesticides. School boards try this approach, only to discover that the judicious use of pesticides is needed to economically and effectively control pest populations found in and around schools. Extensive research and solid science show pesticides pose little or no risk to the health of children or adults when used according to label instructions. Thus, pesticides are an essential component of successful IPM.

Establishing a Program
In addition to effective communications, an IPM program must include a written policy and a knowledgeable coordinator. A written policy is essential. IPM is doomed to fail without broad understanding and commitment by all stakeholders, including faculty, staff, board members and parents. A written policy helps to gain consensus and provides continuity.

Once a policy is in place, a staff person should coordinate the overall program. Whether the entire program is implemented internally or the majority of services are contracted to a pest control professional, it is critical to have a knowledgeable person on staff.

The success of IPM in schools is also dependent upon the full cooperation of administrators, faculty, maintenance/custodial staff, parents and students.

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