[Green Pest Management] Controlling Ants in Schools

Features - Pest Management In Schools

IPM programs are up to the challenge, but it requires a multi-pronged approach to be successful.

February 27, 2012
Larry Pinto & Sandra Kraft

Editor’s Note: The following article was adapted from Techletter, a biweekly publication from Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md. To subscribe, visit www.techletter.com or call 301/884-3020.

Going Green: What Does It Mean?

“Going green” is a hot topic these days and is not restricted to the pest control industry. It applies to many other industries and practices. In the beginning there were lots of different definitions. Now we think we know what IPM means. But what constitutes a “green service?” Green service is basically the IPM that we have been doing for years but with the added component of making sure that what we do is as environmentally friendly as possible. We won’t cover the principles of IPM here. You should already know and practice those principles. But there are steps you can take to make your IPM program more “green.” The idea is to reduce negative impacts on the environment. What it means in relation to the pest control industry is this:

  • Heavy emphasis on monitoring.
  • Use of least-toxic and least disruptive pest control methods such as trapping, baits, granules and IGRs. When a pesticide is used, its persistence in the environment needs to be considered.
  • A green company makes sure that any pesticide used is used in a way that minimizes risk to human health and the environment. Ways to do this include: (1) use formulations that pose the least risk; (2) use targeted, precision treatments; (3) treat the smallest area that will be effective; (4) use the minimum amount of pesticide to be effective; (5) avoid using broadcast application, (6) in some circumstances, use outdoor barrier treatments rather than indoor applications.
  • Pesticides should not be applied if there is a possibility of contamination of non-target plants, animals or property.
  • Pesticides should not be applied if there is a possibility of water running off of the treated area or running near the treated areas any time after treatment.

Many customers want to “go green” and may need you to explain your specific “green” program, as well as the important role they play in ensuring pest problems don’t gain a foothold. And if they decide to purchase a “green” service, they need to understand that the service protocols may be different from what they’re accustomed to and it may take longer to eliminate the pest population. Nonetheless, if done properly, both “green” pest management programs and more traditional treatments can be extremely effective. It really comes down to the quality of the work performed by the PMP and the level of cooperation provided by the customer.

– Sandra Kraft and Larry Pinto

Many school districts require that pest control contractors implement IPM techniques (read “green”) when it comes to controlling pests in and around school buildings. Controlling ants in any location is difficult, but controlling them in a school is a real challenge.

The requirements and restrictions placed on school IPM technicians vary from state to state and even county to county. As with all IPM programs, you first consider non-chemical options such as sanitation, food storage and ant-proofing to control ants. A brief review of each follows:

Sanitation. Daily cleaning is especially important in school areas where food is present such as school kitchens and cafeterias, lunch rooms, vending areas and teachers’ lounges. If children have snack time in the classroom, it’s important that classroom floors also be vacuumed and mopped daily to remove food for ants.

Some temporary fixes include: (1) Randomly foraging ants can be vacuumed up. Vacuuming up a tablespoon or so of cornstarch will kill the ants in the vacuum bag. (2) A mixture of detergent and water in a spray bottle will immobilize ants that are foraging in a classroom or food prep area. Then the ants and soap can be sponged up and washed down the drain. (3) Shallow containers of water mixed with detergent can be used to protect food containers, garbage cans and other items from ants. Ants will not be able to cross these temporary moats to reach the food source.

Garbage must be placed in sealed plastic bags, and then into garbage cans with tight-fitting lids or into Dumpsters. All food garbage should be removed from the building at the end of the day and garbage cans and Dumpsters must be cleaned regularly.

Periodically, all food prep areas should receive a thorough degreasing or steam cleaning to eliminate grease and food accumulation that is not removed by daily cleaning. Hard-to-reach areas behind or between fixtures should be vacuumed and cleaned. Drains, vents, ovens, stoves and deep fat fryers should receive special attention.

Food Storage. Whenever possible, foods should be kept in a refrigerator. Foods that can’t be refrigerated should be kept in ant-proof containers that close tightly. Boxes are not ant-proof. Food supplies should be stored on shelves, never directly on the floor. Shelves should be high enough that the area beneath can be cleaned easily. Students and teachers should be advised not to leave unsealed food in lockers or desks. Food storage and food clean-up is of prime importance to remove food for ants.

Ant-Proofing. While it is difficult to keep ants out of a school by pest-proofing, certain measures can help to deter ants as well as other pests. Carry silicone caulk with you and seal ant entry points as you find them. Pay special attention to cracks around pipes, sinks, toilets, electrical outlets, baseboards and cupboards.

Chemical Controls. Requirements for the use of chemicals will vary from school to school. The typical guidelines include: (1) Don’t apply pesticides to classrooms or common areas during school hours or while students or staff are present. (2) Don’t apply insecticide sprays or dusts to nurses’ stations, infirmaries or other medical areas (except in severe infestations and with preapproval). (3) Avoid space treatments, spot treatments and general treatments of large areas (limit treatment to cracks and crevices, closed voids and baits). (4) Follow all notification and posting requirements. (5) Make sure that copies of the pesticide label and the MSDS are on file at the school.

When using ant baits, place the baits — whether in containers, granules or gel placements — out of the sight and reach of children. Use tamper-resistant bait stations where this is not possible.

Make bait placements along ants’ foraging trails but do not disturb the trails themselves. Likewise, don’t kill foraging ants. You need them to take the bait back to the colony. Don’t apply insecticide sprays or dusts near ant baits. They can repel and disperse ants, making control with baits more difficult.


The authors are well-known industry consultants and owners of Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md.