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IPM in Public Housing Attributed to Lower Asthma Rates in Boston

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 9, 2013) Boston health officials say new city data indicate that asthma incidences have dropped nearly by half since 2005. This is attributed to Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and Boston Public Health Commission implementation of an integrated pest management (IPM) program in low-income housing to reduce the number of cochroaches and rodents, while reducing the use of pesticides, which, along with cochroach and rodent droppings, can aggravate asthma symptoms.

The data, covering 2006 through 2010, show the rate of adults who reported having asthma symptoms in the authority’s units dropped from 23.6 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2010, the latest year available. At the same time, asthma rates in other low-income housing in Boston, not run by BHA, remained relatively unchanged. Public health analysts studied data from a biennial telephone survey of Boston adults between 2006 and 2010. The survey asks residents a wide range of questions, and analysts compared the answers from roughly 300 housing authority residents to others not living in city-run housing.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, health authorities found extremely high infestations of roaches and rodents in BHA buildings, and equally concerning, housing leaders were seeing desperate residents resorting to the use of powerful, toxic pesticides to try to rid their apartments of the pests. In 2005, housing authority and health officials launched a new Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to dealing with vermin. According to Beyond Pesticides, IPM is a program of prevention, monitoring, and control that eliminates or drastically reduces the use of pesticides. This is accomplished by utilizing a variety of methods and techniques, including cultural, biological, and structural strategies. It also stipulates the use of least-toxic chemical options only as the last resort.

Instead of having BHA contractors come in to apply pesticides after a problem was discovered, the new program utilized three-pronged IPM approach – promptly removing trash, and fixing and preventing leaks, which contribute to friendly places for pests to live. Residents were also instructed to remove clutter and trash from their homes and to promptly notify management of leaks, holes, or pests found in their apartments. New residents also received a brochure and viewed a video about IPM methods that they can practice in their homes. Similarly, contractors were required to aggressively pinpoint problem areas that need fixing. Boston Public Health Commission says pest-related violations have also decreased since the program was launched.

Doug Brugge, PhD, MS, a Tufts University School of Medicine professor who researches asthma in Boston’s neighborhoods, said that the city’s program and findings are intriguing, but that more detailed analysis needs to be done to say with certainty that the pest-control initiative is what reduced asthma rates. “These are substantial efforts to improve the conditions of housing in Boston, especially for people with respiratory illnesses like asthma,” Dr. Brugge said. Dr. Brugge added other factors may have also played a role, such as improve access to health care. Commission researchers are taking a closer look at the relationship between the levels of roach and rodent infestations and a variety of health problems, including asthma, stress, and depression among the authority’s 27,000 residents.

Similar results were seen on Florida when a study found that from 2003 to 2008 the use of insecticides was reduced by about 90% in University of Florida (UF) housing buildings after an IPM program was implemented, further demonstrating that pest pressure can be effectively managed with IPM is used  for institutional pest problems.

IPM is a term that is used loosely with many different definitions and methods of implementation. IPM can mean virtually anything the practitioner wants it to mean. Beware of chemical dependent programs masquerading as IPM. Those who argue that IPM requires the ability to spray pesticides immediately after identifying a pest problem are not describing IPM. Conventional pest control tends to ignore the causes of pest infestations and instead relies on routine, scheduled pesticide applications. Pesticides are often temporary fixes, ineffective over the long term. Studies such as this one documenting the UF IPM program demonstrate that this approach is not necessary to control pest problems.

There are alternatives to pesticides for managing insects, rodents and weeds effectively without exposing your family to harmful toxic chemicals, especially incorporating the principles of IPM into your home.  Beyond Pesticides’ The Safer Choice brochure focuses on what you can do to manage your home, school and community without poisoning your children, families, pets, and the environment.

Beyond Pesticides is a strong advocate for defined structural IPM practices and is working to champion the use of these methods particularly in schools and hospitals, where vulnerable populations are at elevated risk from pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides’ Healthy Schools Project aims to minimize and eliminate the risks posed by pesticides through the adoption of IPM policies and programs at the local, state, and federal level, thereby fostering a healthier learning environment. Central to this effort are activities aimed at public education on pesticide hazards and the efficacy of alternatives, and the continued development of model communities that serve as examples.

For more information on structural IPM, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ “What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?”  page. If you would like to know if there are Pest Management Service providers that use IPM and least-toxic practices, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Safety Source database.

Sources: Boston Globe,  http://www.beyondpesticides.org

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