Safer ways to get rid of pests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 1994, 12:00am

WHAT do cockroach sprays, mosquito coils, moth balls, ant powder, rat bait, dog flea collars and plant bug sprays all have in common? They are all pesticides, which are chemicals used to kill organisms which we consider damaging, a threat to our health or just a nuisance.

Half the pesticides produced worldwide are used in homes and industry, and Hong Kong households are the biggest users of pesticides. Most homes will have at least one and probably more than one of the pesticides described above. But when reaching for the spray, beware.

Pesticides are poisons, designed to kill, and in most cases they kill not only the ''pest'' but other organisms too, such as birds, useful insects like bees and worms, and fish. Many pesticides are also hazardous to humans and mammals.

Each year, 10,000 to 40,000 people are estimated to die as a result of immediate exposure to pesticides, many of whom are farmers and pest control workers. However, it is also a major cause of accidental poisoning of children worldwide.

Recently, a number of pet dogs were deliberately poisoned on Lamma Island using a weed killer called paraquat. There is no known antidote to paraquat, known as one of the ''dirty dozen'', a group of particularly hazardous pesticides that an international campaign group is trying to get banned worldwide.

Misusing pesticides or even just having them in your home can leave you, your family and your pets open to accidental poisoning. If you have to use pesticides, use them sparingly.

If you keep spraying until the bug keels over, you are wasting your money and poisoning your home. Some pesticides which are harmless to humans may be dangerous to fish, so do not spray near your fish tank or better still, do not spray at all.

But what if you do not want to share your home with the occasional roach, ant or mosquito? The first step in discouraging them is to maintain a high standard of hygiene and eliminate sources of food and water.

This can be done by cleaning up food waste quickly, storing food in tightly-sealed containers, fixing leaking taps and not allowing water to stand in pot plant trays.

Take kitchen garbage out regularly and keep balconies clean and tidy. The next step is to try and keep all pests out of the house by sealing or screening all possible entry points (use mosquito screens and nets).

If there is still a problem, try some of the more environmentally friendlier methods such as a rolled up newspaper for the odd insect.

Sticky traps for cockroaches or a board painted bright yellow and covered with a sticky substance can be used as a trap for aphids and flies. Ants can be discouraged using repellants such as a line of cream of tartar, chili powder, paprika, dried mint or lemon juice at the point of entry.

Fleas can be controlled by using a flea comb, frequently washing pets and their bedding and thorough vacuuming of the house. Plants can be kept healthy by physically removing large pests and infested or diseased foliage.

The occasional ant, fly or even cockroach is probably doing less harm to your family than the pesticide used to treat it. Friends of the Earth is a local non-profit environmental organisation. For further information, please call 528-5588