Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Irked at Orkin: Keep Your Chemicals Off My Property

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. I'll update you on our trips to Preston's organic winery and BlogHer soon, I promise, but first I have to share with you what happened during the critical wake-your-child-up-at-5 am-West-Coast-time to get her to camp window. I was right about to get EGirl out the door, really, I was remotely close to getting her there on time, I swear, when I looked out my back door and saw...a rubber-gloved and Orkin-suited man in the process of spraying my mimosa tree! He'd clearly already sprayed my trumpet vine, as it was glistening and dripping in the morning sun. My daughter asked me later, "Mom? Mom? Why were you yelling at that man like he was our dog?" My husband confirmed later that he, too, thought that our dog had gotten into a filthy diaper or was about to vomit (standard morning fare in our house). Apparently, I used that exact tone of urgency as I shrieked, "What are you doing?! Stop!"

After I accosted the Orkin man, and flew out my back door, he confessed that he was fulfilling our next door neighbor's contract. I directed him to the shiny gold numbers on my back fence, next to the sliding gate he must have opened in order to make it up my back steps. "It's all safe, ma'am," he said, in an injured tone. "I don't agree with that," I said, "and furthermore, even if it's EPA-approved, I guarantee you that it's not EPA-approved for ingestion." He was two feet from my edible flowers, mint, and cherry tomatoes.

Let's just say that this was not the homecoming I had in mind. A friend of mine chuckled when she heard the story. "Wrong house," she chortled. "I mean, I would have been annoyed, but not apoplectic!"

Yup, that's me. Madder than a (poisoned) hornet.

Here's what BeyondPesticides has to say about the "safe" chemical Orkin sprayed all over my trees as a mosquito deterrent after they trespassed onto my property:

"Your exterminator’s choice, Talstar, contains the active ingredient bifenthrin, a synthetic pyrethroid. BeyondPesticides rates this chemical as toxic, as synthetic pyrethroids have irritant and sensitizing properties. They are also connected with neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption. Bifenthrin specifically is rated as a possible carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, there are environmental concerns with its use.... Bifenthrin is highly toxic to aquatic animals and bees, and is moderately toxic to birds. Scientists are particularly concerned about possible bioaccumulation in birds." (2004 newsletter)

Excellent! My father's a lifelong birdwatcher, and we've all been pretty concerned about the plight of honeybees this year in particular. And we just went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. So it will be a perfect teaching opportunity for my daughter. All the things you love right now? Playing with mimosa and trumpet vine flowers and seed pods, identifying birds and insects, examining marine life? Eating a variety of edible flowers? Picking mint? All threatened by that friendly neighborhood Orkin visit. (Sadly, my daughter's all too familiar with her playthings being taken away by chemicals, since she lives in the land of the yellow flags.)

I'd been wondering what Orkin used for mosquito control (on the list to research and blog!). Right before my trip to California, I went to happy hour with some fellow mamas, and one of them, J, was commenting on how widespread the practice of spraying for skeeters was in our neighborhood.

Nice. We live in row houses, so what our neighbors spray, we all absorb. I hate the bloodthirsty mosquitoes as much as the next guy. But didn't we all grow up reading Silent Spring? There's a reason frogs are mutating and fish have intersex organs. I'm guessing that spraying "highly toxic" chemicals on our trees might be a bad idea. But even if I didn't? I'd love to have confidence that Orkin doesn't routinely spray neighboring yards just to make their service look better, especially in an area where our patios are about 10 square feet, max. My call to customer service at our local office didn't reassure me that Orkin cares at all about my desire to remain chemical-free. All I got out of the rep was, "The chemicals are safe and EPA-approved. What do you want me to do?"

I was thinking Orkin might like to make a contribution on my behalf to BeyondPesticides, for starters. And then they can donate some non-toxic mosquito dunks to drop into our sewers. Just so they know I'm being reasonable with my demands? My green blogging friend SmartMama thinks they ought to come out and wash off every leaf on my trees!

Photo courtesy of sxc.


Mrs. G. said...

Welcome back!

Jennifer Taggart said...

I think you should make them wash every leaf off, collect the water run off, test it, and find out it is a hazardous waste that Orkin has to dispose of in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. But, hey, that's just me.

In all seriousness, I have when you just get assurance that it is safe because the EPA says it is. The pesticide regulation is NOT a safety law - it is a cost benefit analysis. If the economic benefit outweighs the safety risk, then it is okay. And even then, most of the chemicals do not have adequate analyses for safety.


Kate said...

So hearing you on this one! Wonderful post chalked full of good info AND good insight. We just went through this with our neighbors and thier deserve to have a green lawn that borders on florescent. Kindly reminding them that just because we have separate wells does not mean our water sources have some invisible shield dividing them. It didn't do much, but everytime they are outside and my kids are playing in the sprinklers, I make sure to announce (extra loud of course) that they should not drink the water, because who knows what could be lurking in it (nevermind the fact that I know full well how long it will take for those chemicals to reach our water table. I mean, it is the point right??)

Green Resolutions said...

I saw your post on Burbanmom's Yahoo Group, but I was dying laughing as I read the first part of this.

I'm so glad you posted these links. We're having a problem with bugs in our house and I've been torn about how to handle it. Thanks for helping me with the research.