Death by Mint Oil

Dr. Weeks Comment:    When all else fails, do the right thing. It is more profitable as per this article from the Wall Street Journal.


JULY 30, 2009, 11:31 A.M. ET

Death by Mint Oil: Natural Pesticides


This summer, the pests around my house are dying of more natural causes.

One colony of wasps on my deck got neutralized by shots of mint oil. The cabbageworms shredding my broccoli plants were done in by an ingredient culled from seeds of trees native to India. And I annihilated several fire-ant compounds by enticing them to eat bait packed with a soil-dwelling bacterium that fried their tiny nervous systems.
Alamy (3)

Natural alternatives are available to kill aphids, cabbage loopers, carpenter ants and other pests.

Surprisingly, none of these products were hard to find. Increasingly, well-known insecticide manufacturers, retailers and even professional pest-control services are rolling out solutions derived from natural materials like animals, plants, bacteria and minerals, many of them considered potentially safer to humans, pets and the environment than their synthetic-chemical counterparts. Fueling the move is increased governmental scrutiny over what pesticides we spray in and around our homes, as well as a bid to satisfy more health-conscious consumers””especially women, who typically dictate household pest-solution purchases.

Targets include everything from carpenter ants and mosquitoes to the slugs, caterpillars and mites that feast on fruit trees and vegetable plants. For instance, Terminix, a large professional pest-control company and division of Memphis, Tenn.-based ServiceMaster Co., is introducing its first consumer product called SafeShield. The $9.99 indoor insecticide spray contains active ingredients thyme oil and “geraniol,” a substance found in geranium, rose, lemon and other plants.

Meantime, St. Louis-based Senoret Chemical Co. is expanding its line of Terro brand ant- and bug-bait products using a mineral containing the element boron, which is generally considered low in toxicity to humans and animals. And Lititz, Pa.-based Woodstream Corp. last year bolstered its Safer product line with an organic mosquito- and tick-control concentrate made in part from chrysanthemum flowers.
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* List of Natural Pesticides’ Active Ingredients

The biggest bellwether came earlier this year when lawn and garden giant Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., Marysville, Ohio, introduced a seven-product “EcoSense” line under its home pest-defense Ortho brand sold in major retailers such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Included in the EcoSense arsenal: an indoor insect-killer spray made from soybean oil and an insecticidal soap for vegetables and plants. EcoSense is on track to meet or exceed sales expectations, the company says.

“There are consumers who want a more natural product lineup,” says Jeff Garascia, Scotts senior vice president of global research and development. “A few years ago, we decided that even though the performance didn’t meet our traditional products, we would push through anyway. Now we are starting to see efficacy there.”

Efficacy is tantamount to survival. Manufacturers know there’s often disconnect between what consumers say we want (natural products) and what we really want (dead bugs, now!). Plus, pests can transmit illnesses such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease that can be more harmful than some potential side effects from pesticides. S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., for instance, launched a Raid “Earth Options” product in 2006, then discontinued it the next year due to low consumer acceptance. Spectrum Brands Inc. offers a lemon-eucalyptus version of its Cutter mosquito repellent without DEET (a common chemical repellent) but says it doesn’t sell very well.

Still, the category continues to draw investment dollars. Next year, Spectrum plans to launch a natural indoor bug killer to go along with its Hot Shot and Spectricide insecticides. “There’s just a lot of movement out there now to use safer chemicals,” says Jay Matthews, a business director at Spectrum.

Meantime, sales of organic and natural products in the past 18 months have risen 30% to 40% at the Web site, run by P&M Solutions LLC in Norcross, Ga. Best-selling natural items include “MotherEarth D,” a powder made of diatomaceous earth (ground fossils) that triggers dehydration and death in bugs, as well as an “EcoExempt IC-2” spray made from botanical oils such as spearmint and rosemary. The latter targets a wide range of pests from mosquitoes to bedbugs.

Even the $6.6 billion professional pest-control industry, where efficacy directly affects profit margins, is adopting more natural alternatives. For instance, Mesa, Ariz.-based Bulwark Exterminating LLC, which operates 11 branches in eight states, uses only botanical sprays and boric-acid products (also derived from boron) whenever customers request all-natural solutions and often includes them as part of an overall treatment plan even when they don’t.

“About 35% of people who call now ask us, ”˜Will this hurt my kid or dog?’”‰” says Bulwark founder Adam Seever. One customer, Carol Kidd, lives in a rural suburb of Phoenix and recently rang Bulwark to cancel her service because she was experiencing hormone imbalances and had read pesticides might be a contributing factor. Bulwark instead switched her to an all-natural service, employing botanical oils and boric-acid bait around her foundation instead of a synthetic solution, and didn’t raise her $44-a-month price.

“I’ve seen no excess insects since switching,” 39-year-old Ms. Kidd says, “and I’ve got bugs in the yard around my chicken coop, but not on my patio or in my house.”

The Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides””an umbrella term for products that kill insects, fungi and weeds””for use in the U.S. The agency says general health issues from exposure to pesticides may range from simple skin or eye irritation to hormonal and endocrine disruption, cancer and other illnesses.

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Lisa Bernhardt

The writer wages war on carpenter ants by baiting them around woodpiles with a product formulated from the natural element boron.

For instance, a study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association with research from Stanford University found that in-home use of insect-killing chemicals was associated with a 70% increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, compared with no use of pesticides. And in April, the EPA said it will intensify evaluation of spot-on pesticide products used in pet flea and tick control due to increases in reported problems ranging from skin irritation to seizures and death of the animals. Some of the active ingredients also are found in household insecticides.

Over the years, the EPA has banned some insecticides considered too risky from use in the home market, such as diazinon and chlorpyrifos. It also now maintains a list of active ingredients used in what it dubs “minimum risk” pesticides. “It’s a pretty good bet it’s a safe product if it’s on that list,” says John Kepner with Beyond Pesticides, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, D.C.

Today, the most commonly used synthetic residential insecticides fall into a broad category called pyrethroids””common names include permethrin, cypermethrin and tetramethrin””which are essentially juiced up, longer-lasting human-made versions of the natural chrysanthemum “pyrethrins” used in some natural products. Both affect an insect’s central nervous system; both can be harmful to aquatic life and honeybees. The EPA will re-evaluate pyrethroids’ and natural pyrethrins’ risks starting next year.

To be sure, natural products can trigger health concerns as well. Citric sprays, for instance, can hurt the eyes, and there have been questions about the safety of inhaling powders made from diatomaceous earth or boric-acid powders, Mr. Kepner of Beyond Pesticides notes. “There are plenty of things from nature that can hurt us””like nicotine.”

In general, though, the EPA says biopesticides are usually “inherently less toxic” than conventional pesticides and decompose more quickly, thereby resulting in lower exposures and largely avoiding pollution problems caused by conventional pesticides. What’s more, the agency says, they often primarily harm only target pests, which can help protect beneficial bugs and other animals. (See sidebar.)

Generally, my own pest issues have disappeared using only natural products. One exception: carpenter ants, likely a byproduct of multiple firewood piles around the property and a recent roof leak (the ants like moisture). To wage war, I carefully applied a tiny bit of a synthetic pyrethroid dust inside crevices around my ceiling beams where no children or pets could reach””and where the bugs had left traces of activity. (At the time, I didn’t have the botanical version on hand.) Elsewhere, I’ve used all natural controls, including a mint and herbal oil spray along the backyard foundation where my dog roams and MotherEarth’s and Terro’s boric-acid bait near woodpiles and the front door where I saw ants marching. So far, it’s working pretty well.

One day, however, my dog Dolly got free from her fence and gobbled up a mouthful of the boric-acid bait. Panicked, I called a pet poison control hotline (800-213-6680) and was told not to worry, that the active ingredient was “very safe” with low concern for toxicity, and Dolly would be fine. That was the most compelling sales pitch for naturals yet.

Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at

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