EPA Healthy Schools Newsletter Debut

Howdy everyone,

Region 6 EPA sent out a Healthy Home and Schools newsletter.  It’s four pages of useful information June 2020 Healthy Schools CF

Topics include: notes for nurses, information for custodians, Sunwise information to protect everyone during summer, plus ways to stay safe at home with simple tips to keep the house healthy too.

While I have your attention, let me introduce you to the newest page on the school IPM website – Recorded Webinar Events on this page are several recordings of webinar events that you can watch.

If you missed the Ask the Expert events, they are there.  Want a short video to show teachers, volunteers or friends about the Asian Giant hornet there’s a video for that. There are even links on cleaning and disinfecting that should be helpful.

Finally, Facility Executive is a digital magazine that offers a great insight into the school campus during the pandemic.   Dr. Brittany Campbell, National Pest Management Association (NPMA) reminds everyone what to be on the lookout for. Pest Management For Vacated Schools


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Disinfectant safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Image of woman sneezing viewer sees all the droplets in the air

As you prepare to open your campuses to students and staff, here are a couple of items to help you prepare.

1. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) will hosting a webinar on 

Remember to read the label, washing hands after use should be exercised by anyone using these products without gloves.

Disinfectant safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Wednesday, June 24  at  1:00 pm Central 

In this webinar NPIC will address common misconceptions and questions about disinfectant safety. They will also tour EPA’s online tool for products effective against COVID-19.

Topics include:

There will be time for questions after the presentation and we will post the webinar recording to the NPIC website soon after. Webinar attendance is limited. 

Registration is required, click here to register: https://oregonstate.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_xDLVDXf2RdWftX-nmXdVAw

This presentation is for the public; disinfectant users in education, health care, and other professional settings; and tribal, state, and federal agencies.

2. The Longer-Term Effectiveness of Home Asthma Interventions

Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm EDT

Since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under 5.

Research supports that community health worker led healthy homes interventions improve asthma outcomes among children. But how effective are these programs with adults, and what is the longer-term effectiveness of these asthma interventions? This is a key consideration when measuring the economic impact of asthma intervention programs. Two researchers will present their findings from long-term multifaceted home environmental asthma intervention projects with older adults and children in diverse low-income households.


David A. Turcotte, ScD, Research Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Helen Margellos-Anast, MPH, President, Sinai Urban Health Institute, Sinai Health System, Chicago, Illinois. 

Target Audiences

OLHCHH grantees; Federal agencies with related programs; HUD/OLHCHH field staff; University-based Healthy Homes educators; Health Care Providers; and many other stakeholders.

Registration Link  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/266550612932733966

3. EPA Advises Facility Operators to Prepare for Hazardous Weather Events

2010 rains, flood waters submerged a Cheatham County school bus, vehicles, and Kingston Springs Elementary School

With June marking the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reminds facility operators of requirements for preventing, minimizing and reporting chemical releases. Facility operators are obligated to maintain safety, minimize releases that do occur, and report chemical or oil releases and discharges in a timely manner, as required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and/or the emergency planning provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and/or the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.

“The people of Texas and Louisiana know that with the environmental, economic, and recreational benefits of the Gulf Coast also comes the responsibility of preparing for hurricanes and other hazardous weather,” said Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “As with every hurricane season, EPA encourages coastal businesses to prepare their facilities and employees for whatever the weather might bring.”

Unlike some natural disasters, hurricanes and tropical storms are predictable and usually allow facilities to prepare for potential impacts. EPA reminds operators of some basic steps to prepare for hazardous weather:

  • Review procedures for shutting down processes and securing facilities appropriately—especially hazardous chemical storage—or otherwise implement appropriate safe operating procedures.
  • Review updated state-federal guidelines for flooding preparedness, available here.
  • Assure all employees are familiar with requirements and procedures to contact the National Response Center in case a spill or release occurs.
  • Review local response contacts, including Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Centers (SERCs). A list of these contacts by state is available here.

Prevention and reporting requirements for facilities are available at https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/hazardous-weather-release-prevention-and-reporting.

In the event of a hazardous weather incident, please visit https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters for updated emergency information. 

You can also visit the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network   which covers more than one disaster.  


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SPN: Summer work in the age of COVID-19

No matter where you live these days you have been affected by COVID-19.  Some of us can work from home, while others have been reassigned and some have not been able to work.  However, as June 1st approaches many of us will be returning to our work environments with new social distancing guidelines.  These guidelines also require all of us to change our behavior on how we interact but also how we will need to implement strict cleaning procedures.

So how do you maintain your IPM program and follow these guidelines?

As you and your staff regain entry into your buildings it’s important to understand that you might have a variety of pest control issues.  While the humans have been away the mice, roaches, ants, bats, and myriad of other insects have had a free rein of your buildings.  As staff start to enter your buildings this is a good time to reinforce how they need to report these pest findings.  Making sure that staff doesn’t use their own chemical controls is still essential to ensuring your IPM program stays in compliance.

Now is a good time to conduct those facility inspections.  Finding those vulnerable areas where pests enter your buildings will aid in making sure you don’t have bigger problems in the fall when everyone comes back to school.  One of the resources we developed several years ago was the IPM Calculator that allows you to conduct a full inspection on your school campuses and give them a score.  Once you set up an account, you can access a PDF inspection checklist and then once you have inspected your campus, you will input that data into the system.  Once everything is entered from that campus and you hit submit, our system will then calculate the risk your building has for pests.  Nothing will get an administrator’s attention is when you give them a score of C, D or F on their building.  Or knowing that you have buildings with high scores (A and B) so that you know which campuses need extra attention.  Remember inspections are the backbone of any IPM program and can help you put into place exclusion methods to keep the pests outside.

Moving outside watch your perimeter for wasps, hornets, bees, and yellowjacket nests.  Texas is home to over twenty different species, and they are largely beneficial.  However, it is important to watch the eaves and soffits of your buildings to keep from nests becoming problematic.  Simple steps like using a webster to knock down paper wasp and mud dauber nests are something even a custodian can do.  Watching for bees and yellowjackets nests is also essential, these insects tend to build their nests in cracks and crevices in hidden areas behind large bushes.  Typically, they go unnoticed for months and become a problem in September and October, so now is the time to train custodial staff to be aware of their surroundings.

The other outdoor insect that can move indoors and thrives outdoors is ANTS!  But don’t despair we have a new online course Ants 101 that can educate about the most common ants of TX and give you CEU credits as well.

Hands and Face

The blue shading it to remind you that everytime you touch a surface you are transferring germs

If you have ever attended a CEU workshop, school IPM training with AgriLife Extension or pesticide safety training with Dr. Don Renchie then you have heard him say this; “Hold out your hands, now say with me these are the nastiest things on your body.”  Hands can transmit all sorts of germs, but in our pesticide safety classes we also discuss that hands can also transfer pesticide chemicals as well.  One of the exercises we have used in our trainings is apply a dye that when the lights are turned off it shows how we transfer from objects to our bodies.  I found this video from the BBC that uses this dye to show how coronaviruses are spread.  Remember the common cold virus is a coronavirus so when you practice good hygiene you are protecting yourself and your family.  The other video I found is something you can share with staff, teachers, and kids it’s on how germs spread.  This is a good reminder about all the nasty things we encounter.

Finally, I would like to direct to the Texas Association of School Boards website on COVID-19.  This week I participated in webinar from the Risk Management group on How Will COVID-19 Impact Summer Maintenance Work? While most of us leave this topic to administrators I highly recommend you sign up for their newsletters and check out their website as well.  I have always promoted the risk manager in your district as an important part of your IPM program. Here is your reminder to go introduce yourself to that person and take a few minutes explaining your IPM program to them.  They can be your biggest champion as what happens with pests can impact the entire district as well.

One last item: I am planning to host a couple of webinars in June where you will have a chance to ask our experts on insects and turf management.  Keep on your eye on your email and feel free to follow me on social media the Facebook page on school IPM is where I post a lot of information that I don’t put in the newsletter.  Don’t Facebook then you can find me on Twitter @JanetDHurley or Linkedin all three accounts are linked to my social media postings.

Remember we are here for you, please let me know how we can help your district as you return back to work.

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Warm weather means more ticks: Texans, take care outdoors

American dog tick
American dog tick

The American dog tick is one of the most common species found in Texas. (AgriLife photo by Wizzie Brown)

As the warm weather draws more and more Texans outdoors, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts want people to be aware of the danger ticks pose.

Ticks are blood feeders in all life stages and can transmit pathogens that can lead to disease transmission,” said Sonja Swiger, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension entomologist, Stephenville.

“While we do see tick-borne disease here in Texas, our rates are much lower than many other states,” she said. “However, people need to be aware and vigilant. That is the only way to stop them.”

Where ticks are found

Swiger said since ticks can’t fly, the only way to be exposed to them is by entering their space or by catching them from an animal that has picked them up.

Unfortunately, ticks can be found pretty much anywhere.

“Aside from if you’re in a concrete jungle, there can be ticks,” Swiger said. “They can be in overgrown brush, a field, forest, park, tall grasses and anywhere there is wildlife.”

Given that many people have been inside more than normal due to COVID-19 and social distancing, Swiger said we do not yet know what that will mean, if anything, when it comes to ticks. Most ticks only live outdoors unless they hitch a ride into a home on a human or animal host.

“Since people haven’t been outdoors as much, that may mean some areas haven’t been mowed in a while or brush hasn’t been cleared. We’ve also seen wildlife coming into some urban areas more during these periods while people have been staying indoors. Will that increase exposure? We just don’t know yet, so people need to take precautions.”

Ticks are something people need to be aware of year-round, although as the weather warms their populations swell, typically peaking in the summer and then declining in the fall. Swiger said we are at the start of their “plentiful season.”

Tick awareness and prevention

As Lyme Disease Awareness Month ends and many people plan to be outdoors for the Memorial Day weekend, now is a good time to review how to protect yourself and your family from these arthropods.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease, with an average of 30,000 cases a year reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease can also affect pets. There are numerous other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia that ticks can transmit to people. Ticks are also responsible for often-deadly diseases in livestock such as cattle fever.

Lone Star ticks gets its name from the single silvery-white spot located on the female’s back. (Image by Ed Freytag, NOLA)

There are 11 common species of ticks found in Texas. The black-legged tick, brown dog tick, Lone Star tick, Gulf Coast tick and American dog tick are the species the average person is most likely to encounter. The TAMU TickApp for Texas and the Southern Region is a helpful tick identification and resource tool.

Ticks typically like to latch on to people’s head, hair, chest, armpit, groin, waist and back of the knees, so be extra vigilant when checking these areas. Headwear and light-colored clothing that protects as much skin as possible is also a good idea if you’ll be outdoors where ticks are present. Pants should be tucked into boots to minimize the odds of bringing an unwanted bloodsucker home.

“Check yourself after being outdoors,” said Swiger. “Also check your pets if they have been outdoors.”  

Swiger said people who let their pets sleep in their bed with them need to be extra vigilant.

Around your home, keep lawns mowed, brush trimmed and weeds whacked. Be especially diligent about the areas around swing sets, sand boxes and children’s play areas.

Since rodents are part of the tick-borne disease cycle, eliminate places they like to live and hide. Try to avoid having brush piles and keep any building materials and gardening supplies off the ground.

If a tick is found, it can be removed with tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and pull straight out. If the head breaks off under the skin and cannot be removed, or if any pain, lesion or a rash develops, contact a doctor. If fever, headache, joint pain, muscle pain or swollen lymph nodes occur within 30 days of a tick bite, you should also inform your doctor.

“We don’t want this holiday weekend to be a perfect storm for ticks with the warmer weather, a lot of people outdoors and perhaps more overgrown brush than usual,” Swiger said. “I don’t want people to worry, I just want people to be aware.”

Written by Susan Himes, AgriLife Communications Specialist. 

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Stinging caterpillar season starts: AgriLife experts warn stinging caterpillars can cause contact rashes, painful reactions

Hickory tussock caterpillar.
Hickory tussock caterpillar.

Hickory tussock caterpillar. (John Ghent, bugwood.org)

As the weather warms up and people begin spending more time in their yards, parks and forests, more people will be coming home with a rash or bug bite.

However, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts say before you blame a flying insect or a poisonous plant for a skin ailment, you may need to consider another culprit – stinging caterpillars.

“Spring foliage has brought on an abundance of caterpillars, a few of whom carry irritating or even venomous hairs,” said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management for schools statewide specialist, Dallas.

“We normally have fact sheets available for schools this time of year, but with most children out of school due to COVID-19, we wanted to make sure parents are aware that there are stinging caterpillars in Texas, what they look like, and how to avoid them,” she said.

Stinging caterpillar species include the buck moth caterpillar, spiny oak slug caterpillar, hickory tussock moth caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar and Io moth caterpillar.

Perhaps the most painful caterpillar in Texas is the southern flannel moth caterpillar, also known as the asp or puss caterpillar. An encounter with a puss caterpillar is very painful and may even require a trip to the hospital, according to AgriLife Extension experts.

What stinging caterpillars look like

Hurley said she recently received her first tussock moth caterpillar question – confirming that just about every species of stinging caterpillar has now been spotted in our state.

Puss caterpillar.

Puss caterpillar. (AgriLife photo by Wizzie Brown)

“A good rule of thumb is if a caterpillar looks ‘fuzzy’ — don’t touch it,” said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension specialist in integrated pest management and entomologist, Bexar County.

Although many fuzzy caterpillars are not dangerous, do not pick up a caterpillar unless you are sure it is not of the stinging variety. The puss caterpillar, for example, looks deceptively soft and can be especially tempting for children to want to pick up or “pet.”

“These teardrop shaped caterpillars look touchable, but they are not,” emphasized Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension specialist in integrated pest management for Travis County. “Asps have spines attached to venom glands that can lead to a nasty sting, rash and other issues.”

Caterpillar sting symptoms and treatment

“Since these caterpillars tend to hide, you may not even know you’ve encountered one until you feel the sting,” Hurley said.

Saddleback caterpillar.

Saddleback caterpillar. (Jerry A Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org.)

If you are stung, you may feel immediate pain and reddish colored spots may appear where spines entered the skin. Some people may not feel pain until several minutes after they are stung, while others can experience intense throbbing or radiating pain. Other people may not feel much discomfort, and a red rash may be the only telltale sign.

Brown said different people respond to caterpillar toxin differently. “Some people may have a more severe reaction than others, and where on your body you are stung and the thickness of that skin can affect your reaction too.”

If the caterpillar is still on you, immediately brush it off if possible and then use tape to remove the spines that may still be in your skin, Brown said.

Washing the area with soap and water and applying an ice pack to the sting may offer some relief, and an oral antihistamine may help to relieve itching. Over-the-counter insect sting and bite relief products can also help.

“The pain often goes away within an hour,” said Mike Merchant, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension urban entomologist, Dallas.

Other symptoms after a sting can include nausea, vomiting, headaches, respiratory stress or shock. Since reactions to the toxins from stinging caterpillars can vary, seek medical advice or treatment immediately or go to an emergency room if you are concerned. Merchant also stressed that any contact with eyes or an allergic reaction to a sting requires immediate medical attention.

Stinging caterpillar habitat 

Spiny oak slug caterpillar.

Spiny oak slug caterpillar. (Jerry A Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org.)

“You are more likely to encounter stinging caterpillars when they leave their host plant in search of a spot to pupate, which is currently happening with many caterpillars,” said Keck. “They aren’t aggressive and won’t come after you, but they can drop from trees.”

Keck has reported sightings of both buck moth caterpillars and tussock moth caterpillars in the Bexar County area already this spring. Texans statewide need to be on the alert and keep an eye on trees and shrubs for caterpillar development, which typically occurs now into the fall.

Some common tree hosts are apple, basswood, cherry, dogwood, elm, maple, plum and oak, which is a favorite of the buck moth caterpillar. Some stinging caterpillars may even be found on crops such as corn.

“Adult puss moths emerge in late spring or early summer to lay several hundred eggs on favored host trees,” said Merchant. “Caterpillars may also be seen feeding on dwarf yaupon and other shrubs. One to two generations occur each year, though southern flannel moth caterpillars tend to be more common in the fall.”

Pest management

Io moth caterpillar.

Io moth caterpillar. (AgriLife photo by Bart Drees)

Avoid stinging caterpillars by not sitting under trees and wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors, although even that is no guarantee of protection.

“I had the misfortune of getting an eastern buck moth caterpillar on my pants the other day and accidentally brought it inside,” said Keck. “When I rested my hand on my leg, I encountered the hairs/barbs and it didn’t feel good. It itched and left an uncomfortable feeling on my thumb for a couple hours.”

Keck said there isn’t much you can do about managing these caterpillars until they all pupate and go away. You don’t need to worry about harm to your garden however, as stinging caterpillars typically do not do enough feeding to harm plants.

If you have large populations of stinging caterpillars and decide you need to try to manage them, you can try Bacillus thuringiensisvar. kurstaki, BTK. However, this will also kill all the non-stinging or “good” caterpillars, which are an important food source for songbirds. You may also look for a pesticide with active ingredients such as spinosad or azadirachtin, which are naturally derived products.  

Buck moth caterpillar.

Buck moth caterpillar. (AgriLife photo by Patrick Porter)

Merchant said puss moth caterpillars can also be controlled when they become abundant by spraying with a residual pesticide such as permethrin, cyfluthrin or similar sprays labeled for control of caterpillars on ornamental plants. 

“The best solution to dealing with stinging caterpillars may just be educating adults and children on what these caterpillars are, what they look like, and the importance of not touching them with bare hands,” concluded Merchant.

By: Susan Himes is a communication specialist with AgriLIfe Extension Susan.Himes@ag.tamu.edu
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SPN: While the humans are away the pests will play

Since March 23, 2020, most TX schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during this time the most common pests of TX have not taken a break from your campuses. Even though our AgriLife Extension offices are closed we are still working from home and insect questions are still coming in. Over the past month we have seen an increase in stinging caterpillars mostly in the San Antonio and Hill county region of the state. There will be a special story on that coming later this week.

In the meantime, this is issue is to remind you of some of the important pests you need to consider and what you will need to do when schools open again in the fall.

A bee swarm consists of a queen bee surrounded by her colony of worker bees. Children and others should be warned to keep away from such swarms until it can be removed.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are swarming right now.  What can schools do when they show up? According to our Entomologists you have three choices: 1) leave them be, 2) have a beekeeper pick them up, or 3) take them out with soapy water. 

Wait aren’t bees protected? Why Kill Bees?

If you can’t find a beekeeper to remove them in a timely manner, extermination quickly eliminates any risks to kids, pets, or others of stings (instead of waiting 1-3 days for them to move) and reduces the chance that the swarm will enter and start nesting in a school building (an expensive problem).   A little-known fact is that most wild bees are Africanized and not a good addition to a school campus.  Also, wild (feral) honey bees are not endangered. Check out this article from Dr. Mike Merchant’s website on bees.   https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/bees/ent-3002/  Not sure where to find a local beekeeper then check out the Texas Apiary Inspection Service. You can find a list of beekeepers, by county, who may do removal in your area. https://txbeeinspection.tamu.edu/bee-removal/

oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis)

Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis) Multiple Life Stages

The American Cockroach (Periplaneta Americana), Oriental cockroach,(Blatta orientalis) and the  Smokybrown cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa) are common invaders of vacant structures.  These “outdoor” cockroaches prefer warmer climates and moist surroundings and can thrive year-round in these conditions. The American cockroach is common in city sewers and basements, particularly around pipes and drains. The smokybrown prefers tree holes, loose bark, and mulch. The Oriental cockroach is common outdoors and lives in warm, damp shady areas near the ground or any area containing natural debris. Each species can build large populations if uncontrolled and can spread bacteria by contact. Finding them inside often indicates a need to pest-proof external entryways or looking into floor drains that may have not seen any water since early March. Ignoring these pests can be bad news when students and staff come back in August. 

In TX, we have several species of bats, the most common one school IPM coordinators encounter is the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis).  The Mexican free-tailed bat, mate in the spring (now). Fertilization and fetal development follow, and pups are generally born in the late spring or early summer (mid-April to June). By late summer, the pups can fly and feed on their own. Which means if you have a colony of bats living in one of your school buildings the window to do exclusion work is about to close.  However, maintenance staff need to be monitoring campuses for the occupation of bat colonies, identify where they are entering and exiting the structure.  These areas will need to be sealed up in the fall in order to prevent the bats from returning to your campus building next year.  Something to consider before you seal up the building for bats is to install a bat house close to the campus.  Bats are creatures of habit and will return to the same roost year after year. Unfortunately, in the South, some bat species have found this area habitable all year long although their migration patterns may require them moving from one part of the state to another, they may not fully leave your buildings.  So, the bat house is a way to allow them to have a safe place to live, but not occupy the building structure where people can be exposed to them.

Exterior inspections can help coordinators and pest management professionals find potential pest problems before them come inside.

Because fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) may present a hazard to children who are allergic to their venom, fire ant control should be made a top priority around athletic fields, playgrounds and classroom buildings. Emphasize year-round suppression of fire ant activity in landscapes in and around buildings because fire ant mounds are usually located outdoors. Fire ant baits provide excellent control and are considered a preferred treatment. Where fire ant mounds are not numerous, individual mounds may be treated with baits or contact insecticides according to label directions. Over the past month I have heard many districts are forgoing their spring treatments since no one is around.  This is alarming because if you don’t treat now and again in the fall, the chances are this ant species will be a common visitor to all your outdoor fall events.  Now is the time to put out your spring bait for fire ants.  Visit our website dedicated to Red Imported Fire Ant to find treatment methods, how to calculate bait costs and must more.

Mosquitoes are of concern in the school environment because many species are painful biters and/or are capable of transmitting diseases. In the United States, the threat of developing encephalitis from mosquitoes is far greater than the threat from other mosquito vectored diseases. Encephalitis, meningitis and other diseases can develop from the bites of mosquitoes infected with certain viruses such as West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, LaCrosse (California) encephalitis, and Eastern equine and Western equine encephalitis. An effective control program will not eliminate all mosquitoes but will keep the population at a reasonable level and will reduce both nuisances and the risk for mosquito-borne diseases.

While many rely on their local health departments to provide vector control in their area, the fact is most mosquito programs don’t come on school property.  The focus of the vector control departments is to prevent mosquitoes via larviciding and then spraying products that kill the adults.  Larviciding is the regular application of microbial or chemical insecticides to water bodies or water containers. The aim of larviciding is to reduce the adult population of mosquitoes by killing the aquatic immature forms, so that fewer will develop into adults.  This is something every school district in TX should be considering as there are so many areas within our school districts that mosquitoes can breed and live.  Again, this is something that if you tackle now you won’t have as many of these “friends” come fall.  And by the way there are some cool mosquito traps that use a combination of larvicides and adulticides that can be placed around your campuses that work 24/7.  Check out this story from last November on mosquito control in a California School.

Norway rats enjoying the French Quarter while the tourists are away.

Finally, this newsletter would not be complete without discussing the least desirable pests: mice and rats. If you have been watching the news or social media these critters have taken front stage in many urban areas.  If you do nothing else while students and staff our out of your schools is to exclude or seal up as many entry points as possible.  This is the perfect time to attack those areas that you normally don’t have time to do.  In areas that you have had high populations make sure you are baiting as well.  If you search for City of New Orleans and rodents, you will see what my friends are doing which is baiting heavily in areas that the rats are searching for food.  Mice and rats are opportunistic, and they will eat anything even their young, but I have also seen them eat crayons, paper, or more than likely the food that the teacher left in their classroom back in March. 

One last item before you go, our county agents have been reporting sightings of true armyworms in hay fields.  I mention this as you will want your grounds people to be on the alert for fall armyworms later this year.  Check out this newsletter posting from 2018 on this topic

Remember we have plenty of resources to help you out to establish those threshold levels or help you decide what options you have.  Visit the School IPM Website for more information on the most common pests we see in schools. 

I would like to thank the team of community entomologists: Dr. Mike Merchant, Dr. Robert Puckett, Dr. Sonja Swiger, Molly Keck and Wizzie Brown for helping me figure out what pests to feature.  Remember we are all here to help you.  

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Cleaning and COVID-19: Read the Label: Understanding ‘Danger’, ‘Caution’, ‘Warning’

man cleaning a surface with glovesIf empty store shelves have you looking under your sink and wondering if the cleaning products you already own can kill the new coronavirus, you’re not alone. What you may not realize is many of your cleaning products are classified as pesticides — and reading and understanding the label is key to safe and effective use.

“In the eyes of the law, sanitizer and disinfectant products are considered pesticides,” said Mike Merchant, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service urban entomologist, Dallas. “And if you’re a little wary of using pesticides, you should exercise the same caution when choosing and using a disinfectant.”

Merchant explained the term ‘pesticide’ refers to any substance or mixture of substances used to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate a pest. All pesticides are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which gets to decide if, how and where they can be used.

“Pesticides that fight microbes are called antimicrobials,” Merchant said. “Antimicrobials that fight germs affecting human health can be further classified as sanitizers, disinfectants, virucides and sterilants.”

Merchant, who writes the “Insects in the City” blog and trains professionals to properly use pesticides, covered this potentially confusing product label terminology in a recent post.

Sanitizers kill bacteria; disinfectants kill fungi, bacteria and viruses. Virucides kill or inactivate viruses. Sterilants are the strongest and typically used in medical settings and will get rid of all fungi, bacteria, viruses and spores.

“About 275 active ingredients can be found in antimicrobials, most of which are considered pesticides and must have an EPA-approved label,” he said. “Most of the effective products that fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, are considered disinfectants or virucides.”

Merchant said some sanitizing products for use on skin, like alcohol gels, are considered drugs rather than pesticides and are regulated as such by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He stressed that reading the labels on these products is the key to safely and effectively utilizing them.

Here are the guidelines he suggests:

The disinfectant label is the law

Unlike instructions on a box of mac and cheese, instructions on a disinfectant label are the law, not suggestions. Using even a little more disinfectant than the label allows in a cleaning solution or failing to wear the proper safety gear specified on the label is a violation of state and federal pesticide laws.

Understand signal words

When deciding on a safe disinfectant to use in your home or workplace, consider the signal word. The signal word provides a quick reference to the relative hazard associated with using a product. One of three signal words – DANGER, WARNING or CAUTION must be on the front panel of any disinfectant product. 

  • DANGER signals the highest warning. Such products may be highly toxic when ingested or may induce irreversible eye or skin damage if used without proper protective gear. 
  • WARNING labeled products are moderately toxic if ingested or may cause reversible skin or eye irritation. 
  • CAUTION labeled products will be the least hazardous, and would be best for home environments, especially where children are present.

Read the precautionary statements

Precautionary statements include specific requirements on what you must wear when applying the product. If you’re an employer or supervisor, it’s critical you provide training to ensure employees know disinfectant instructions and have the proper safety equipment. In a recent case, employees of a large company were told to switch from mild green-cleaning agents to a powerful disinfectant to deal with the coronavirus emergency. Not use to the new product, janitorial staff became ill and suffered red, itchy skin and burning eyes.

Pay attention to contact times on the label

Many disinfectants must remain wet on surfaces for an extended time, usually 1 to 10 minutes, to effectively kill viruses and bacteria. Don’t assume you can immediately wipe down a surface that you treat with a disinfectant.

Application methods and appropriate surfaces

Pay attention to what surfaces the disinfectant is designed to be used on, and what kind of application methods are allowed by the label. If a product is labeled for use on hard, non-porous environmental surfaces, it shouldn’t be used on carpet or furniture. Something designed to be applied with a sponge should not be used in a fogger or sprayer.

Look for an EPA registration number.

This is a unique number that tells you the product has been reviewed by the EPA and allows you to reference it. For example, the EPA has developed a list of all disinfectants believed to be effective against COVID-19. If you want to know whether your disinfectant is likely to be effective against coronavirus, you can look it up in this table by its registration number.

Be careful with containers

Care should be taken with even the simplest task of removing disinfectant wipes from their plastic tubs. There are reports of people getting disinfectant in their eyes from tiny droplets erupting when towels are pulled too quickly from the container.

Since the new coronavirus began its spread, the EPA has been receiving more health-related emergency calls about improper use of disinfectants, said Merchant.

“One common problem occurs when people use Clorox wipes to wipe their faces – not good. One couple thought they could drink bleach to cure COVID-19,” he said. “And there are many more cases of people being hurt by mixing chlorine- and ammonia-containing products, which results in production of the toxic gas, ammonium chloride. None of these are good ideas and none are recommended on the label.”

Safety shouldn’t stop after you’ve chosen and appropriately applied the product either. Disinfectants need to be safely stored and disposed of properly. The labels of products will tell you what you need to know, but you must read them, emphasized Merchant.

“There is a lot of information on a disinfectant label,” Merchant said. “Not reading and following label instructions puts you at risk of breaking federal and state pesticide regulations, not to mention putting your health at risk.”

This article was written by Susan Himes, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Communication Specialist.  

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SPN: Focusing on grounds and turf areas

April showers brings weeds, fire ants and few other pests that can impact your outdoor areas.  Even though most of us are limited on traveling, our home lawns, as well as our public spaces still need to be maintained, if we don’t additional pest issues like rats and snakes will move in.

This issue will focus on several fact sheets that have been developed by Extension Specialists to help you manage your outdoor surroundings.

WHAT IS THAT MOUND??? We have all seen them, a mound in the yard and most of us assume it’s a mound it’s fire ants.  Did you know that crawfish, earthworms, gophers, moles, June Beetles, ground-nesting bees, ground nesting wasps and mole crickets to name a few also make mounds.  Drs. Chrissie Segars and Mike Merchant developed this handy publication on What is That Mound go check it out.

One of the best ways to ensure that you’re watering your landscape correctly is to conduct an irrigation audit on your sprinkler system. This is something you should do annually as proper watering actually leads to a healthy turf.  You can either do it yourself or hire a professional company to conduct the audit. Properly done, an irrigation audit will pinpoint any problems with the system and will determine the proper irrigation frequency as well as the number of minutes to run each zone when the system is operating.  “Tracking Every Drop: Irrigation Audits and troubleshooting for success,”  By Chrissie A. Segars, Ph.D. and Charles Fontanier, Ph.D is an article they published in SportsField Management this past March.

When is the best time to apply pre-emergent herbicides for controlling annual grassy and broadleaf weeds in lawns and landscapes is one of the hardest answers for our turf grass experts.  In this factsheet Dr. Becky Grubbs outlines what are pre-emergent herbicides, what you need to know before you purchase and apply, plus a guide of when you can think about making those applications.  Many individuals wait too late to apply their pre-emergent herbicides and then wonder why they still have problems with winter weeds in the lawn once these annual weeds germinate and start to grow, most of the pre-emergent herbicides will have no effect on the weed.  the same is true for summer weeds like crabgrass, when you start to see this grass it’s too late for a pre-emergent.  However, using this chart to help you determine when you need to make applications can assist the IPM program and be part of your written guidelines for the grounds program.  Click on this link to download and save Preemergence Herbicide Guide

Water-Wise landscaping is a term used to describe quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment.  Depending on where you live, your community may limit your outdoor water use during the summer months.  However, the time to plan your yard, community garden, or outdoor entertaining area is now.  Water Wise Checklist for Texas Home Lawns by Dr. Becky Grubbs is something you can share with teachers, administrators and others as a way to help them make the most of their outdoor time during this time of physical distancing.  Knowing when to mow and what height you should mow certain grass species is part of the IPM process.  Do you have tightly packed soil?   When was the last time you aerated your lawn or turf areas.  Print and share this document.

Finally, one last document to help you with managing your sports fields with reduced staff.  Dr. Segars sent us this new BMP’s For Texas Turf during COVID-19 there are great tips about watering and mowing to consider.

Do Well Be Well and We will Get Through This

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SPN: Pest Management in the era of COVID-19

coronavirus microspotic
What’s that saying about March – in like a lamb out like lion or vice versa. We have always associated that saying with the weather but now I am beginning to think COVID-19 is following this model. It started slow and as March is coming to end this virus is beginning to roar. For us in pest management this has been an odd time, do you service accounts when we are trying to practice social distancing (I prefer physical distancing)? What is considered essential services when it comes to pest control? How about your school district is it completely shut down, meaning that no one is watching your IPM program? It’s still spring in TX, depending on where you are at you are seeing mosquitoes, fire ants, nuisance ants, millipedes, crane flies, and rodents to name a few of the more annoying pests in our state.

In this edition of School Pest News (SPN) I am going to try and breakdown what you need to have and what you need to know to help you get through this uncertain time.

Several Extension Specialists from across the country came together this month to help those who work with multi-housing clients. This dialogue began has as a discussion to help someone answer the question as to what you consider an essential pest problem.  This is what we determined for those of you who live in multi-family housing or service those accounts.  {Be on the lookout for a blog by Dr. Merchant for all pest management professionals on this topic soon.}

  • Control of rats in residences (any infestation level), or removal of a bat found in the residence, or common spaces
  • Control of fire ants in and around residential areas.
  • Common-area pest inspection/treatments in high-rise hallways, maintenance areas, garbage rooms, and garbage chutes; findings of any pests in the hallways should be recorded for later proximate-apartment follow-up.  {This will vary depending on location and type of facility}
  • Inside the apartment cockroach, bed bug, mouse/rat, or fly treatments for high-level infestations in residences, or lower-level infestations if:
    • A resident has a non-COVID-19 medical issue involved, such as asthma (as a result of pandemic response measures, we currently have people spending more time in their home, exposed for longer periods to possible asthmagens and respiratory irritants)
    • a resident complains and consents to treatment for priority pests (bed bugs, rodents, cockroaches or other significant public health pests)

Pest control providers can determine what will consider a high-level pest infestation, again calls from customers should not be ignored, but prioritized to limit the customer and pest management professional from unneeded physical contact to prevent COVID from spreading. Consult with your local health department (city/county), Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Pest Control Association and/or university extension specialists about prioritizing additional pests of public health significance (i.e. filth flies, fleas) that could be problematic in your area. Treatments conducted outdoors for wasps, fire ants, mosquitoes, termites, etc. could continue with proper precautions and should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

coronavirus microspotic Consider using and sharing this document Pest Control Operations and Social Distancing in Multi-Family Housing During the COVID-19/Coronavirus Outbreak  

In addition, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is recommending printing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) form and printing an essential service work document on company letterhead.  Both of which can be downloaded here from their website https://www.pestcontrolcoronavirus.com/government-resources/state-province-level/  for Texans you can visit the TPCA website for updated information.  NPMA also hosted a webinar on Performing Pest Management in Challenging Times go check this recording out.

Our friends with the Arizona Community IPM program have been working overtime to help get you additional information on COVID-19 and how to manage this in your school, nursing home, or other sensitive environment.  The topic is of course focused on the COVID-19 outbreak, and the safe use of disinfectants and cleaning products.  You find their information at this newsletter link   Thank you, Dawn, Shaku, Lucy, & Jennifer for providing this information.

Finally, in an effort to assist your educational needs I developed a really short survey to learn what Texas A&M AgriLife Extensions IPM team can do to help you.  Follow this survey link to let me know your thoughts.



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What’s that blob in my playground?

yellow slim mold
Are you seeing a lot of odd looking blobs of yellow,  pink, white, or even orange looking foam substance?

yellow slim mold

Slim mold growing on compost

You are not alone. And no it’s not some animal vomiting, this is Slim Mold.

Slime molds belong in the phylum Myxomycota in the kingdom Protista. They are not a true fungus. These organisms exist in nature as a “blob” (plasmodium), similar to a amoeba. And they engulf their food, mostly bacteria. The slime mold that typically appear on mulches are from the genus, Fuligo septica  .

Slim mold growing from an office worm bin.

Slim mold growing from an office worm bin.

The brightly color blobs usually appear and may spread around mulched beds when there is high humidity and relatively warm temperatures. In Texas, we typically hear of slime molds in the spring and occasionally in the summer in highly irrigated shade areas. Slime mold can appear to be bright yellow to red. As they begin to dry out, these colors fade to brown and tan. Breaking up the dried blob, you may notice a dark brown to black core – the spores. Slime molds are not known to be a danger to human or animals.

slim mold openChemical treatment is not warranted for this problem. These organisms are very sensitive to the environment. The best approach to controlling slime mold is by modifying the environment. Slime molds do not survive well in dry conditions.

While we cannot control the spring rains, you can carefully manage your irrigation systems to reduce the amount of wetness on the surface. You can also use a rake or even use a stream of water to break up the slime mold. This will encourage the drying out of the slime mold and remove the unsightly “vomit”.

Some people consider the slime mold to be a beneficial organism in that it helps in the decaying process of the mulch and may also play a role in competing against some soilborne plant pathogens. However, most will find this an unsightly mess.

Check out this short video from the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (TPDDL)  it has great information you can share with others.  You can also visit their website at http://plantclinic.tamu.edu 

WHAT: Slime Mold

Howdy TPDDL fans and Happy re-run WHAT Wednesday! We wanted to showcase our slime mold video to help answer the question, WHAT is wrong with my Red Yucca? We were recently sent this question via email along with an image of some white goop towards the base of a Red Yucca plant (I have uploaded the image in the comments under this post). Even though slime mold takes on different colors, it still looks like dog vomit to me! Enjoy the vid! -ML #TXPlantClinic #rerunwhatweds #slimemold #didmydogjustthrowthatup

Posted by Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Thank you to Dr. Kevin Ong, PhD, Professor & Associate Department Head, Extension Program, Department of Plant Pathology & Microbiology and Director of TPDDL  for sharing this information with me.  Everytime I see this particular mold I think of Dr. Ong when he first started with AgriLife Extension and was stationed at the Dallas Center.  The facts about this mold has not changed from 2005 to now, with lots of moisture comes a growth that thrives with warm temps and lots of water.

Finally, I found this article from the Northwest Extension District, UF/IFAS Gardening page they had slim mold grow out of their vermi composting bins https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/hort/tag/edible-slime-mold/ something teachers might need to consider as well.


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