We are an older couple and we agree that we shouldn’t have to hire an exterminator every time we see a bug we don’t like. However, it is getting harder for us to do it ourselves. How can we determine whether the exterminator we hire is a good one or one that you don’t recommend? – G. F., Augusta
A: The problem with the pesticide industry is that a large number of pest control operators (PCOs) are poorly trained and not well-regulated. Many of them are not familiar with the label or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the chemical they are applying.
If a PCO tells you the pesticide he is spraying is perfectly safe, then you might have a problem. It would be a federal violation to make that kind of statement. If he says it is so safe you can drink it, offer him a glass.
If the PCO is spraying your baseboards with a pesticide, it means he doesn’t know what he is doing and you need to be concerned. Spraying baseboards is a gimmick used to kill time in the customer’s house. That is what I was told when I started in the business 42 years ago. It was true then and is certainly true now.
All states have some kind of licensing regulations for PCOs. Ask the person who comes to your house to show you his license. If he can’t produce a license, do not let him in your home.
I would recommend that you not sign contracts without reading them carefully. Many companies have a clause in their contracts that prohibits you from suing them for damages.
The clause reads something like this: “Any dispute arising out of or relating to this agreement or the services performed under this agreement, or tort based on claims for personal or bodily injury, or damage to real or personal property shall be finally resolved by arbitration administered under the commercial arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association.”
In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court established that mandatory arbitration clauses could be used in contracts between companies and consumers. Since that time, the clause has been widely used by the pest control industry. One of the problems, and there are several, is that it is not free. It could cost the consumer as much as $2,000 up front to start the arbitration process. Very few people have that kind of cash on hand.
If you are asked to sign a contract with a pest control company, look for that clause. If it is present, you can cross it out and ask the company representative to initial it. If they refuse, don’t sign the contract. There are plenty of pest control operators who do not require contracts to conduct their business.
I got a letter with some bugs in it from a lady a year or so ago. She said she had the local exterminator out four times at a cost of more than $1,000 to control them and she still had them. He said they were the larvae of some sort of flying beetle. They were actually duff millipedes – a harmless little millipede that will shortly die of dehydration once it enters the home. No pesticides were necessary to control it. In fact, this fellow tried every pesticide in his truck and failed to control it because he didn’t know what it was.
Then there was the fellow who went out to a house and identified the pest as fleas and did a flea job, which consisted of spraying the carpets and furniture and fogging the house. He did it three times and was unsuccessful each time in controlling the bugs. The customer called another company, which properly identified the pests as harmless springtails that did not need control.
A man was told he had codling moths in his clothes closet. Because codling moths eat only apples, that would be possible only if he had an apple tree in the closet. The customer was smarter than the PCO and didn’t let him treat the house.
Most of the horror stories that I related to you have one thing in common – the inability of the pest control person to properly identify the pests. Many of them use the Spray and Pray method. That is, if you spray enough pesticides and pray it kills something, you won’t get a callback from the customer.
How do you avoid getting hooked up with one of these folks? Ask for references and check them, and read contracts carefully as I said earlier.
RICHARD FAGERLUND, A 40-YEAR VETERAN OF PEST MANAGEMENT, IS A COLUMNIST AND PEST MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT. REACH HIM WITH YOUR BUG QUESTIONS AT RICHARDFAGERLUND@YAHOO.COM.