Question

I have bull ants, fire ants, and tiny black ants. Is there a green and effective way to get rid of these pests?

Asked by Sharon Unser
Defuniak Springs, FL

I have two acres in the Florida panhandle. We have a well that we get our water from and I want to keep it safe. I have put chemicals down before to try to get rid of the ants, and I do not want to use chemicals again. I want to turn the damage around that I have already done. I have only put one application down thus far.

Answer

Richard Heller

Answered by Richard Heller

New Rochelle, NY

Greener by Design

April 19, 2010

I’m not an ant expert, nor am I from Florida, but I could not resist this question. It captures all the conflicts people experience in regards to wanting to be green and safe while reducing or eliminating creatures for their own safety and comfort. Make no mistake, bull ants and red ants are no joke. They are venomous and territorial and, though not lethal, can cause serious pain to humans and animals. 

I researched solutions online and found a lot of illusions about using “natural products” to kill. This advice I found on another site is a good example:

“I live in south Florida, the bug capital of the world, and I don't use anything toxic in or around my home. I discovered a safe way to get rid of ants. I found Shaklee's Basic-H. It is a nontoxic soap made from soybeans.”

I am not a big fan of chemicals; that said, I am very cautious about substituting untested products that are “organic” for tested, measured chemical products. A product can't possibly be nontoxic if used for extermination purposes. If it kills, by definition, it is toxic.

If you are out to kill, do it in the most focused and tested way possible. Get a licensed exterminator to get rid of the ants. Every state has a licensing process for extermination that requires that the exterminator be trained in the safest known means of ridding properties of pests. These folks know exactly the risks of every product they use and by law, they only use them within the federal guidelines for these products. If you don’t trust them, or don't trust tested chemicals, then I would say live with the ants (who have a right to live as well) rather than spray untested products with no knowledge of the potential environmental impacts.

Chemicals kill and poison whether the source is “organic” or not. It is always better to use tested products than to muck about with something that sounds safe but has not been tested. Further, certified applicators are better trained to apply products whether organic or not. Homeowners are the number one abusers of chemical and organic fertilizers and pest controls because they DON’T read the label and because they are willing to use indoor cleaning products for purposes they have not been tested for. If they have not been tested scientifically, there is no way to measure the environmental impact. If you check the Shaklee’s Basic-H MSDS sheet, one of the ingredients is Didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride, which is hazardous to humans. (See the PAN Pesticides database for more information.)

By the way, the homeowner who recommended Shaklee’s went on to say that they spray their whole property with it and it gets rid of ticks. If it is killing ticks, what is it doing to beneficial insects? To soil microbiology? 

I did read a lot of safer recommendations on how to keep these pests out of the house, like spraying vinegar in crevices where ants are entering. Apparently the scent is a big turnoff to the ants and keeps them out of the house.

For more information:

In keeping with the old saying "prevention is the best medicine" read Doug Smeath's tips on natural pest control.

Tagged In: pest control

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