Bug off! Penn State takes proactive approach in dealing with pesky pests

Amy Duke
March 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Warm weather at Penn State’s University Park campus sprouts scenes of flowers in bloom, students playing frisbee on the Old Main lawn and folks strolling around campus as they enjoy Berkey Creamery ice cream.

It also signals the return of some familiar — and generally unwelcome — sights, namely the insects and small animals that “bug” people, destroy property and can pose a threat to health.

To control these pests, Penn State in 2009 established an Integrated Pest Management Committee, the members of which are tasked with monitoring, tracking and responding to pest problems ranging from ant infestations to groundhog invasions and everything in between.

That can seem like a gargantuan task, considering the University’s main campus consists of 947 buildings peppered across 7,343 acres. The campus enrolls nearly 47,000 students and is the workplace of thousands of faculty and staff.

“Pest control takes a village, and we have a pretty substantial village here at Penn State,” said Lysa Holland, environmental compliance engineer in the Environmental Health and Safety office, who chairs the committee. “Everyone on campus has a role to play, including students, faculty, staff and even visitors. Working together, we can effectively and safely manage pests on campus.”

According to committee member Ed Rajotte, professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, the University adheres to an integrated pest management, or IPM, strategy, which is a proactive approach to pest management that focuses on prevention by reducing the environmental conditions that attract pests, such as food scraps, rubbish, standing water, clogged gutters and crevices in buildings, among others.

“The emphasis is on using nonchemical methods first, to minimize the risks to humans and to helpful insects and animals, such as bees and bats,” he said, adding that Penn State formally adopted an IPM plan at University Park in 2015. “If pesticides are necessary, only the least toxic pesticides are used, unless a need is formally demonstrated for a stronger substance.”

For example, when dealing with mice, traditional pest control would involve using a rodenticide, or poison, which potentially could pose dangers to occupants of the building. The IPM approach involves placing mouse traps and addressing the conditions that encourage mice, such as open food containers and entry points.

“Most people don’t realize that an adult mouse can squeeze through a gap beneath a doorway that will fit a pencil, or through a hole as small as a dime,” Holland said. “A major focus of our work involves educating the University community, including the custodial and maintenance personnel on the front lines, about the importance of routine, proactive building and facilities maintenance to prevent pest entry and pest-conducive conditions.”

In addition, the University contracts with an outside vendor, Orkin Inc., to conduct pest inspections and management. Under the IPM plan, if an Orkin staff member sees a building situation that clearly is causing a pest problem, he or she must report it to the University's Work Control Center, which will send a technician out to fix the building problem.

All pest complaints are entered into a database, which helps the team identify trends and “hot spots” for swift and strategic responses. This information is used to generate an annual report, identifying the most common pests and locations in which they were reported.

In 2018, for instance, the Office of Physical Plant responded to 533 calls for mice, 298 calls for groundhogs, 245 calls for ants, 188 calls for cockroaches and 138 calls for skunks, to name a few.

Holland points out that those numbers are relatively low when considering the number of people living and working on campus. It’s her belief that the committee’s efforts to raise awareness, coupled with support from students and staff, have helped to keep pests in check.

“We are creating a healthier environment for all,” Holland said. “The committee is grateful for the cooperation we have received from the University community in making that happen.”

Other members of the IPM Committee include Stacy Givens, environmental health and safety specialist, Office of Physical Plant; Erik Cagle, custodial operations manager, and David Coleman, custodial operations supervisor, Office of Physical Plant; David Manos, assistant director, Housing; Geno Corradetti, assistant director, Food Services; Tom Neely, general manager, Nittany Lion Inn; Chad Kelley, facility manager, Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center; and Bill Griffin, Orkin Pest Control.

To learn more about the committee or to view the IPM plan, visit https://ehs.psu.edu/pesticide-management/pesticide-integrated-pest-management.

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Last Updated March 18, 2019