Cockroaches in the home environment are a health hazard not only because of the risks posed by cockroach antigens to asthma sufferers, but also because they can carry disease-causing germs and because some of the methods traditionally used to eliminate them cause additional health hazards.Any home can have cockroaches. However, there are steps you can take to prevent cockroaches from becoming a problem in your home; identify the extent of and solutions to any potential cockroach problem; and reduce or eliminate cockroach problems.
General maintenance and cleaning are important because they remove the food, water, and shelter on which cockroaches depend. There are many steps tenants, landlords, and homeowners can take individually and jointly to prevent cockroach infestation of the home environment.
- Wipe off counters, tables, and stovetops after all meals, snacks, and food preparations.
- Keep food confined to specific areas of the house and clean any spills immediately.
- Keep all food and garbage in tightly sealed containers.
- Do not leave dirty dishes in the sink, on the counter, or in the dishwasher overnight.
- Remove all piles of boxes, cardboard, newspapers, etc. from both inside and around the home.
- Fix leaky pipes, faucets, toilets, and other plumbing problems.
- Use a bathroom fan that vents to the outside after all baths and showers to reduce humidity.
- Caulk all cracks and crevices throughout the home around systems such as plumbing, electrical, and gas lines, as well as in places like cupboards and walls.
Generally, determining whether a home has a cockroach problem and the extent of the infestation involves the use of glue traps, which can be purchased at most hardware or grocery stores. The traps are laid out in target areas, where they are left for at least one night. Upon either filling the trap with cockroaches or waiting a predetermined length of time, the number of cockroaches caught on the glue trap is counted to provide an estimate of the extent of the cockroach problem in the home environment. More detailed guidelines on deciding to test for cockroaches and the actual testing itself are available at www.cehrc.org.
If an apartment building is to be sampled, it is best to test more than one unit. If only one unit is tested, the landlord may claim that only that unit is infested and put the blame for the problem solely on that tenant. Most housing codes put responsibility for cockroach control on the landlord if two or more units are infested.
The ultimate goal is to keep cockroaches out of a home and when necessary, to eliminate those that are there, while keeping residents safe. Reaching this goal can be difficult, especially in multi-unit housing that is heavily infested. For most apartment buildings, the landlord must take a building-wide approach to controlling cockroaches. Normally, it will take a coordinated effort from the landlords and tenants to eliminate cockroaches. Getting their support takes compelling evidence, such as a trap full of cockroaches coupled with a count of the number of cockroaches.
The initial actions residents and landlords can take are regular cleaning and maintenance to remove the food, water, and shelter for the cockroaches. Not only will this help to prevent a cockroach problem in the first place, it is also crucial to controlling an existing infestation and maintaining a cockroach-free environment.
If a cockroach problem requires remedial action, there are numerous paths of control and products available. Once a cockroach problem has been identified, the landlord or homeowner should call an integrated pest management (IPM) professional to conduct a formal inspection. Care should be taken to avoid residential exposure to pesticides, as these chemicals can be a carcinogenic health hazard in the home. Many pesticides can also trigger asthma attacks and cause developmental disabilities.
Pesticide sprays and fogs should not be used to control the problem. Not only will sprays and fogs leave a residue that is hazardous to human health, they also must be applied periodically and are not effective against cockroaches. Baits and boric acid are safer, more preferable forms of treatment that limit the level of human exposure to pesticides. IPM practices to control cockroaches are a healthier way to eliminate the problem than spraying pesticides in your home.
- IPM is effective, economical, and environmentally sensitive.
- IPM uses a combination of common-sense practices, information on the life cycles of roaches and their interaction with the environment, and available pest control methods.
- IPM presents the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
Sources and Additional Information:
American Lung Association’s Health House – www.healthhouse.org/tipsheets/TS_cockroaches.pdf
Beyond Pesticides – Integrated pest management to control cockroaches – www.beyondpesticides.org/alternatives/factsheets/COCKROACH%20CONTROL.pdf and www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Winter%2001-02/Good%20Riddance%20to%20Roaches.pdf
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. – Farewell to Cockroaches Guide – www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/gemare/faco/index.cfm
Community Environmental Health Resource Center (CEHRC) – www.cehrc.org
Environmental Health Watch – Cockroach Control Guide – www.ehw.org/Asthma/ASTH_Cockroach_Control.htm
Gumm, Brian, Home Energy, “Integrated Pest Management in the Home,” Vol. 21 Iss. 6 pp. 36-39 (Nov-Dec 2004)
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov/asthma/children.htm
US EPA – Asthma Triggers – Cockroaches – www.epa.gov/iaq/asthma/pests.html