Maintaining Buildings & Grounds

Pest Management

Pest Management

PHOTO © JAREYNOLDS

Ensuring a healthy living and learning environment for all students and staff at the college or university level is a top priority for any administration. A critical part of maintaining a healthy environment is the implementation of a proper pest management program. As higher education facilities cater to thousands or tens of thousands of students in multiple settings, they face a unique set of pest control challenges, which can be overwhelming and particularly disastrous if infestations take hold. Pests such as cockroaches and rodents can aggravate allergies and asthma, contaminate food and surfaces, and can cause students to fall ill. Bed bugs can become a housing emergency, given how quickly and easily they spread from room to room.

Quite simply, pests in a school environment can become a public health concern if left untreated, but having a prevention and maintenance plan in place can better prepare schools to avoid full-blown infestations or to act quickly should they arise.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CAMPUS: PEST HOTSPOTS

College and university campuses are an ideal habitat for pests as they have an abundant supply of food, water and shelter. Understanding which areas of a campus pose risks — and why these areas are hotspots for pests — is important to developing and implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) program, an individualized pest control program which focuses on eliminating sources of food, water and shelter while limiting the use of products. Dining Facilities — Most college campuses offer multiple dining facilities, providing meals and snacks to students, staff and visitors throughout the day. While foot traffic may vary for each mealtime, each kitchen needs to be prepared for a high volume of food coming in and going out. This constant flow of food and people can create the perfect environment for pests to thrive.

Managers who oversee dining facilities, in particular, need to take specific precautions to reduce pest problems. Employees need to ensure food products are properly stored, food surfaces and kitchen floors are sanitized appropriately, garbage is disposed of regularly and dirty dishes are cleaned quickly. In terms of facility maintenance, managers should be on the lookout for leaking pipes and clogged drains, which can lead to standing water and create the perfect breeding ground for pests.

Living Facilities and Residence Halls — College students are known for living in a variety of housing situations — such as on-campus and off-campus dormitories and apartments — often with multiple roommates. Pests can find entry when dormitory residents leave windows and doors open, and residents can attract pests if they improperly dispose of food, leave garbage in the room and dirty dishes in the sink.

In a dormitory or apartment environment, there is a regular turnover of student residents. New students move in and out each year or perhaps every semester, and many travel for holidays and spring break — not to mention all the day-to-day activities of hosting friends for study groups or get-togethers. This continual stream of traffic creates the perfect highway and environment for bed bugs to enter and spread across properties. Another common avenue is through previously infested secondhand furniture and personal belongings.

Restrooms — Poorly maintained restrooms, no matter where on campus they are located, are unsanitary. One of the largest problems in restrooms is the risk for leaking pipes, clogged drains and standing water. Residence hall shower rooms pose a unique risk as the large volume of students using the showers on a daily basis can keep the room damp, cause standing water and provide the perfect shelter for pests to thrive.

Classrooms and Common Areas — Classrooms and common areas can pose less of a risk in terms of standing water, but the improper cleaning of surfaces, irregular disposal of garbage and high traffic volume of students can attract pests. Specifically, students who snack in these locations may leave crumbs and spills, which can lead to pest infestations.

Exterior Areas — While outside areas of campus are usually less of a concern in terms of pest infestation, exterior waste-holding sites, such as Dumpsters, can be big magnets for pests, including rodents, flies and mosquitos. Not only does the storage or improper disposal of garbage attract pests, improper irrigation and cleanup can lead to standing water and mosquito breeding sites. As these disposal areas are typically close to dining halls or located in close proximity to buildings, adequate sealing of entryways, including door thresholds, screens and windows in these structures can help mitigate pest entry all together.

KEY PESTS

A school’s geographic location will influence the type of pest infestations they are most at risk for, too. That said, there are several pests that are common across the United States:

Cockroaches — Cockroaches pick up germs on the spines of their legs as they crawl through decaying matter, which may be transferred to humans through food contamination. This can lead to the transmission of illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella. Cockroaches are also known to trigger asthma and allergies as their droppings, saliva and shed skin contain protein allergens known to exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms.

Rodents — Rodents can spread dangerous diseases, contaminate food and surfaces and can cause property damage. Rodents are linked to diseases such as plague, typhus, rat-bite fever and acute food poisoning. Their bacteria-infested urine and fecal droppings, in addition to the germs they pick up, can be transferred to food or surfaces, making rodents a dangerous pest to find within a dining or living facility. Rodents are also known to gnaw through walls and electrical wiring, causing property damage and potentially triggering electrical fires through wire damage.

Flies — Flies contaminate food and spread disease. They breed quickly and are among the filthiest of all pest species, leaving potentially hazardous germs everywhere they land. Controlling a fly infestation can be difficult as every situation is unique and there is no one size fits all fly control program.

Bed bugs — Bed bugs are one of the most widely known hitchhiking pests. Many students, especially those that live off campus, may arrive with secondhand furniture, namely sofas, chairs, college dorm décor, suitcases and mattresses, and can unknowingly bring bed bugs along.

According to the National Pest Management Association’s 2015 Bugs Without Borders survey, 46 percent of pest control professionals reported treating for bed bugs in college residence halls and 43 percent reported bed bug service in schools.

INTEGRATING AN IPM PROGRAM

Developing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is an essential component of any health and safety program. Not only is IPM a method that focuses on eliminating sources of food, water and shelter for pests, it can result in high levels of pest control in a proactive, sustainable manner. This can be especially useful for schools that are required to limit product use.

An IPM program is a joint commitment between the school and the professional pest control company to stop pests before they invade. As the main focus of an IPM is pest prevention, it is important for the pest management professional to conduct a thorough inspection of the campus and report all deficiencies to the contact person at the school. They should also service the campus with an ongoing preventative pest management program.

Together, the school and pest management professional can identify causes of potential pest problems and assess risks. Left unchecked, pests can enter structures in many ways — through doors, windows, vents, plumbing, cracks or holes in walls or floors, or via supplier deliveries. There are three structural enhancements that can be implemented to help mitigate pest access to a building.

  1. Door sweeps can be installed at the base of doors and can help limit gaps to prevent pests from sneaking in undetected.
  2. Air curtains can be installed to create positive airflow that will help keep flying pests out of the building.
  3. Weather-resistant sealants should be used to seal cracks and crevices, helping to close up any entry points that pests may find.

College campuses have a unique set of challenges, including large-scale food service operations and heavy foot traffic, which helps to provide the perfect home for pests. Understanding these challenges can help administrators protect the health and safety of all students on campus. Taking the proper steps to ensure a joint commitment between school officials and a pest professional is essential as prevention through IPM is the best way to eliminate potential pest problems.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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Does your college/university have a campus food bank/pantry available for food-insecure students?



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