By Dr. Kathy Heinsohn, B.C.E.
When you think of Baltimore and Maryland and surrounding areas, likely the first arthropod that comes to mind is not an insect pest at all, but a delicacy for the palate of seafood lovers, the very familiar blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) of the Chesapeake Bay and its associated watershed. But, when you talk about pest control in the Mid-Atlantic, that very same Chesapeake Bay, and its watershed — including the Potomac, Shenandoah, Susquehanna, Patuxent, Severn, and Anacostia Rivers — give rise to a diversity of pest issues that can be unique to this area.
The Mid-Atlantic stretches from the mountains to the sea on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. and is defined as the region of states from just above the Carolinas (so Virginia north) to the Mason-Dixon line found running through Delaware and Pennsylvania. Four distinct seasons define most areas of the Mid-Atlantic. Coastal climates tend to be mild and moderate, except for the occasional Nor’easter or, far worse, a hurricane that comes up the coast, pushing tropical force winds and Chesapeake Bay waters into areas that they would not normally inundate. The further west and north one goes (toward the Appalachian mountain range), they typically will encounter a more bitter and snowy winter weather experience. More and more pest management professionals on the coast are finding pest control to be a year-round business venture. In the Piedmont and more mountainous areas, a frigid winter with sub-zero temperatures for a week or two will kill back some of the sheltering pests. However, there is never a total lack of pests or slow down in operations at any point of the year, especially since the bed bug explosion in bigger cities (and now everywhere) that occurred more than 20 years ago, and the more recent stink bugs that overwinter in our area. Also, rodents, fabric and stored product pests remain strong throughout the winter months. And, with global warming, we see more and more pest populations moving further north into our area and surviving just fine (e.g., there were no fire ants or Argentine ant service calls when I first started work here in 1998. Now, fire ants are seen above Richmond, Va., and Argentine ants are now found in Maryland and continue to move northward.)
IMPACT OF GROWTH. Which areas in the Mid-Atlantic are growing and how does this impact pest management? It is said that if you want a job, even when the economy is bad, move to the Baltimore-D.C. metro area. The 2008 housing market and financial debacle barely impacted this area. The hubs of Baltimore and D.C. are ever-expanding as the two major metropolises basically merge as one mega metropolis on the I-95 corridor. Areas long held as large family farms (e.g., turf, horses, dairy, corn, soybeans, fruit orchards and vineyards) have been gobbled up by developers and are being made into huge suburban, easily commutable town centers with walkable townhouse and single-family dwellings and commercial shopping area neighborhoods. This is especially true by the metro (the D.C. area subway) and MARC (Maryland) or VRE (Virginia) commuter rail stops, but continues to increase, ensuring a ready supply of new customers with pest issues and wildlife problems, especially as wildlife pests are displaced. There are a lot of new start-up pest control businesses (one- or two-person companies) and other more established larger competitors, but, I have always maintained that in this region, there is always work available to anyone willing to go after it. This has held true since I first arrived as a newly minted Ph.D. Urban Entomologist in this area in 1998.
GEOGRAPHICAL DIFFERENCES. What are the geographical differences in the region and how do they impact pest management? Eastern subterranean termites (Reticulitermes virginicus), native subterranean termites (R. flavipes) and black carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) are big regardless of where you live in the Mid-Atlantic, but they are now easily managed with baiting systems (or gels or granules for the ants), dusts, and non repellent liquid materials. The coastal plains areas have sandy loam soils with pine forests. The Piedmont has clay soils and hardwoods, the mountains have mostly granite rock. Homes and structures on the coast are on slabs or piers and some have crawlspaces; homes in the Piedmont, and as you move further north and west, have basements (finished and unfinished). And, because of the historic nature of the area as part of the original 13 colonies, there are many older historic (sometimes on The National Historic Registry) protected homes with rubble wall foundations and basements.
In fact, history plays a large role in pest management in this region. The region includes very old and continually rupturing sewer and water line systems, as well as a more modern subway system. Both allow for rodents (rats and mice) and cockroaches (both American and Oriental) to harbor and to thrive. Influxes of tides or heavy rains force rodents and cockroaches out and above ground, and into the commercial or residential structures. For example, the Old Town of Alexandria (Va.) is known for Oriental cockroaches appearing after a high tide or heavy rain. In fact, another name for the Oriental Cockroach is the “Shad Roach,” because the Shad fish spawns in the Potomac River coinciding with the presence of these cockroaches during these same spring rains and floods. Georgetown, in D.C., is known for rats and American cockroaches after a heavy rain or higher than normal tide. Baltimore is known for mice after extreme weather events, although rats are also seen. (And, even the occasional roof rat has been sighted, although we tend not to see them occurring north of the Tidewater region of Virginia, unless brought in on other shipping materials.) In fact, shipping and robust trade have always been important to the Mid-Atlantic economy since the beginning of the colonial era. A rather unusual pest problem related to history in this area is the use of horse hair insulation in the colonial era homes. We still have plenty of old homes that have carpet beetles feeding on this protein source.
This region continues to this day to boom economically. The food processing, medical arts, and hospitality industries are all big in Baltimore. In fact, look across the inner harbor and you will see Domino Sugars, which has a very old building, but because of its location by the water, the structure fights rats, wharf borers, ants and termites.
The Mid-Atlantic is a relatively affluent region, having 43 of the 100 highest income counties in the nation based on median household income, and 33 of the top 100 based on per capita income. I’ve heard it said this area attracts both first-borns and Ph.Ds (self disclaimer: I am both), and you see this in the demanding nature of our clients and the competitiveness on the roadways in drivers. (I do try to be a good driver myself, further enforced by the Tiwi installation in our company cars for insurance and liability purposes!)
And, because they tend to be highly educated, our customers have typically done their research before we even set foot on their doorstep. Our technicians and CSRs must be well-trained to educate the customer and allay his/her concerns as they are delivered. Maintaining excellent training of our American Pest (AP) staff (conducted primarily by Wayne White and John Stroheker) in this area is paramount. Dedicated government technician training is done separately by White, Nixon, Spaulding, myself, and other government quality control supervisors.
D.C. CONSIDERATIONS. Our nation’s capital also attracts activists, and the likes of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and PAN are very active here. We must regularly make note of whether a client is on a chemically sensitive list. Pre- and post-treat- ment notifications and postings are required for treatments in D.C. and for Maryland IPM in schools. One usually keeps notes in customer files if the client works at EPA or is on the Supreme Court, or is an Ambassador, a TV or sports team personality, or owner. For example, AP would tend to send a more veteran technician or a supervisor with a technician to an EPA employees’ home, if it is noted on file.
Many accounts in this region are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accounts, especially many federal government buildings. This drives many pest management decisions in our area. Other accounts are very sensitive in nature and require non- or low pesticide use approaches. So, pests might be managed by caulking to keep them out of a building, or making recommendations to change landscaping or lighting on the exterior, versus applying an actual pesticide.
We find clients experiencing DP (delusory parasitosis) more and more in our area. I personally think this is because of the faster pace of life and higher anxiety-producing demands on federal or high-density office space employees who work here. At American Pest, we often deal with more than 20 DP cases a year. These can be very time and labor intensive, if not managed properly. And, they certainly require diplomacy and sensitivity.
Because of where American Pest is located (sandwiched between D.C. and Baltimore, just off I-95 on Route 216), we have a unique mixture of residential (44%) and commercial (38%) accounts, but since the 1980s, Jay Nixon, former president of American Pest, has maintained a healthy percentage (18%) of contracted government accounts through GSA (the Government Services Administration). So, we also boast a government only division, headed up by Kevin Spaulding, with dedicated technicians and staff who strictly do only government account work. If you have visited our company location in Fulton, Md., you have seen the lobby with photos and the world map with pins displaying undeniably one of our most interesting and unique government accounts, the State Department. Jay Nixon and most of the AP entomologists throughout the years have travelled to U.S. Embassies throughout the world to train U.S. Embassy employees on proper IPM approaches to pest problems they encounter. When I traveled to Tunisia with Nixon in 2010, since it was such a seemingly (to me) exotic locale, I was somewhat surprised to find that they were dealing with the same creatures we do back home. American cockroaches were in street sewer manholes, pavement and odorous house ants and subterranean termites were at the various residences, stored product pests and mice were in grocery areas, and mosquitoes were at the seasonally abandoned pool with standing rain water in it. We addressed all pest concerns with IPM solutions we would practice at home.
Despite racial tensions and riots in Baltimore two years ago, this city is experiencing a renaissance. Jobs are prevalent, making hiring and retaining good employees for pest management companies in this region very challenging. Maryland and Virginia are non-union states which perhaps makes hiring a bit easier than in some of the other more northern states. People from all over the U.S. and world continue to move to the Baltimore-D.C. metro area. There are huge construction projects with new interstate additions, metro lines, and healthy housing projects. Military installations and government contractors throughout the tri-state/D.C. area keep employment rates low and provide constant movement of people in and out of the area. These demographic challenges create unique opportunities for practicing our trade in this footprint.
BED BUGS AND BEYOND. Bed bugs have taken off and are throughout the region in all areas of commercial, residential and government accounts. We contract out with a K9 team to inspect and alert on infested areas; this is far less invasive and more accepted in sensitive hospital/research and federal service building areas. After a dog sweep, a variety of treatment options for alerts can be offered. Heat is huge and well-received by clients, and very effective. But, traditional treatments are available. Heat is sometimes supplemented with a dust, like CimeXa, or liquids, as well as preventative monitoring measures. Of course, being this close to federal buildings and Washington, D.C., one must be mindful of using a white dust that could be mistaken for anthrax or other malicious substances!
Mosquito misting and yard tick treatments have become more incorporated into our business model the last two years, as Zika virus and Lyme disease concerns have continued to hit the media. Johns Hopkins and NIH (both in Maryland) are working on Zika virus vaccines, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) created an active task force to get more funding for public health vector concerns to supplement municipal mosquito abatement programs. The resulting media attention has translated into a PR increase for local pest management firms advertising mosquito reduction programs; most companies are delving into this area, mostly with adult control, but some are also incorporating larval treatments. (Author's note: Depending on the product used, this can require a special permitting and pesticide applicator’s licensing in some of the Mid-Atlantic states, such as Maryland.)
All major urban areas of this region have Section 8 inner city housing that is typically teeming with German cockroaches. Multi-family housing units make up a large portion of American Pest’s (and most pest management firms’) commercial business due to a variety of pests: bed bugs, rodents, and German cockroaches. Interestingly, it is a truism in this area that when one thinks of Baltimore and rodents, one thinks of mice initially. And conversely, when one thinks of rats, it is usually Washington, D.C. That's not always the case, but it does happen with frequency.
And, I’d be remiss not to mention the true city pest, the German cockroaches (Blattella germanica), when discussing commercial accounts of the Mid-Atlantic. The landmark asthma and allergy studies that have been done with Johns Hopkins in the 1990s in Baltimore inner city housing, was conducted just blocks from where you are now staying for the PestWorld convention. Inner city children in Baltimore have very high incidences of asthma and allergies due to breathing in of the aerosolized breakdown particles of cockroach shed cuticle and its associated allergens. Ongoing gel baiting efforts in these areas have made a great impact, but also have led to increased cockroach resistance issues since it is harder to manage baiting to prevent resistance buildup. Training technicians to rotate treatment types is highly encouraged.
AVAILABLE RESOURCES. As an entomologist working for a pest management company in this area, it is exciting to have all the local scientific and pest management resources available to us that associations, government agencies and universities provide. Within a 50-mile radius of our office, you can find the headquarters of NPMA (Fairfax, Va.), ESA (Annapolis, Md.), the Armed Forces Pest Management Board and several Forts (Mead, Detrick, and Belvoir), the University of Maryland (College Park, Md.), and the federal agencies of USDA-ARS, EPA, FDA, Walter Reed Naval Hospital and NIH, all of whom hire and boast entomologists who are often available to collaborate on projects. At American Pest, we have interned students and collaborated with extension entomologists from the University of Maryland. We regularly work with NPMA staff entomologists Jim Fredericks, Mike Bentley, and Allie Allen, and on committees for ACE and BCE with Dave Gammel and Chris Stelzig of ESA. Our bed bug colony and work with K9 scent detection has been furthered by a great relationship with USDA. GSA entomologists assist us often on government accounts. Entomologists at the Smithsonian National Zoo and NIH collaborate directly with us on ideas and projects. And, pest management firms work well together through the various state associations in the Mid-Atlantic.
So, there’s a good business environment and a good brain trust environment for the practice of pest management in this area. If a pest problem stumps you, there are plenty of entomologists and other PMPs to go to and ask for help, or vice versa. Although, I like to think that at American Pest we have our own pretty healthy brain trust with 2 Ph.Ds 4 BCEs and 10 ACEs onboard (and more currently in training).
Because of our location, the regulatory environment for D.C. and Maryland is a bit more stringent than neighboring states further south. This regulation can be even more strict at state and municipal levels, too. For example, Maryland has very strict ordinances regarding Chesapeake Bay watershed protection, and even more specific than that, Montgomery County, inside of Maryland, has had even stricter pollinator protection ordinances than the state does; these were recently reversed in a court decision.
When you superimpose the diversity of people, structures, and pests of the Mid-Atlantic area, no two days are ever alike. And that’s what keeps the career of a PMP in this area so very challenging and interesting. Welcome to the Mid-Atlantic, and do try some crab cakes or Maryland crab soup, while you are here! You won’t be disappointed by this welcomed arthropod!
The author is technical and training specialist in the government division at American Pest, Fulton, Md.