They have sent monkeys, gold records and the ashes of Star Trek actor James Doohan (a.k.a. “Scotty”) into space — and PMP Glenn Willis would like to send termites there as well if possible. Not for scientific research, but to remove the threat they pose from the buildings that house the U.S. space program.
Willis, the pest management professional and contractor who provides pest management and green services at NASA’s 140,000-acre Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is the point man for one of the most sensitive and diverse pest management environments in the country.
Where else can you find clean room conditions, endangered species, highly volatile rocket fuel and 500 bathrooms all in one facility? “What makes the space center unique from a pest control perspective is it’s like a small city with virtually every kind of account and pest issue possible,” observes Willis. “We have some extremely sensitive areas that have the potential to result in catastrophic accidents.” As a result, he says, “We have to be very diligent when designing and performing pest management treatments.”
Termites are just one of the many pests Willis and his team must tackle on a daily basis. From bat colonies and fire ants to rodents and wasps that nest at the top of the launch pads — the highest point in the center — Willis has seen virtually every type of pest roaming in and around the Kennedy Space Center’s sub-tropical environment.
Willis recalls an incident with ants in the Space Station Processing Facility that housed several key components of the international space station. Each country participating in the project had their own work area and one day Willis received a call from one of the international partners in residence about an ant infestation.
When Willis arrived at the area he found four of the scientists taking pictures of the insects and placing pieces of tape by each ant. When he came back to perform the treatment the visiting scientists had outlined the complete ant trail, pointing to the precise source of the fire ant infestation.
“I sucked up the ants that had gained access to the building and applied bait to the nest outside, but the researchers’ natural curiosity helped solve the problem,” says Willis, a University of Florida graduate with a B.S. in entomology and former owner of Quantum Pest Management in nearby Cocoa, Fla.
Deploying Integrated Pest Management (IPM) solutions like vacuuming and exclusion is commonplace at the Kennedy Space Center where the sensitive environments, including a federally managed wildlife sanctuary, require a creative approach to pest control. “The approval process we go through to perform a pest management service is rigorous,” observes Willis. “We can’t afford any missteps when mixing or applying product.”
Willis points to the extremely volatile hypergolic propellants the space agency uses to send missions into space. These chemicals are highly reactive and are stored in separate areas for safety. “As a pest management professional treating these sites, I have to know what’s in them and be able to plan accordingly,” says Willis.
A DIVERSE ENVIRONMENT. Kennedy Space Center has 7.8 million square feet of building area and is home to more than 16,000 employees who eat and work at the facility daily. The center has virtually every type of commercial structure a pest management professional could encounter.
There are numerous food-service facilities, including a Sonny’s Barbeque and seven snack bars and cafeterias; a day care center; office buildings; gas stations; retail facilities; sensitive computer and clean room environments; astronaut crew quarters; and 180 miles of drainage ditches. “You name the type of facility and we’ve got it,” says Willis, who supervises a staff of three full-time technicians. “We have to treat the clean rooms like we would a pharmaceutical plant.”
One of the center’s newest construction projects is a seven-story, 200,000-square-foot administration building. To tackle the important task of protecting the 43,000-square-foot foundation of the structure from Florida’s aggressive termite population, Willis selected Altriset termiticide from Syngenta.
“We treated around the entire slab of the building with Altriset to prevent the Eastern subterranean termites in the area from becoming a problem,” says Willis. “Altriset is the best material for what we need done in this environment.”
The treatment was broken down into three phases and Willis estimates it took 12 to 15 hours to complete the application using 4,300 gallons of finished product at a rate of four gallons a minute. “We paid special attention to all penetrations and expansion joints and treated under those,” says Willis. “The construction guys poured the slab after our work was complete and everything had set up.” Because the center’s sandy soil has high pH levels and plenty of seashells, the contractor brought in fine mix sand for use on the construction site.
The Kennedy Space Center’s sensitive environment often requires Willis to select products that offer a softer environmental footprint but still eliminate pest threats. “We try to use lower impact materials in and around the facilities,” says Willis. “We felt very comfortable using Altriset for this reason and it works extraordinarily well.”
Willis says NASA is seeking a gold LEED certification for the structure and the more environmentally friendly profile of Altriset will aid in that pursuit. “In these types of projects there are always lots of spaces and holes in the slab and it’s not easy to drill and do a corrective treatment if something doesn’t work the first time,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re going to hit in these soils so termite treatments are a challenge.”
Syngenta Florida Territory Manager Todd Himelberger says the strong performance of Altriset on other termite jobs at Kennedy Space Center, paired with its favorable environmental profile, made it the right choice for the project. “They had good results with Altriset previously and the product fits well with the center’s product usage protocols,” he said. “The efficacy of Altriset works well in Florida’s high-pressure termite environment where traditional and invasive species are prevalent.”
Himelberger says the product’s reduced risk registration status makes it a particularly attractive material for PMPs to handle and apply, requiring less personal protective equipment and giving operators the flexibility to combine the product with other control measures, including baiting systems.
The author is a partner of B Communications.