A History of Pest Management: The 1900’s to the Modern Era

  ipmPeople have an entrenched idea of what a Pest Control Technician looks like. They picture him wielding a large contraption that pushes out thick plumes of smoke. They picture him going around and corralling nature with a flippant disregard for the environment's well-being. This image is outdated, but still pervasive. The field of Pest Control is not static, it has grown and changed as the years ticked by. As the population started to think “green,” so did the Pest Control industry.

The primary task of the structural pest management industry once was to spray pesticides. During the past decade, however, the industry gradually evolved, shifting to both integrated pest management (IPM) and reduced risk pest management strategies. These processes begin with the identification of pest problems and are followed by the implementation of a comprehensive pest management plan that may involve application of pesticides. Today base-board spraying is “out,” and techniques that minimize the use of pesticides, e.g., crack and crevice applications as well as baits, insect growth regulators, and other approaches to pest management have become the norm. Most customers are unaware of these changes and so continue to expect an 'exterminator' to walk in the door with a compressed air sprayer in hand (Kramer, 1998).

ddtThis negative conceptualization of the field of Pest Control sprouted roots in the early 1900s. This was during the advent of pesticide-driven pest management. While there were other pesticides used during the early 1900s, DDT or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane was and will remain the most recognizable name among them. DDT was first developed in the 1940s with the aim that it would be used to quell the effects of several insect-borne diseases, such as malaria, or typhus. It was applied freely through out urban areas, as well as on crops and livestock – people even used it in their gardens (EPA, 2012) . This uptick in use coincided with America's general interest in better living through chemistry – an idea that product use would solve all problems. During the first half of the twentieth century, malaria was endemic in the United States, particularly in the Southern half of the country. The use of DDT was pivotal in the eradication of the specific mosquito species that were carriers of malaria. Total eradication of malaria from the United States was completed in 1951 (CDC, 2012) .

After the end of malaria, the use of DDT in America was condemned by Rachel Carson, the author ofSilent Spring, a book that some would argue was pivotal in the creation of the environmentalist movement. Carter had found that while DDT was considered safe for humans, it was wreaking a slow havoc on several apex avian predators. Through the mechanism of bioaccumulation, these larger birds would build up DDT in their bodies as they consumed prey animals that had been exposed to a DDT-treated pest population. Due to this build-up of pesticide in the birds' bodies, they were producing eggs that had significantly thinner shells than they normally would. This in turn led to an uptick in egg breakage, and therefore threatened the ability to reproduce successfully for several larger birds.

silent springThe use of DDT in America was stopped in 1972. The EPA issued a cancellation order that was based upon evidence that the pesticide's use would have a negative impact on the environment, and would continue to weaken certain bird's reproductive capabilities (EPA, 2012). The field of Pest Control learned from DDT in several different ways. Practitioners no longer use products that stay in the soil for prolonged periods of time, they are held to a higher standard by the EPA. Practitioners use a much more non-invasive approach, meaning that they use highly targeted techniques and brain power to create a treatment plan with an environmentally friendly emphasis. In several ways the process of DDT itself sums up the history of Pest Control during the twentieth century. The rise to an almost infallible point, and the realization that there is no one miracle treatment that can solve all pest problems.


CDC. (2012, November 09). The history of malaria, an ancient disease. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/     

EPA. (2012, May 09). Ddt – a brief history and status. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/ddt-brief-history-status.htm   

Kramer, R. (1998). Technician's handbook: A guide to pest identification & management. (3rd ed., pp. 6-7). Cleveland, OH: G.I.E Inc., Publishers.

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