Reports of cockroach infestations have been circulating through high schools and elementary schools in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB). While the prevalence of cockroaches vary from location to location in Canada’s capital city, ten OCDSB schools and four OCSB schools have found pests on site and are currently using methods to eradicate them.
Finding cockroaches in schools is not uncommon. Earlier this year, a public school in Windsor, Ontario, reported cockroach sightings in a kindergarten room. Considering the amount of traffic that circulates these facilities on a daily basis, it makes sense to Dr. Alice Sinia, Entomologist/Quality Assurance Manager—Regulatory/Lab Services for Orkin Canada, who says there are a few different ways cockroaches find their way into schools, such as through personal belongings of both students and staff from an infested home.
“If there are 500 students in a school that is 500 different homes, and all it takes is one egg case from an infested home,” she says. “But it’s not just students; it’s the staff as well. They have to look at what packages are shipped to a school, such as food from a warehouse or processing facility. Some species just enter from the outdoors via cracks and crevices in a wall, around work-out doors, seals and window screens, or along utility lines.”
These pests are what Sinia calls a “cosmopolitan insect,” and are among the “most important structural pests associated with human habitats.” They can be found anywhere and in any city or environment where there are conducive factors to habour and sustain them. The German cockroach is the most common species found in schools, commercial facilities and homes. It’s smaller and prefers warm, humid areas with lots of water. They are typically found in a kitchen, behind an oven or fridge, or around food areas and sometimes in bathrooms.
“Once the pests find food and shelter, they will begin to reproduce and an infestation will occur,” Sinia notes. “It’s not just restricted to one geographical region or segments of a city, though it can be more prevalent in some segments of the population and city than others.”
Roaches can easily move between building structures, especially within aging facilities. In multiple dwellings, like an apartment, cockroaches in one unit can move into another unit via wall voids or through openings in utility lines, such as pipelines. Since they like food, food handling and eating areas, such as cafeterias, kitchens and dining areas in schools are hot spots. A garbage room that isn’t well maintained or cleaned properly has a higher risk of infestation compared to cleaner spaces. Organization is also key—areas with a lot of clutter allow roaches to hide and protect them from control treatments.
“We know that when roaches come into a school, they will hide inside harbourage sites, such as voids, and cracks and crevices in walls, locker areas, and even desks,” adds Sinia. “So, maintenance becomes very crucial. Inspecting regularly for cracks and crevices and caulking them is very important. Now you’re taking away their home.”
Leaky water pipes and areas with standing water, such as bathrooms or kitchens or water taps, are also important to maintain because roaches love water and stay close to it because it makes a preferable habitat. Other hotspots include baseboard areas and behind unsealed bulletin boards. Space between the bulletin board and the wall can harbour roaches and will need to be sealed.
Besides maintaining the building structure and excluding cockroach entry and habourage points, sanitation and education are also part of a prevention strategy. Sanitation is the “foundation” for prevention, says Sinia. Eliminate food and water that is readily available by cleaning food spills. Keep food handling areas clean and limit eating areas to designated spaces for students. Use garbage receptacle with proper fitting lids and have garbage disposed regularly.
“Educating students and staff on what cockroaches look like, how they get in and what to do when they see one is also a very crucial aspect,” she says.
Controlling roaches in schools should be part of an overall Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, based on active monitoring, correct identification of the cockroach species, habitat modification and use of the least toxic and highly specific control methods. Insecticide treatments, such as baiting, dusting and spraying should be undertaken by a trained and licensed professional, either in house or from a professional licensed pest control company.
“There’s no one specific control method that is best over the others, so you have to look at the species of cockroach and level of infestation; then you can decide on what strategy to use; you might use one or a combination of two or three.”
Before treatment even occurs, it is important to have a monitoring system in place to detect the early introduction of roaches, the level of activity and identify problem spots. This involves placing non-chemical based glue-board insect monitors in strategic hot spots, such as under a sink, inside a closet or behind a fridge. If one-three roaches are observed, a facility should begin baiting, while five or more spottings will require comprehensive treatment.
“The best approach, especially in schools, is to use different combinations of chemical and non-chemical control methods involving habitat modification,” she notes. “Roaches infest for three reasons: food, water and shelter. Modifying the habitat involves eliminating these three factors.”
The best method for low infestation—one or five roaches in a specific area of a school—is baiting. Baiting uses extremely lower doses of insecticide, formulated as insect food, in the form of a gel, liquid or paste.
“If used as per label instructions, it is very safe because it’s not airborne, very specific, highly targeted and usually put in a place where roaches are hiding away from people,” adds Sinia.
However, for a moderate to high infestation—five or more roaches—the best control strategy is to use a combination of treatments, including the use of appropriately registered and labeled insecticide to instantly “knock down the population.”
“Baiting alone might not mitigate the problem, so sometimes spraying and dusting are necessary,” Sinia adds. “The effectiveness of your treatment depends on how properly and thoroughly you perform. If you don’t use the correct strategies, you won’t succeed in controlling the cockroaches.”
Proper and correct use of appropriately registered and labeled insecticides for controlling cockroaches is sometimes necessary to effectively manage infestations in schools. However, facilities, such as schools and daycares that house a younger population, must take extra caution when using such treatments. Children, because of their “curiosity and tender development stages, are more vulnerable to such products.” As long as these products are used as per label directions, they are safe.
“It’s similar to a doctor’s prescription,” Sinia notes. “If you don’t follow the instructions of the prescription, it can be harmful and fatal. Insecticide products come with labels, and the labels are specific to the product and are provided by the manufacturer who has tested the products. They know the correct dose; they know where and how it should be applied and how it should be done. If those label instructions are followed, insecticide products are safe and beneficial, but if not, it can have an undesirable outcome.”
In the past, products like DDT were effective in controlling insect pests, but were also more toxic to the environment and non-target organisms, which is why they were banned and no longer in use. New generation insecticide products are less toxic, environmentally friendly and both safe and highly effective. They include products derived from plants, such as pyrethrins, inorganic salts like bric acid and naturallu occurring compounds such as Diatomaceous Earth (DE).
“Today’s insecticides are very target-based and specific to insects, so toxicity to humans is very low to none,” she adds. “There are a variety of products today that are meant to be environmentally friendly and we use products people consider green. Sometimes people have this perception that more is better or that some things in the past work stronger, but if you look at the products we now use, it is not quantity that determines effectiveness, but quality and how properly it is used.”
Insecticide application technology and techniques have also evolved.
“They have become more targeted, precise, efficient and more sustainable,” she adds. “The pest control industry has moved away from the general use of broad-based applications and space spraying in facilities to target-based applications where the treatment is directed and applied in specific areas where cockroaches hide.”
Cockroaches reproduce quite rapidly. The female cockroach lays her eggs in an egg case—a small suitcase-type nest with a hard cover. There might be 10 to 60 eggs in that case, depending on the species. If one female roach enters a facility and deposits a case, that could amount to 10 to 60 baby roaches hatching, growing into adults, becoming sexually mature and reproducing.
“All it takes is one female with an egg case to start a population,” says Sinia. “Even if you see one cockroach on a monitor, be proactive. It’s very important to contact a licensed pest control provider to address the issue right away.”
Communicating Cockroach Infestations
“Everyone has to be on the same page, from the principal and staff to the custodian and people who prepare food, including the students,” Sinia emphasizes. “For that to happen, there has to be a clear communication channel. Students should know what a cockroach looks like, what they should be looking for, exactly what to do and who to report to.”
Communication is a useful component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a preventative broad-based approach that all schools should implement. Within this program, students should be informed of their responsibility to check backpacks, eat in designated areas and report a sighting if needed.
Sinia suggests schools “get kids engaged” rather than just communicating an issue to parents. Many students are more aware of head lice than cockroaches, she notes. While there is still a stigma around contracting head lice, the problem is communicated in the classroom and students know how they’re easily transferred through close contact and that they shouldn’t share brushes and hats. However, many don’t know what cockroaches look like or how to prevent them.