Indoor Pest Management at the University of Waterloo: Our Study Design

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The purpose of this project is to evaluate the methods of pest control at the University of Waterloo. This investigation includes: the types and quantities of controls; where the pest control is done; the frequency of control action; the environmental impacts; the human health implications and possible alternative methods for pest control. This collection of information is not readily available as of yet; in order to "green" the campus, we plan to compile this information and determine whether alternative methods of pest control should be implemented.

Rationale for Project

As the people of this university go from class to class, from day to day, many of them are likely unaware of the fact that they are continually coming into contact with various chemicals used to control indoor pests on campus. Although it may indeed be true that these chemicals will not cause harmful effects on people, there is ample experience in human history to suggest that there are many chemicals which do. Our experiences with DDT alone should have taught us to be more careful with our chemical use. Apparently, it has not done so. New discoveries of the harmful effects of many commonly used chemicals occur regularly. As such, the application of chemicals on our university campus is an important subject for study.

Minimizing indoor use of chemicals all over campus would improve the physical health of students, staff and faculty and help maintain a cleaner environment--both indoors and out. Finding alternative methods for the control of pests on campus may provide a more stable and sustainable future for the University of Waterloo.

Focus of Our Study

The large system with which we are concerned is the University of Waterloo's pest management program. This program is divided into two major systems: the biophysical flow of chemical pesticides within the university campus, and the communication network that deals with pest control on campus. The boundaries set for our investigation are those of the University campus within Ring Road. Although environmental implications do not end at arbitrarily defined geographical boundaries, for our purposes, a boundary must be set in order to narrow our focus to manageable levels.

Chemical Pesticide Flows On Campus

Figure 1 is a diagram of the biophysical system of chemical flow within the university. The components which make up this system include: the pests; the university's purchasing department; the pest control companies which manage the pest problem; the application of the chemicals; the ventilation systems of the buildings; the nature of the chemicals and the impact of these chemicals on human health and the environment.

Because of certain outside factors, our study cannot be completely contained within the boundaries of the campus. For our biophysical system, there are two such outside factors: the chemicals, and the pests themselves.

Pests initiate the problem on which our study focuses. Their biological makeup, area of origin, migration patterns, resistance and susceptibility to foreign pesticides, and breeding and seasonal habits of the pests need to be examined. By examining these things, we hope to determine the causes of their existence on campus, their effects, and effective measures to eliminate them. The pests enter the campus and inhabit various areas. When the insects enter the campus buildings, they enter the biophysical system relevant to our study.

Another outside input which causes concern are the chemicals used to control the pest population. Their origin, composition and chemical reaction once applied all need to be examined in order to better understand their implications on the environment.

Chemical agents are brought onto campus as part of a response to a demand from the university's purchasing department. The purchasing department may hire pest control companies for preventative or reactive measures in response to a perceived pest problem. The chemicals enter the university campus via the pest control companies by being applied in the buildings as pest control measures. Once they are applied, the chemicals become categorized as outputs, and have great potential to affect many aspects of the campus environment. The chemicals are added to the air and transmitted throughout the buildings via the ventilation system, exposing everyone in the buildings to the chemicals.

As the air leaves the buildings, also through the ventilation systems, the chemicals are carried to the outside environment. These chemicals then have the potential to affect animals and enter the food chain. In determining what methods should be considered for pest management, we must consider the possible impacts on the outside environment.

The Communication System Involved with Pest Management

The second system involved in the pest management program at the University of Waterloo is the communication network established between all the actors involved. Figure 2 represents the links of communication at UW that are involved in indoor pest control.

Regional policies and regulations are the highest in the hierarchy since they form the rules that the purchasing department must adhere to in managing pests on campus. Regional polices also place restrictions on the pest control companies as to the types of chemicals they may use, how often they are applied, and what precautions must be abided by in application procedures. This connection between policies and pest control is marked as a dotted line in Figure 2 because the regional policies are an input from outside of our campus system.

The purchasing department hears of pest problems on campus from the staff or faculty of different departments. The purchasing department then hires the pest control company. It is important to consider that since the administration is not in direct contact with the pests themselves, they may be responding to a perceived problem and not an actual pest problem.

The pest control companies are hired to manage infested or potentially infested areas. The control methods may contain harmful chemicals which could affect the health of the staff, faculty or students if the appropriate precautions are not taken. The people may or may not be aware of the chemicals they are exposed to, depending on the education or warnings posted. Such warnings would make people aware and give them the opportunity to leave the buildings. It is unclear who has the responsibility to educate the people who are exposed to the chemicals. This information may not be passed on and thereby represent another possible problem in this system.

The Key Actors

The key players in the system are the students, staff and faculty; the pest control company; and the UW purchasing department. All actors wish to have an effective pest control program at the University, but may disagree on which method would be the most appropriate. As students, we wish to investigate the methods being used on campus, researching their possible health or environmental impacts. Employing the results of this investigation, we hope to be able to suggest safer alternatives to the methods being used.

Our Criteria for Evaluation

The overall purpose of the systems we are investigating is to control the pest problems present in our University buildings in a safe and effective manner. In our evaluation, therefore, we will be evaluating the biophysical system as to its effectiveness in controlling pests. We are also, however, evaluating it on the basis of its possible negative impacts on the students, staff and faculty and the outside environment. Using these criteria, we hope to evaluate the system and offer possible alternatives to the present methods if the criteria are not met.

We will be evaluating the system of communication on campus as to its ability to handle the pest problem safely and as effectively as possible. We must determine whether the communication links are intact and all parties are interacting appropriately. The purchasing department should be completely informed of the problem and respond appropriately. As well, someone should be passing on all the appropriate safety information to all people exposed to any potential harm from the control measures. We plan to investigate the extent and effectiveness of this awareness effort and determine whether people are adequately warned of the possible hazards.

Key Questions for Our Study

The overall purpose of our study is to determine whether the indoor pest management program at the University of Waterloo is appropriate for the actual pest problem. The investigation which we must undertake in order to determine this can be summed up in three main questions:

From these three main questions, we have developed an investigation plan including a complete list of questions that will help us to analyze the pest management program on campus. Figure 3 illustrates our investigation plan.

What is being done on campus to control indoor pests?

What is the pest situation on campus?

What are the impacts of our pest control program?

As we piece together the answers to these questions, we hope to obtain a better understanding of the pest problem on campus and the methods used to control it. We hope to determine whether the most appropriate measures are being taken or if there are any problems with the program.

Key Contacts

Our key contacts for our investigation are as follows:

Research to Date

Description of Pests Typical for our Areas of Study

The areas which tend have the greatest problem with pests include the libraries and the food services areas. Following, we describe briefly the common pests of these areas.

German Cockroach

The most popular pest that frequents the libraries is the german cockroach. This pest is a small insect of 10 to 15 mm in length and is yellowish-brown in colour. The life span of an adult is 125 to 150 days and there can be two or three generations of these insects per year.

The german cockroach tends to breed in moist and warm environments, and can be found in glue for binding books, human food stores, briefcases and stores of paper. They prefer damp environments and they normally lurk around in the dark.

The german cockroach is a concern for humans because it is a carrier of the bacteria Salmonella which is responsible for some types of food poisoning.


The next most popular pest found in libraries are booklice or psocids. They are small, pale yellow insects of less than 2mm in length. They tend to breed in damp, moist areas, feeding on the molds and fungi which may grow there. Old books are often infested with these types of pests if they have been allowed to become damp and have a distinctive musty odour.

Booklice do not bite nor are their known carriers of human infections, but they are a nuisance and should be controlled.


Silverfish are another pest problem typically found in libraries. They are slender, wingless, scale-covered insects of approximately 13mm in length. A silverfish can survive for more than 300 days without food.

Silverfish breed in warm, secluded places, often near radiators and heat pipes. They damage glazed paper and glues or pasted materials such as bookbindings and wallpaper. They eat bonding glue in wood-processing plants and damage many types of fibres.


Finally, springtails are a group of very small wingless insects ranging from 1 to 2 mm in length. They also tend to breed in damp environments, where algae, fungi and decaying organic matter is available (i.e. old food left behind). Their damage is minimal, but they are unhealthy and unsanitary.

Food Services
American Cockroach

The american cockroach is found very often in food areas. It is the largest of the common cockroaches, being 30 to 40 mm in length. It can fly but flight is rare and sluggish. Their lifespan can be up to two years.

The american cockroach prefers to breed in warm, moist areas, and is often found on surfaces where food is stored or prepared, in areas where water is abundant and near hot water pipes.

The american cockroach, like its german counterpart, is a carrier of Salmonella, and is thereby a major health hazard.

Fruit/Drain Flies

These pests are fairly common around restaurants, kitchens and grocery stores. They are typically 1 to 2 mm long and have wings. Their lifespan is normally up to three months.

They breed in warm, moist environments where there is a supply of decaying fruit or vegetable matter, or in areas that contain large amounts of sugar or starch.

The fruit and drain fly is harmless but is very unsanitary according to health laws and regulations.

Suggested Methods of Pest Control

According to Professor Gord Surgeoner of the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph, there is no such solution to pests by prevention; we can only have correction, because the halting of production of pests in a real world situation is humanly impossible.

Professor Surgeoner suggested five ways of managing the population of pests:

  1. Legal--The public health inspector determines the level of sanitation of an area and will close an area if it is over-run by pests.
  2. Mechanical--This may include the killing of bugs by hands, having well-screened buildings, using fly-swatters, sticky traps or electric black lights.
  3. Cultural--The use of appropriate sanitation systems in drains, having caulking in the ceilings in order to prevent pests from entering the walls, etc.
  4. Biological--These methods are not very successful in urban environments.
  5. Chemical--There is a large array of chemicals that may be used: organic phosphorous, boric acid, gums and pastes, dusts and liquids, etc.
Professor Surgeoner argues that all types of chemicals are comparable in their environmental impact: "no matter what chemical is being used--natural or synthetic--there is no bearing on it's safety". He questions the focus of our pest control attempts: are we really 'greening the campus' by killing species and not allowing the natural environment to take its course?

An Interview with the Pest Control Company

PCO is the pest control company which tenders the contract at the University of Waterloo. They are a subsidiary of the larger corporation, S.C. Johnson Wax. S.C. Johnson's goal regarding pest control is "elimination--not control". They stand behind their products; PCO offers a complete guarantee that if the pests come back, then so do they. S.C. Johnson Wax has also recently won a corporate environmental award for their regard for environmental causes.

PCO has been employed by the University of Waterloo since 1990. Initially, applications of pesticides were needed on 80% of the campus. According to Mark Newman of PCO, since that time, PCO's need to apply such substances has decreased to zero.

The tactic this company takes is called Integrated Pest Management. Simply put, it means that PCO works not just for the university, but with them in order to achieve a pest-free campus. PCO educates the University about preventative measures such as good sanitation, and the University thereby participates in the task of pest control.

Key words that the PCO representative, Mark Newman, used were "controls" and "monitors". Controls are what they use to eliminate the pests. These come in forms of powders and pastes, and not as commonly assumed, in sprays. Monitors are set out by PCO in order to accurately address the pest problem. These include such devices as pieces of paper with glue and scented baits used to discover what insects are causing a problem, and the frequency of their occurrence. These monitors are placed in perimeter areas where the common passerby would not notice them. Where the most human traffic exists, the fewest pests exist, and these monitors are placed accordingly. They are put in cafeterias, near sinks or other moisture areas, and where any food spillage may occur.

The areas posing the most problems are the food services locations. Central storage and central preparation areas usually distribute the food throughout the campus. Cockroaches travel easily with this distribution and can pose great sanitation risks. As well, in the fall, mice enter the buildings seeking warmth and generally attracted to areas with a constant food supply.

PCO monitors the following areas on campus: the bookstore, all food service areas including the Villages, the Davis Center, South Campus Hall, Campus Center, Fed Hall, the Grad House, and the residences of Minota Hagey. Interestingly, the library is not tendered to PCO, and since PCO has a monopoly on all pest control contracts at the University of Waterloo, it is assumed that the libraries are not monitored at all.

PCO is regulated by the Ministry of the Environment in all areas of their functioning. Although PCO may apply "controls" to all these indoor areas as well as minor amounts of outdoor areas, it is not their obligation to inform students or faculty of their procedures or applications. PCO is not required to post warnings of any health threats posed by the use of their chemicals. We are unsure at this point of who exactly does have this crucial obligation of education.

PCO claims that all chemicals used on campus are of a kind which decompose quickly--none linger longer than one month. PCO was frustratingly vague regarding the specific types of controls used on campus. Some chemicals which Mr. Newman suggested that may be used include: Diazian (a multi-purpose insecticide, used in doses varying from 0.5 - 1%) or Pyrethrins, which are natural insecticides made from Orchids in Africa. Pyrethrins are primarily used to flush areas and do not last for very long. For ant problems, "Ficam Plus" and "Ficam D" can be used.

PCO claims that it is currently investigating alternative compounds which leave little environmental effects. Boric Acid is a natural compound which enters an insect's system and shuts it down. Again, a more extensive use of pyrethrins is being looked into. Diatomecious Earth is a natural compound which lasts forever. It works by slitting the bellies of insects, causing them to dry out and die. This is recently being used more in the actual construction of buildings to prevent pest problems from starting.

Utilizing the "Integrational" approach, PCO offers advice to the campus to help prevent further pest problems. In food preparation areas, stainless steel surfaces are encouraged versus wood which is porous and can crack, thereby potentially harbouring food particles. Food preparation area are also encouraged to eliminate excess moisture and clean up all drain problems. Clean-up protocols have also been uniformly created to ensure standardized procedures.

In garbage areas, standardized clean-up procedures (i.e. hosing down) have been put in place to prevent rodent appearances. Composts have also been addressed to help avoid unwanted squirrel, skunk and rodent penetration. Wood and plastic composts are discouraged but instead wire mesh is promoted due to its impenetrable nature. Composts have also been removed from immediate placement near buildings.

PCO's procedures on campus are supposed to be controlled through the purchasing department. Their services and any applications are to be fully reported to both the purchasing department and to the food services department.

According to Mark Newman, the issue of pest control is a difficult one to address due the unwillingness of the University to convey any problems to students. He argues that the University is a business selling a service and therefore has a vested interest in the appearances presented to their customers--mainly, the students.

An Interview with our Health and Safety Officer

Kevin Stuart is a Health and Safety Officer for the University of Waterloo. In our interview with him, Mr. Stuart stressed the importance of pest control on campus because of the great capability of pests to transmit disease. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide information on the campus' usage of indoor pesticides or of their possible health effects. He did suggest, however, that we contact Brenda McFadyn, the Public Health Inspector from the Region of Waterloo who is responsible for our campus. She may be able to inform us of possible adverse health effects associated with indoor pesticides and she may know who is responsible for passing on warnings to all people who frequent treated areas on campus. As of yet, we have not been able to reach her.

Our Plan of Action from Here

Our next steps of research will be obtain more specific information on the actual measures used to control pests on campus. PCO was frustratingly vague with us and was hesitant to give us detailed descriptions of their activities on campus. Mark Newman encouraged us to contact the university's purchasing department in order to receive this information. We will contact Steve Cook once again in hope to find some answers. If the purchasing department does not have this information, we plan to press PCO further for it. We would like to know exactly what measures are being used on campus, what chemicals they involve, where they are used, in what quantities, and what financial costs are involved.

After receiving more specific information on the chemicals being applied on campus, we plan to research the nature of these chemicals in order to determine their possible harmful effects. This information may be found through library research, through further discussions with our contact people, and through information supplied by the chemical suppliers that produce the chemicals.

PCO also would not discuss in detail the actual pest situation on campus. We hope to obtain more specific information on the types of pests that are problematic by speaking to representatives from the food services department and the libraries who would be more in touch with the actual pests. We also plan to push PCO further for this type of information.

We have also been unable to find out who is responsible for posting warnings to all people who could be exposed to the harmful chemicals involved. PCO has stated that this is not included in their mandate. We plan to contact Brenda McFadyn, the regional Public Health Inspector responsible for the university, in hope that she would have this information.