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Chemical & Pesticide Solutions

There are a number of chemicals and pesticides on the market today that have reported effectiveness in combatting stink bugs. Many of these are available at your local home improvement and/or hardware store, though, to get higher concentrations, special licensing may be required. Check your state and local regulations prior to acquiring a pesticide, as there may even be very specific laws about spreading chemicals due to nearby water sources or protected water sources.

chemicalimage via sxc.hu, photographer: 123dan321

Bifenthrin

Probably the most effective insecticide currently available to the public is called bifenthrin. Sold as Talstar, Bifenthrine, Brigade among other trade names, this chemical works by disrupting the nervous system, leading to paralysis. Insects typically either consume this poison or absorb it through their exoskeleton. Anecdotal reports and online reviews declare bifenthrin to be the leader in bug annihilation. Personally, when our stink bug infestation was at crescendo last year, this stuff was hard to come by. Just about every retail location in the area sold out in early spring.

Bifenthrin is a bit pricier than other options (though, many would argue "worth it"), available in varied concentrations for around $30 per 32 oz. of 25.1% concentrate.

Bifenthrin has a slightly sweet smell, and if you acquire it in powdered form, it's an off-white color. You can store it for long periods, and tests conclude that it's fairly insoluble in water, meaning the risk of groundwater contamination is minimal. Bifenthrin is highly toxic to fish and amphibians, birds, and most mammals. Handle with care.

Permethrin

Another "pyrethroid" (along with bifenthrin), the colorless, odorless permethrin also acts on the nervous system of insects. Used for years in combating mosquitoes and other nuisance pests, permethrin has become a standby insecticide. Some formulations are even used as pharmaceuticals (regulated by the FDA) for head lice and scabies, and a diluted product is marketed for use on clothing as a repellent.

Permethrin is readily available and affordable, with concentrated options (up to 36%) available for around $20-25. Smaller spray bottles with lower concentrations can be acquired for less than $10, and personal repellent sprays are available for even less.

Permethrin is typically odorless and colorless. Like bifenthrin, it is highly toxic to fish and amphibians, and should be used with caution around pets, children and adults.

Pyrethrum

Pyrethrum is the general name used to describe the compounds derived from natural insecticides within chrysanthemum flowers (collectively known as "pyrethroids"). Varying in toxicity, this option has become quite popular for gardeners and nature lovers looking to utilize an option that may have less environmental impact. However, don't assume that because a product is of natural derivation that it's any safer than the synthetic options created in a lab. In fact, many people exhibit allergic reactions to pyrethroid compounds, and high doses of the natural toxin is lethal to a number of mammals, birds, fish, and desirable insects like bees.

Pyrethrum can be found in a number of formulas and solutions, typically in fogger cans and smaller spray bottles. The chemical is inexpensive, with foggers being in the $15-20 range, and spray bottles costing around $10. Many brands are marketed as "green" or "eco-friendly" options. Again, while these products may come from natural flower sources, don't assume them to be any safer than any other poison. Remember: you're acquiring this product in order to kill something.

You may be thinking that because pyrethrum is derived from chrysanthemums, growing those flowers in and around your home might be a nice way to naturally ward off stink bugs. There may be an ounce of truth to this line of thinking, as the mum's flowery petals can be crushed or dried to derive the bug-repelling qualities. However, mums are susceptible to pests like many other plants, so it's unlikely that simply growing these flowers around your home will mitigate any unwanted invasions.

Borax & Boric Acid

Boron-based compounds have been used for centuries to control insects, prevent wood rot, and before it was realized to be harmful, disinfect wounds. Considered a highly effective insecticide, especially with regard to ants, roaches, beetles and weevils, boric acid has been used regularly in the United States since the late forties. Many have reported success in their use of borax and/or boric acid as a stink bug focused insecticide. Unlike the nerve-agent chemicals above, boron compounds affect the exoskeleton of an insect, and as such, the reaction tends to be slower but highly effective over longer periods of time.

Naturally occurring borax can be found in deserts and evaporate deposits produced by seasonal lakes. The United States extracts signficant amounts of naturally occurring borax from the Southwestern region including Boron, Searles Lake, and Death Valley, California.

boraxDeath Valley image via Ken Lund, Flickr. License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Boron, as an element, does not exist by itself in nature. Because of its elemental structure, boron typically binds with sodium to make borax (sodium borate) or oxygen, creating boric acid. People regularly consume tiny amounts of boric acid as it occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables and is essential to life. However, in higher concentrations, boric acid and its salt-bound counterpart, borax, can still be harmful.

DEET

N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET is a very common insect repellent, especially in the United States. DEET, while highly effective at repelling mosquitoes and other such nuisance bugs, is not designed to kill. Because of its efficacy in warding off other pests, many assume it will perform similarly in keeping stink bugs at bay. However, no evidence has proven that DEET, sprayed in or around the home will repel this particular bug. Moreover, because DEET has been linked to some health and environmental concerns, it's not advised to use DEET as anything other than an occasional, personal repellent for your person.

Moth Balls

Moth balls (or flakes, cakes, bars, crystals or tablets) usually contain either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, and sometimes both. These chemicals are fumigants, meaning they break down and vaporize at room temperatures. Unfortunately, because moth balls are intended for a very specific use, against a very specific type of pest, this should not be considered as a viable option. The chemical compounds in mothballs make exposure quite dangerous to both humans and other animals, and although the smell may seem like an effective deterrent to pests in the open, the intended use is only in an airtight container. Many people mistakenly use mothballs in crawlspaces, basements and attics, thinking they'll keep other critters at bay, and while there may be some truth to that, studies show their efficacy to be mostly in the control of (duh) moths. Keep in mind, also, that misuse of products (especially using these chemicals outdoors where contamination could lead to compromised water sources or soil) can be considered illegal, as the intended use on the container spells out the chemical's legal applications.

deadbugPest image via sxc.hu, photographer: digi

Conclusions

Before choosing a pesticide, make sure you know the dangers. The goal of a pesticide, simply, is to kill a pest. In the case of stink bugs, that pest is an insect, so really, technically, we're talking about an insecticide. Different insecticides work in different ways; some attack the nervous system, disabling all motor function (walking, flying), while others, especially those engineered to encourage ingestion, simply eat away at internal organs. And because these are dangerous to insect life, that means there can be dangers for other kinds of life.

Be very careful when handling and distributing pesticides. Pets, children, even house plants can be harmed or even killed upon accidentally receiving a high enough dose of certain pesticides. Read the labels carefully. Heed their caution, and be prepared to call poison control or 911 if necessary.

That's not to scare you (well, not entirely) but just like any dangerous weapon, you should handle poisons carefully. With caution, you can handle and distribute pesticides safely.

See the next article, "Natural Solutions" »

Sources used in the research for this article:
http://extoxnet.orst.edu/pips/bifenthr.htm
http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/permethrin_fs.htm
npic.orst.edu/factsheets/Permtech.pdf
http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/pyrethrins-ext.html
http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reevaluation/paw-factsheet.html
http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidefactsheets/leasttoxic/boricacid_borates_borax.htm
extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/pnw/pnw606-e.pdf

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At a glance

Chemicals & Pesticides:

  • BE CAREFUL
  • Bifenthrin
  • Permethrin
  • Pyrethrum
  • Borax & Boric Acid
  • DEET (don't bother)
  • Moth Balls (won't work)
  • BE CAREFUL