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Natural Grown Killers - What BSCs should know about biopesticides

Written by  Alex Pratt


If someone handed you a product made with soybeans and cinnamon oil, you’d probably think it was some type of new salad dressing or marinade. You’d likely never guess the product is actually a highly effective pesticide for preventing bed bug infestations. In fact, this natural formulation has been demonstrated to be more effective in some situations than traditional pesticides and pyrethrin-based formulations, which are generally more toxic to humans and the environment.


Over the past couple of decades, chemists have successfully developed a healthier, more environmentally friendly approach to pest control using a variety of natural ingredients. These products are known as biopesticides, and the EPA has even created a special classification for them. As a BSC, it is important for you to be aware of this unique pesticide category, and there may be ways you can take advantage of such products in your cleaning business.

What is a biopesticide?
Biopesticides are made from naturally occurring ingredients derived from such sources as animals, plants, bacteria, and minerals. Both canola oil and baking soda, for example, have pesticidal applications and are thus classified as biopesticides. These pesticides are categorized into three main classes:

• Microbial pesticides: Made from either naturally occurring or genetically engineered microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that control pests.

• Biochemical pesticides: Made from natural substances, such as plant extracts or pheromones. They have a non-toxic mode of action, which suffocates, desiccates (dehydrates), disrupts the ability to reproduce, or acts as an antifeedant (causes pest to stop eating) on unwanted pests.

• Plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs): Made from pesticidal substances produced by plants after certain genetic material is added to the plants.

"Biochemical pesticides contain natural ingredients that control pests through non-toxic means."

In the BSC industry, we are most likely to work with biochemical pesticides. As compared to conventional pesticides that are generally comprised of toxic, synthetic ingredients that directly kill or inactivate pests, biochemical pesticides contain natural ingredients that control pests through non-toxic means.

For example, a new biochemical bed bug killer uses soybean and cinnamon oil as two of its active ingredients. Its formulation breaks down the waxy outer layer on the bed bug’s body. Once the waxy layer is broken down, the insect begins to lose internal moisture, which ultimately causes death by dehydration. The product also leaves behind a residue, so any additional bed bugs traversing the spray will also be affected, thus creating an ongoing residual kill condition for up to 30 days.

The EPA encourages the development of biochemical pesticides, yet still requires a rigorous review to ensure that there or no adverse effects on humans or the environment. Similar to conventional EPA registration products, manufacturers seeking categorization as a biochemical pesticide must submit a variety of data about the composition, toxicity, degradation, and other characteristics of the pesticide.

Minimum Risk, FIFRA 25(b) Exempted Pesticides
Some biochemical pesticides can qualify for exemption from federal registration under section 25 (b) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). To be considered for this special classification, they must meet strict requirements in regards to their active and inert ingredients.

One of these requirements is the use of specific active ingredients in the formulation that have been approved by the EPA. The active ingredient in a biochemical pesticide is the ingredient that kills, destroys, mitigates, or repels pests named on the product label. There are approximately 40 approved active ingredients, which include items you might expect to see in your kitchen instead of in a pesticide:

Cedar Oil
Cinnamon and Cinnamon Oil
Citric Acid
Mint and mint oil
Peppermint and Peppermint Oil
Cloves and Clove Oil
Rosemary and Rosemary Oil
Soybean Oil
Thyme and Thyme Oil
Lauryl Sulfate

Likewise, the product can only contain inert ingredients that have been classified by the EPA as “List 4A Inert Ingredients of Minimal Concern.” Currently, there are approximately 340 ingredients listed on List 4A, with chemical- type ingredients, such as calcium sulfate, chlorophyll, and glyceryl monooleate, joining more consumer-friendly items such as:

Almond Hulls and Shells
Bread crumbs
Canary seed
Castor oil
Citrus pulp
Cocoa shells
Corn cobs
Linseed oil
Wheat oils
Walnut shells

There are a few additional requirements that a product must meet in order to be considered FIFRA 25 (b) exempt. When all requirements are met, the EPA renders a decision on the product’s classification. Unfortunately, there is no easy “look-up” list of biochemical pesticides that are FIFRA 25 (b) exempt, so the easiest way to determine the status of a product is to ask your supplier or the manufacturer.

Advantages of biochemical pesticides Since they aren’t made with toxic chemicals, there are numerous health and environmental benefits to using biochemical pesticides. They not only offer a healthier option over traditional pesticides for their human users, but they are also safer for animals that are not the pesticide’s intended target, such as birds and mammals. And because they are biodegradable, biochemical pesticides also pose less risk to the surrounding natural environment.

There are also practical advantages for BSCs who use these products, as users are not required to have any special training or certification to use biochemical, FIFRA 25 (b) exempt pesticide. Your staff can have these products on-hand for immediate use while completing their daily cleaning activities. Using a biochemical product alleviates concerns of a facility manager in regards to product use on properties associated with traditional, toxic pesticides.

Trust but verify
As with any product, it is always wise to verify claims with additional documentation. First, carefully read the product’s label and the SDS. Ask your supplier or the manufacturer for verification regarding FIFRA 25 (b) exemption and on any kill claims. For best results, look for documentation of these claims from a third-party laboratory. In addition to easing your own mind, such documentation can also provide direct evidence to your clients, enhancing both your credibility and marketing efforts.

The advancement of biochemical pesticides is just one example of the innovative chemistry taking place each day to create healthier products for facility maintenance. These products are yet another example of how our industry is taking the lead in caring for the environment and creating a healthier, cleaner world.

Alex Pratt is the lead chemist for QuestVapco Corporation, a manufacturer of over 400 specialty chemicals for use in the facility maintenance industry.


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