No-Pesticide Pest Control

June 1, 2007
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MARNE — At long last, poison-free pest control company Safe Solutions Inc. has a product on store shelves. Meijer Inc. is currently testing the company’s Lice R Gone shampoo in 120 stores, the first of what company founder Stephen Tvedten hopes will be a long list of non-toxic home and health care products available to the mass market.

“They say if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door,” said Tvedten, one of the nation’s foremost experts in non-toxic pest control. “I’ve got thousands of better mousetraps, and no one knows I’m here.”

Tvedten (pronounced Tweeden) has written a number of books on what he calls “intelligent pest management,” including The Best Control II, a 1,900-page guide available online at safesolutionsinc.com and getipm.com. He has long provided non-toxic pest removal for health care and educational institutes across the nation. There are dozens of non-toxic products available under the Safe Solutions brand on his Web site and through direct purchase.

With the aid of Kentwood contract manufacturer Surefil LLC and shifting market perceptions toward organic and sustainable business practices, Tvedten’s “mousetraps” could soon be available in stores across the nation. He is in negotiations with similar manufacturers and vendors in Korea, Brazil, Canada and Europe.

Mass market penetration, however, is only a means to an end. Tvedten is more than happy to give his solutions away. For instance, the recipe for Lice R Gone: peppermint, baby shampoo, glycerin and meat tenderizer.

Trade secrets: Sweeteners like NutraSweet or Equal can kill ants. Bud Light beer can kill rats. Other solutions are even more creative, such as his use of a strobe light to remove stray cats from a hospital crawl space, or the use of a red light and vacuum to remove cockroaches from the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.

“For the sake of necessity, we have to create some products,” Tvedten said. “You can’t market killing rats with beer. But you might find something in your home that will work just as well (as a Safe Solutions product). And I’ll tell you how — I just don’t want you using pesticides.”

Thirty-eight years ago, Tvedten was an organic-phosphate-toting exterminator in Grand Rapids. The company he worked for was convinced that if their exterminators wore gloves and masks, it would lead clients to believe they were putting dangerous poisons into their homes and businesses — which they were — and within a short time, Tvedten became deathly ill.

As his health rapidly improved following a series of sauna detox sessions, Tvedten began investigating the dangerous nature of pesticides. As it turns out, most of the pesticides used then and now in homes, businesses and agriculture evolved from chemicals developed as potential weapons of mass destruction during World War II.

By definition, pesticides are toxic substances deliberately added to the environment to kill living things. In a broader sense, this includes weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungus (fungicides) and rodents (rodenticides). In the words of the Environmental Protection Agency: “Pesticides are not ‘safe.’ They are produced specifically because they are toxic to something.”

Biologist Rachel Carson wrote the seminal book on the subject, “Silent Spring,” in 1962, primarily focusing on the health and environmental impact of DDT. That chemical was subsequently banned, but in the 30 years since, use of similar products has increased 50 percent, according to California-based Pesticide Watch. More than a billion pounds of pesticides are dumped into the U.S. ecosystem each year.

“We’re just beginning to understand the specific health and environmental effects of pesticide use,” said Matt Tueth, chair of the sustainable business program at Aquinas College. “The effects are insidious. We’re not dropping over, but things are happening that we can document and correlate to pesticide use.”

In agriculture, a larger share of crops is lost to pests today than before pesticides were first introduced to the industry in 1945. Ironically, Tueth said, the practice has bred stronger, chemical-resistant insects while killing off beneficial insects such as those required for pollination. This is an unseen factor in rising food costs. Studies are also correlating the use of pesticides to disease and cancer in humans and animals.

“Ask veterinarians about pesticide use in our lawns. Dogs spend a lot of time in those yards, so it should be no surprise that the incidence of dogs with cancer is higher than it ever has been,” Tueth said. “The huge problem with residential and agricultural use is that 99 percent of the pesticide never gets in the pest. It lingers and gets in the water supply; it migrates offsite.”

Tueth expects pesticides will soon become a larger topic of green business conversation, which to date mostly has focused on industrial pollution and energy. Elsewhere, it already is. Nearly 130 municipalities in Canada have banned the use of cosmetic pesticides. South American farm workers have waged a long legal battle against the use of pesticides by U.S. firms such as Dole Food Co. and Dow Chemical Co.

“When you ask about alternatives to pesticide use, it makes a lot of sense,” Tueth said. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re a tree hugger or just someone that doesn’t want their grandkids to get cancer.”

Tvedten’s brand of pest control has been enthusiastically embraced in the K-12 market, where educators have been alarmed by the ineffectiveness of pesticides and their clear harm to students. “This one school in Ohio, they had kids bleeding out of orifices, and when they hired me, the maintenance guy said, ‘Steve, I don’t think this will get rid of the pests. But neither did the other stuff, and at least this way, we won’t be killing the kids.’”

Ted Tyers, maintenance supervisor for Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, was first introduced to Tvedten a decade ago as supervisor of operations of Fruitport Community Schools through a referral from Grand Haven Area Public Schools. Fruitport had been battling a recurring termite infestation with the help of a local exterminator. The pests kept spreading after every treatment, while kids were going home ill from the lingering fumes.

“We had this feeling of voodoo magic; it seemed so far from the norm of killing something,” Tyers said. “But if we sprayed the poison on Friday, kids would still be going home sick the following Wednesday.”

Tvedten placed cardboard treated with boric acid into the infected areas, even creating a terrarium out of a library shelf for use as an impromptu science project. The termites ate the boric acid, harmful to humans but lethal to most insects, and within weeks the infestation was gone.

“Kids now days are pretty much allergic to everything,” said Joe DeMarco, current director of operations at the Fruitport schools. “Some kids can’t even be in the same room with peanut butter. It’s terrible for these kids how companies are putting all these chemicals on things.”

At MAISD, the maintenance staff uses a product similar to Lice R Gone, a peppermint cleanser, to kill bees and wasps. Several districts are on long-term service agreements with Tvedten’s pest-control company, Get Set Inc., which often proves cheaper than the poison alternative. It also avoids the regulatory “red tape” of using pesticides in schools.

Between his various ventures, Tvedten has run into the same basic concern: How can a product kill something and not be dangerous?

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