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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Cockroaches are the No. 1 pest problem reported in a survey of Tennessee’s public school systems. Ants and head lice are tied for second, followed by rodents.

Dr. Karen Vail, an insect pest specialist in the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, said Wednesday the survey was taken to determine whether a formal pest control program would benefit most schools.

“We don’t have a basis to compare previous years, but the survey does show that a formal pest control program would work well.”

Of 149 public school systems, 74 percent responded to the survey, Vail said.

Vail is working with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on a program to reduce unnecessary exposure of humans to pesticides in schools.

“Not counting head lice, the top three pests reported by the schools can be managed with minimum risk of human exposure,” Vail said. “A good start would include blocking the pests’ access to buildings, exercising good sanitation practices, and using baits.”

The survey shows 70 percent of systems spray monthly with pesticides.

“Pesticides may be necessary, but they should be used in a way that minimizes the risk of exposure to school occupants,” Vail said. “Pesticide baits, dusts in wall spaces and sprays applied in cracks and crevices reduce exposure.”

Pest populations can also be lowered or kept from becoming established by blocking access to food, water, air and shelter, Vail said.

“Blocking access may be just a matter of closing doors, adding weather stripping, caulking and sealing openings in walls.”

Part of the effort to involve schools in planned pest management has been through professional services, which perform up to 90 percent of the work for Tennessee school systems, Vail said.

“More progress is needed to reduce the risk of unnecessary exposure of students, teachers and others,” Vail said.

She and others also are taking their case directly to school officials. Literature about the pest management program will be mailed in the next few weeks to all public and private school principals in the state.

Contact: Karen Vail (423-974-7138)