By Barbara Kessler

Green pest control might sound like an oxymoron to some green devotees who believe in the “live and let live” mantra, or organic gardeners who appreciate that good pests and bad pests balance each other in nature.

Still, there’s the pest you can live with and the one you can’t. Some pests, like weeds, are simply organisms out of place. Like the nest of ants behind our cabinets. They don’t belong there and their incessant forays across the kitchen counter are not so appetizing. So what to do? Used to be, the answer was to grab a can of Triple Strength Ant Annihilation Spray at the grocery, return home and fire away.

That’s no longer the default solution. As green pest exterminator, Michael Bohdan, owner of The Pest Shop in Plano, Texas, tells us, consumers are getting pickier about how they pickle their pests, and pest companies are providing new, cleaner, less-toxic and more finely crafted products to get rid of invading invertebrates without despoiling our house or the environment. (Bohdan’s also the keeper of the infamous Cockroach Hall of Fame – but you’ll have to view the video to see that story.)

This new generation of greener products includes insect-repellents that rely on citrus oils and “low-impact” chemicals like boric acid that have been around for decades. They include traps that use grains or glues and simple compounds like Diatomaceous Earth (DE), made of crushed silica rock and seashells. Many more safer pest killers can be found on the list of Minimum Risk Pesticides put out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The active components in these green compounds zap bugs by trapping or poisoning them with ingredients that are less harmful to humans and less enduring in nature. The compounds are relatively safe to keep and store around the house, but are deadly to pests that ingest them.

These newer products (some are not new, so much as re-purposed) should not be inhaled (especially DE) and people should take care to avoid skin contact. Citrus-based products, for example, can sting eyes and skin. The EPA list includes many other natural oils, extracted from cloves, lemons, mint and thyme, that can sting.

But all these ingredients are less toxic and you can pick them out by looking at their labels. Generally they all fall into the category that requires the term “caution” on the label as opposed to “warning,” or the next level up, “danger.”

So use the labels to help find the less toxic alternatives. And if you want to check out some more “powerful” conventional chemicals for comparison first, see the EPA report on diazinon. Once one of the most widely used chemicals for lawn and household pest control in the United States, diazinon was banned for residential use in 2004 because in addition to killing ants, grubs and nematodes, at certain levels it killed birds and amphibians, raising concerns about human exposure to residues in water and food.