There is widespread and legitimate concern in Louisiana and other parts of the South
about the destructive Formosan subterranean termite, but not because of mulch made from
downed trees from New Orleans. The local governments are not "trying to
get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will
come and haul it away." The Louisiana Department of
Agriculture has established a quarantine that prohibits taking any goods
or materials damaged by the hurricanes out of the 12-parish area of New
Orleans. That includes all wood waste, such as fallen trees, whether the trees are intact or have been chipped into bits and pieces.
According to the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Formosan subterranean termite is
one of the most destructive termite species in the world. It takes
only one king and queen to produce an enormous colony. A mature
colony can include millions of termites and can produce 3,000 new
termites per day. The USDA says it is believed that the pests came into the U.S.
from Taiwan aboard ships during World War II. The University of Florida
says that the first recorded infestation of Formosan
termites was in 1957 in Charleston, South Carolina. Within a few
years colonies were found in Galveston and Houston, Texas, and New
Orleans, Louisiana. The USDA estimates that in New Orleans alone
the Formosan termites infest 30 percent of the trees.
The Formosan termites are weak fliers so they do not naturally move long distances. They spread to other areas primarily through
being transported in infected wood. In Louisiana authorities believe
the prime method of spreading the termite has been through
infested railroad ties such as is used for landscaping. Louisiana is also monitoring or
restricting the movement of telephone poles and other large timber. Dr.
Matthew Messenger of Dow AgroSciences confirmed for TruthOrFiction.com that most
of the trees in New Orleans are being run through chippers and either
being burned or dumped into landfills. Also, he says that the
termites are soft-bodied, including the queen, and would probably not survive the chipping
process. He adds that the only case he's heard of where termites were
found in mulch at a retail store was when the bags were left on the
ground long enough that the termites infested them directly, not because
they were from any trees that were used to make the mulch.
TruthOrFiction.com also talked with with of the top experts on Formosan
termites, Dr. Afhok Raina, Supervisory Research Entomologist, for the Formosan Termite Research
Unit of the USDA. He said that the chances are poor of any live
termites from New Orleans ending up in bags of mulch going to other
parts of the country. He said that to begin with almost all of the
damaged trees were underwater, which would have killed the
termites. He, too, said that the termites are not likely to have
survived the chipping process and adds that if any live termites did end
up in a bag of commercial mulch, they would not survive the heat that
results from being sealed in a plastic bag especially if exposed to
sunlight. Dr. Raina said that there are concerns about termites in
mulch, but that applies to mulch that already exists in a particular
location and can easily become infested with local termites. He
says that he does not recommend that homeowners put mulch very close to
their homes. Pest control professionals will frequently establish
a chemical barrier around the home to keep termites out. He says
that mulch can compromise that barrier and become the bridge for
termites to regain access.
One of the retail stores mentioned in the eRumor is Home Depot.
TruthOrFiction.com contacted their corporate offices and was told that Home Depot does not
sell mulch from any termite-infested trees and does not use any mulch
suppliers from the New Orleans area. The Mulch and Soil Council
(MSC) has established standards that are based on
criteria for mulch and soil certification and inspection. Home
Depot requires that all mulch suppliers be certified by the MSC.
Last updated 3/6/06