Warning about Formosan Termites-Fiction!

Warning About Formosan Termites in Mulch From Chipped Trees in New Orleans-Fiction!


Summary of eRumor:

The forwarded email warns that mulch showing up in your local home improvement store could include Formosan termites.  The reason is that trees that were blown over during the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast are being turned into mulch and given to anyone who will haul it away.  New Orleans is one of the places in the country for Formosan termites established a foothold–so buyers beware.

The Truth:

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