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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 28, 2003

How deadly is Vikane? How deadly is Vikane? (November 28, 2003)

And, if it's so deadly, why do termites return?

by Lynn Comeskey

I have missed a couple of articles because I felt compelled to go to Paris to patch up relations between the French and the citizens of the United States and to take a six-week cooking course (not necessarily in that order). It was the trip of a lifetime. The French still like America and its citizens; but like many of our West European allies they seriously question the actions of our government. Having said that we go back to business as usual.

With regard to your August article concerning termites and their disposition, I have the following questions:

Q Why is Vikane gas deadly to termites but not harmful to pets, plants and humans?

A Your question is not quite correct. Vikane is equally deadly to all of the above. However, pets and humans are not supposed to be inside the house when it is fumigated. Plants that are to be saved should be removed from the house. The fumigators make certain there are no living beings inside the house, then lock it and secure the tarps around the house so that no one or thing can enter before the gas is sent into the house.

In order to save plants in the ground that would be enclosed by the fumigators' tarps, water the plants heavily. The water keeps the gas away from the plants' roots and, thereby, saves them.

Q Is there really no residue from the gas? Does this mean I don't have to remove food or wash all items in the house after tenting?

A There is absolutely no residue and you don't have to wash anything.

Q How long is the house poisonous for termites and how long will they keep termites from entering?

A Once the fumigating is complete, the fumigator (wearing self-contained breathing apparatus) opens and removes the tarps and starts up blowers to facilitate the dissipation of the gas. The law requires that the fumigator wait six hours after opening the tarps to take air samples to assure that the air inside the house is safe. If this means the fumigator has to come by the next day, then the house is locked (to keep people out) until the samples can be taken.

Once the Vikane gas is gone (and there is no residue), the house is no longer harmful to termites, humans or pets.

You may rightly say, "you mean that I will have spent all of that money and the termites can return to my house the next day? I don't like that.

I understand your concern, but let me tell you about dry wood termite biology. The swarm of dry wood termites (if, as and when they enter your house) will contain a small number of termites. It will take decades before these few termites can reproduce themselves to create a quantity of termites sufficient to do any damage to your house. As with any medical situation, early detection reduces damage, so periodic checkups are beneficial.

Q Will you also guarantee that there are no adverse effects at all and cancer is of no concern?

A The Vikane gas is produced by Dow Chemical Corporation. You will have to contact them for any guarantee. I can only say that Vikane has been used for 40 years and no one (especially the fumigators) appears to have suffered from working around or living in the wake of Vikane gas.

I want to reiterate that tenting with the use of Vikane gas is the only effective means of ridding your house of dry wood termites. The localized treatments, freezing or microwave, only work if they happen to be directed at the location of all of the termites in the house. That's pretty unlikely.

Lynn Comeskey continues to work with Mac & Lou Construction Co. in Palo Alto. Readers can write Comeskey care of the Palo Alto Weekly, P.O. Box 1610, Palo Alto, CA 94301.


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