Q. My son has asthma, and my doctor said that one of the things triggering his attacks could be roaches. We don’t have a huge problem in our apartment, but I have seen one or two roaches recently. I don’t want to spray lots of chemicals all over the place, because that’s bad for my son’s health, too, not to mention the environment. Is there a safe way to get rid of them?

– Anthony, NY

A. There absolutely are safer ways to get rid of roaches, but before we get into those, want to hear something gross? It’s not the roaches themselves that act as such a potent asthma trigger, but the “roach dust”—a lovely mixture of roach body parts and droppings—that they leave in their wake. Asthma trigger or no, not exactly something you want lying around the place.

Instead of using traditional pest control methods like spraying, fogging, and bombing—which, you’re right, are dangerously toxic for both human health and the environment—try using controls like borate powders and gel baits. These are safer environmentally because they can be applied exactly where they’re needed (along baseboards, under the refrigerator, and in other nooks and crannies), instead of all over the home. They’ll still attract and kill the roaches, but you won’t breathe in their fumes. “You can apply gel bates in very tiny amounts; they’re low volatility so they don’t get into the air, and they have a low toxicity for humans and pets,” says Stuart Greenberg, director of Cleveland’s Environmental Health Watch organization, which deals extensively with roach control. Roach dust begone.

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in June 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008