At what price pest control? We're poisoning our homes

A bit of research shows how hard it is to prove pest control credentials

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Many fans of the 1996 cult classic Joe's Apartment claim that it is the funniest film ever. It's about a guy who takes over a New York City apartment with a low, controlled rent. However, "cleanliness is next to godliness" is an axiom that the former inhabitant never took to heart.

Some of my friends thought this film was hilarious, but grime and filth are never funny to me. A horde of 10,000 cockroaches, even if they can sing and dance, crack jokes, and roll over on command, is to me simply gross.

Many others feel this way, I know, and take steps to rid their flats of insect pests. But in doing so, many inadvertently cause more harm than good: when they call their local bug-buster to come and help, they neglect to tell their neighbours, so that they too can take protective measures. Sadly, this has led to injury and even deaths.

In 2010, when I wrote about two five-month-old boys killed by pesticide poisoning, leaving their triplet sister an only child, I thought and hoped that there would be no more such tragedies.

But in the two years since, there have been several similar cases of severe reaction to pesticides, including the death in September of a 2-year-old named Habibah Hisham.

What a shame that her brother, who was also poisoned but survived, has lost his sister. What a shame that he had to spend weeks in hospital, enduring needles for intravenous medication. What a shame that his family now has a hole in it.

Who to blame? I don't know. But I am struck by the apparent impossibility of protecting our children and ourselves from poisons and toxics. This problem seems to be out of control, because in this society a mass of strangers unwittingly put each other is harm's way. Many seem to feel, "Why should I care?"

Al Aan TV recently reported survey results in which 52 per cent of respondents said that they checked the credentials of a pesticide company before hiring it. This sparked my curiosity; how do you do that? Did people call the company up and ask for their licences and registration certificates?

I have to be honest; I didn't try this myself. I know better. My blood pressure is too precious to me and since it rises enough as it is, I didn't want to put myself in the position to get yelled at or hung up on or, worse, called back and harassed for days. Like most wimps, I went to the internet.

On the net, I searched first for companies that might have municipality registration numbers, since I have seen advertisements with these numbers. I did find some.

Then I went to the website of Sharjah's Department of Economic Development (SDED). On this site, there's a box in which I entered the numbers that I had found. I tried several times, but without success.

Then I found out why. One company's website listed its certifications and awards. This was a good sign, I thought. But when I checked these, I found that the company had three licences, each bearing a registration name different from the name advertised. Also, two of the licences were expired and the other one about to expire. I decided to call the SDED about this, but couldn't get an answer on the phone.

My little experiment illustrates the difficulty of verifying that a company is certified and so presumably will do a good, safe job. Perhaps, those survey respondents who said they checked out companies before hiring had really just asked their friends. That's how most people find products and services.

But on pest control, that is not good enough.

One solution would be to create a list of certified companies and provide the list to renters. Another option could be to require building owners and management companies to provide tenants with the names of one or two certified pest-control companies. Something must be done. We cannot spare any more children.

Maryam Ismail is a teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE