LSU AgCenter scientists are gearing up to participate in the search for alternatives to termite-preventing wood treatments. The search has become critical because the most predominate treatment – chromated copper arsenate, also known as CCA – soon will be taken off the market.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined CCA is too dangerous to use, said Gregg Henderson, entomologist long involved with research on termites.
“This has created a void of products that can replace it adequately,” Henderson said.
Anticipating that chemical and wood treatment companies will need research assistance, the LSU AgCenter is establishing a termite research site at its Citrus Research Station at Port Sulphur to evaluate new wood treatments.
“It’s the only one in the continental United States,” Henderson said of the site, adding that a similar project is being conducted in Hawaii.
“We needed a field site with natural Formosan subterranean termite colonies,” Henderson said. “We don’t want to bring termites to someplace they haven’t already infested.”
Henderson said the area around Port Sulphur in Plaquemines Parish is one of the heavier infested parts of the state because it’s near the Mississippi River and near the port areas where the Formosan subterranean termites originally came into the country in shipping containers from the South Pacific after World War II.
“Our selection criteria included having termites already in the area, security for the experiments and a long-term guarantee that the research would continue,” he said.
Henderson said the 10-acre site selected for the research project is a safe distance from buildings and potential construction so researchers don’t have to worry that the insects will move to other structures.
The area has no street lights to lure flying termites that swarm every spring looking for places to establish new nests.
“We can put up lights and keep them in the area,” he said.
Henderson said the project involves collecting termites and then bringing them to the research site, where they are exposed to a variety of wood samples treated with different chemicals.
The researchers begin by filling plastic milk crates with sticks of wood and burying them in an area known to be infested by Formosan subterranean termites. When the crates are later dug up, the soil and wood inside are filled with the little critters.
“We’ve collected as many as 60,000 termites in a crate in one week,” Henderson said.
At the research site, the crates are buried in the center of a series of 16-foot-long pieces of 2-by-4 lumber that radiate out from the center, the entomologist said. The longer pieces of lumber serve as pathways for the termites to travel to different wood samples placed beside them.
After luring the termites to different samples, the scientists will evaluate how well the different treatments work.
“We want to develop strategies to control the termites,” Henderson said. “Our goal is to keep them away from the food source, to either kill or repel them with wood treatments.”
Negotiations are under way with chemical companies and wood processors to support the research with grants and payments for evaluating their products.
Writer: Rick Bogren
(This article appeared in the winter 2003 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)