ALEX COHEN, host:
If you have bees or other pests hanging out in your home, know this. You too can resolve the issue in an eco-friendly way without resorting to gas bombs or toxic sprays. There's a pest control company in San Francisco. It's one of many across the country that use green extermination methods.
As Nancy Mullane reports, their methods include high-powered vacuum cleaners, dogs, even pest birth control.
NANCY MULLANE: The Larkin Street Youth Center is downtown in one of San Francisco's seedier sections. It offers housing and most importantly beds to young people who don't have either. When the staff discovered they might have bed bugs in one of the rooms, they called Pestec.
Sarah Trigeros is the company's bed bug specialist. Stepping out of her van, she carries a high-powered flashlight, a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner, a cocking gun, and trotting along beside her is a dog, a bed bug-sniffing beagle named Lady.
Ms. SARAH TRIGEROS (Pestec): If she smells a bed bug, she'll sit down to signal that to me. And I say show me, and she'll point with her nose where she's smelling it from, and then that's when she gets her treat.
MULLANE: Sniffing passed a book shelf and a pile of clothes, the beagle stops at the corner of a bed post and sits. She's found a bed bug.
Ms. TRIGEROS: Show me, Lady. Show me. Show me.
MULLANE: Lady plants the tip of her wet nose midway up the post. Trigeros gives her a treat.
Ms. TRIGEROS: Good girl.
MULLANE: Lady's put in a pop-up crate; then the Pestec team goes to work. The single bed is upended, the vacuum cleaner is turned on; its long arm runs along the narrow cracks in the bed frame and floor, sucking up any bugs. The team seals the electrical outlet covers and the seams in the floor molding with the bead of white caulk.
By vacuuming and then sealing all the cracks, Pestec's president, Luis Agurto, says they're practicing something called Integrated Pest Management.
Mr. LUIS AGURTO (Pestec): It's resolving pest problems and preventing them to begin with.
MULLANE: Agurto says IPM is all about knowing pests and their habits and then controlling the pests using the least toxic approach. He learned just about everything he knows from his father, the founder of the company and an immigrant from Nicaragua.
Mr. AGURTO: People over there depend on physical controls like hot water and the sun to destroy insects. So they move their mattresses outside so that the elements can kill them on their own. So we had the thinking that if they can do it over there, why can't we do it over here?
MULLANE: For 10 years, Pestec's been under contract with the city of San Francisco to get rid of its spiders, cockroaches, ants and rats.
When mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus threatened the city, instead of aerial spraying pyrethrum, which attacks the nervous system of all insects, Agurto hired bicycle messengers. They ride around and drop packets of biological insecticide into the water of the city's 20,000 storm drains. The dissolving packets target only the mosquito larvae, acting as a sort of mosquito birth control.
Chris Geiger is with San Francisco's Department of the Environment. He says Pestec's methods aren't just safe, they're effective.
Mr. CHRIS GEIGER (Department of the Environment, San Francisco): What we used to do in all pest control is we'd bring out the big guns right away, just blast them with the DDT or with the organo-phosphates. Blast first, ask questions later.
MULLANE: Now questions are asked first. As a result, Geiger says, the city's been able to cut its pesticide use by 70 percent.
This year, Pestec became the first of just seven pest control companies nationwide to be Green Shield certified by Integrated Pest Management of America. It's a nonprofit endorsing businesses that practice effective pest control using fewer and least toxic pesticides.
A number of companies are following Pestec's lead. Across the country more than three dozen businesses have now applied for Green Shield certification.
For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane.