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Electronic pest control is basically an approach that uses specially powered devices to eliminate or repel insects and rodents. Electronic pest control devices are not usually under the purview of any governmental agencies and so inspections and tests of electrically powered electronic pest control devices tend to be less stringent than those applied to other methods used. This has raised doubts among homeowners about the efficacy and safety of such devices. The technologies used in these devices are not new but are still evolving. The premise does require further studies and more in depth knowledge and scientific facts.

Is Electronic Pest Control Dangerous?

There are studies revealing the effectiveness and safety of ultrasound pest control systems that conclude them to be ineffective. They are also potentially harmful and they may not deter common insects, rodents or pests and thus they do not have any effect on preventing diseases spread by pests. They can cause adverse effects in humans and animals. 

Professor Tim Leighton of Institute of Sound and Vibration Research in the University of Southampton, England, the UK, authored a paper many years ago wherein he discussed the uncomfortable effects of using ultrasound in air. The paper titled ‘What is Ultrasound?’ highlights the widespread use of ultrasound in different types of commercial products. Professor Leighton has highlighted the negative subjective effects of ultrasound in humans. While humans cannot detect ultrasound — as it is not within the range of our hearing — the effects can be felt without really knowing the cause. He also cited how most commercial devices do not really adhere to any measurement standards and many products may have made false claims about the range of frequency in use. 

AGNIR or Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation in the U.K. has also published findings about human exposure to infrasound and ultrasound. The Health Protection Agency in the U.K. has stipulated the range of 70 dB at 20 kHz and 100 dB at 25 kHz or above as the limit of exposure of people to ultrasound in the air. These sound pressure levels may or may not be adhered to by commercial devices sold in the market. 

FTC or Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. also warned manufacturers as well as retailers selling ultrasonic devices with as many as sixty companies warned by the autonomous regulator in the year 2001 to provide scientific evidence supporting their claims. Advertisements and marketing campaigns are reviewed to ensure companies do not resort to false information or misinformation to sell their products. Such practices are a breach of the US’s FTC Act. Electronic pest control can be dangerous and it is not just the regulatory authorities that have raised worrying red flags. Researchers from various universities have agreed with the stands taken by these recognised and respected regulators. 

What is Electronic Pest Control?

Electronic pest control devices use ultrasound or radio waves to deter rodents and insects. Ultrasonic devices use sound waves that have a short wavelength but high frequency. Such sound waves have a pitch high enough that they are outside of our hearing range. Human ears can only catch sounds that have a frequency less than 20,000 Hz or 20 kHz. This is owing to the physiological attributes of the human cochlea. Animals such as dogs, bats, rodents and insects can hear ultrasound frequencies. Locusts and grasshoppers can hear frequencies as high as 100,000 Hz. Moths and lacewings can hear or detect ultrasonic waves having a frequency of 240,000 Hz. 

Electronic pest control devices using radio waves or radio frequencies rely on similar concepts as those using ultrasound. There is some scientific evidence linking exposure to these radio waves and the resulting behavior of animals or living organisms in general. Radio frequency can generate heat. It tends to agitate water molecules bound together and hence causes ionic conduction. The water molecules inside insects record thermal activity and this leads to more energy being generated within insects. They tend to respond to radio waves or radio frequency. Electronic pest control devices using radio frequencies are installed in food processing and storage facilities with the technology becoming an alternative to fumigants made up of chemicals. Radio frequencies have nominal to no adverse effect on human health, the environment and agricultural produce. 

Effects of Electronic Pest Control Devices

Electromagnetic pest control was banned due to a lack of scientific data and evidence proving the claims of manufacturers. Ultrasound devices and those using radio frequencies; however, are available to purchase. More studies are required to understand the nature and extent of the effects of such technologies, but some studies have found ultrasound devices to be ineffective against mosquitoes. The effects of such devices on rodents are also yet to be proven beyond doubt.

Pros and Cons of Ultrasound Pest Control

Ultrasonic or ultrasound pest-repellers use high frequency noise to remove or repel pests. Known as repellers — because they do not exactly kill the pests — they have been shown to be effective on bugs and mice. 

Ultrasound does tend to cause confusion and convulsions in pests and ultrasonic waves may be fatal to some insects or pests due to audiogenic seizure response. Such devices may or may not work on all pests and the effects on rats and mice are different from those on spiders, ants and cockroaches. How bats, fleas and squirrels respond to ultrasound depends largely on the exact frequency or range being used and the devices meant for residential use have to be safe for pets, such as cats and dogs. Small animals can also detect ultrasound; pets such as hamsters and rabbits can experience the side effects of exposure to ultrasound. 

There are quite a few pros and cons concerning electronic pest control. When compared to using chemicals, ultrasound and infrasound or radio frequencies are much safer. There is no issue with toxic chemical reactions and there are no concerns about poison. On the flipside, long term or sustained exposure to ultrasound can have side effects on both humans and animals. Such side effects are not yet well researched and are hence relatively unknown. Humans and domesticated animals are only exposed to ultrasound at clinics for different kinds of diagnoses. This highly regulated limited exposure is also not ultrasound in the air. 

Electronic pest control can be cost effective unless you go for a particularly expensive device. Most devices are priced at less than one hundred dollars and they do not consume much electricity. If a device is durable and works for years, then the investment is a onetime upfront cost. There are different kinds of ultrasound devices used for specific types of insects and rodents, but some devices may work for the most common pests. 

Among the disadvantages is efficacy and safety, and neither effectiveness nor safety have been studied widely and extensively enough, and thus any scientific data is limited. There are studies that have raised concerns about safety, with many ultrasound experts stating such devices do not have much, if any, repelling effect on pests. It is possible for some devices to be a complete waste of money and thus a bad investment. 

One thing everyone can agree on though is the limited range of such devices. The devices do not work throughout the entire house and can even be limited in range to just one room. This means only that room will see any benefit from using such a pest repeller. Any pests can therefore be active at any other place throughout your home, undisturbed and free to continue exactly as they were. Installing multiple devices so as to cover the entire property does not sound like a pragmatic solution. 

Should You Consider Electronic Pest Control?

There are plenty of unanswered questions about electronic pest control. Should you use it all the time? If you are using it sparingly, then when is the best time to turn the devices on and when should you turn them off? Do such devices have any effect on pests in hiding? Can such devices work against eggs laid by insects? 

Pest control is something that needs to be done with regularity. Sure, all households require pest control treatments from time to time, but it is not a monthly expense. There are many households that only require pest control when there is an infestation; while others need constant vigilance. There are ways to protect a property from an invasion by different types of pests, whether rodents or insects. A breakout or extensive infestation may or may not be averted by electronic pest control. 

Many properties are more vulnerable to pest outbreaks because of structural issues and their location, such as in warmer climates. With the jury on the effectiveness of electronic control still very much out it is always going to be better to consult an exterminator to inspect a property and get rid of pests by completely eliminating them. 

A repellant of any kind is only a stopgap measure. Even if some insects and rodents are repelled by electronic pest control, they are always going to try and find a way back into your property. Simply by turning the corner of a building they can be out of range of the device and head straight back into your home, alive and well. Plus, as these kind of devices only deter — or at best repel — such pests, the risks of being exposed to diseases is not reduced in any way because the pests are not dead.