Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, By Romardo Lyons – WITH most school buildings being closed for the majority of the last two years, allowing for very little ventilation, pest control specialists are reporting that insects have invaded a number of schools and are urging administrators to look out for signs of infestation that may cost each school tens of thousands of dollars to treat.

“In rural areas we have received over 30 requests from schools for termite treatment since the pandemic. We have received requests from all over the island. I had to drive all the way up in the hills of Bull Bay to a school and, listen, it was a shame. I hope somebody can assist them. It is a small school all the way up in the hills, and they got all these brand-new books, and they were gone. It was very sad, because they are not covered by insurance or anything,” Louis Tulloch, managing director of Carib Pest Control Services, told the Jamaica Observer.

A relatively small school in St Ann that had to be fumigated recently, Tulloch said, incurred a charge of $100,000. He said the school was totally overrun by termites.

A larger school in Kingston was charged about $80,000 after termites were discovered in pockets on the first form and sixth form blocks.

Tulloch added that a university was also serviced since the pandemic and incurred a charge of over $500,000.

He explained that charges depend of the square feet of the space and how advanced and imbedded the infestation is.

A 1,200-square-feet space incurs charges between $40,000 and $60,000 if infestation isn’t widespread.

“When a place is inactive, it becomes overrun with termites. Termites are cousins to the roaches. They lay eggs in everything. The queen termite lives for up to 50 years and she lays about 30,000 eggs a day. We have had to do classrooms where students and teachers were affected badly, and the space had to be sanitised before it was treated,” Tulloch the Sunday Observer.

He said that buildings which are left unoccupied and have high cellulose content attract termites.

“Cellulose is boxes, paper, trees. The tree is the furniture, the table, the picture frame, et cetera. When the termites pick up the smell, if there is not routine cleaning and the buildings are locked up, the humidity makes the place conducive to emitting cellulose odours. So there is often invasion into still areas where the cellulose emission is high.

“So, if you have a closet that is kept locked, the humidity in that closet will lead to a very high odour because it is not ventilated. So, if termites happen to come in, they are going to be attracted to that particular room. And the same goes for buildings — especially in areas where the humidity is high — in still areas, or after heavy downpours of rain when condensation occurs inside.”

Tulloch told the Sunday Observer that emission from moist cellulose, especially cardboard, serves as an attractor for termites.

“As a matter of fact, in a lot of termite baits, cardboard and paper bags are used. Once they get wet or have anything in them that leads to moisture, they emit cellulose. People will put boxes on the floor and barrels, and then wonder why termites attack them so quickly. In schools, the windows where these books and boxes are stored create a draft to outdoor-dwelling termites. They [termites] then pick it up, send a trail to the window, and go straight into the building,” he said.

Lincoln Russell, operations managing director at Target Pest Management Company, told the Sunday Observer that there were numerous requests from schools for termite treatment in the latter months of 2021.

“In the last three months or so, we have treated about five schools for termites. It is quite prevalent among schools, and what I have found to be very prevalent also is that a number of schools have drywood termites in the desks and chairs. That points directly to the suppliers, which means that what they used to construct these furniture were not treated, or were not properly treated, and it’s really scandalous. They should really be accounting for that kind of thing,” he related.

With most schools operating remotely since March 2020, Russell said that is ample time for termites to move from space to space and create great damage in school buildings.

“Especially in this situation where schools have been closed for periods of time and there are no activities where this could be easily picked up, there could be significant damage, especially in roof areas. You may not even be aware of what is happening inside that ceiling area until you see a trail coming down, and by then you would have significant damage to contend with. So the prevention would just be to be vigilant and do inspections regularly.”

Dwight Ebanks, proprietor of Supreme Exterminators, advised that even if the school property isn’t being used there ought to be regular checks.

“Anybody that is cleaning those buildings [has] to be very vigilant; failing to do that can cost you a whole heap of money. Termite treatment is not cheap; it is probably the most expensive thing we do in the pest management business,” he told the Sunday Observer.

“We have received requests from schools as a result of termites coming up since the pandemic, but I personally try to stay away from schools, because I have had bad experiences with them in the past where the ministry doesn’t pay us readily. So I turn away all Ministry of Education jobs.”

Meanwhile, Tulloch added that school administrators should: “Look out for secret trails around the sides of the building. The trail for the outdoor termite is about half inch and they are very dark. The other thing they can look out for are droppings like grains coming from benches. They can look out for signs of wings around the doors, windows and on surfaces, because termites fly a round… we call them rain flies. Those are the wedding flies, and they pair up and form new galleries. But the grains and the trails are the most prominent things.”

He stressed that there needs to be a sanitation routine.

“You have to manage the infestation probability. If they don’t have an inspection management programme, sooner or later, they are going to fall victim to termites.”

And Russell explained that there are different species of termites, three of which are more common locally.

There are drywood termites that infest wooden structures found not only inside school buildings, but also churches and homes.

“They would affect structures in schools like doorjams, ceilings, and so on, depending on the wood. Oftentimes, wood that is being used for construction is not treated, which would prevent that from happening. The signs you would see would be like sand-like droppings from the board falling on the floor, falling on desks, and so on. There’s not much to do to prevent it except treating it.”

Even more common than the drywood termite is the subterranean termite.

“As the name suggests, these termites come from underground. They come up in search of wood or cellulose material and they destroy those structures. They travel along conduit lines and water pipes and enter a structure and feed on the wood,” said Russell.

And then there are street termites, commonly known as duck ants.

“They will travel from a tree, along the surface of the ground, and enter your building and the do damage,” Russell added.