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IPM Specialist Chris Mills Makes The Grade

Chris receiving the 2009 Southern Region IPM Center "Friend of IPM" Implementer Award for using IPM to keep pest populations at a minimum while saving the district money.

It's not easy being the IPM Specialist (Integrated Pest Management) for a large school district. Administrators and parents are asking about the safety of the products you're using, the state is dictating new requirements for your IPM program and school budgets keep getting tighter and tighter. Despite these challenges, IPM Specialist Chris Mills of North Carolina is one of the rising stars in School IPM, and has received both state and regional award recognition for his work. His achievements include saving his school district money, forging positive relationships, and implementing an IPM program that has the best interest of the kids in mind.

Chris first started out as a groundskeeper at Union County Public Schools in September 2003. Initially, Union County Public Schools had some products donated and others were purchased from local stores in the area. Chris was grateful for the products, but he knew the program could improve. "We were spending a lot of money - up to $30,000 per year - for partial treatments at all of our schools," he said. "We needed to find a way to thoroughly treat all 50 schools in our district in a cost-effective manner. Also, I wasn't completely satisfied with the speed at which the products were taking effect. I just couldn't wait 4-6 weeks for them to start controlling fire ants, especially with young school-age children being around the playgrounds and playing fields."

In October 2006, when Chris obtained the position of IPM Specialist, he put a new comprehensive IPM program in place for the entire school district, focusing on inspection and monitoring. Union County Public Schools (UCPS) is the 5th largest school system and the fastest growing school system in North Carolina. "There is no better reason than the statistics of Union County Public Schools to have an IPM Program whose goals are to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for school-age children," he states.

Chris also began to incorporate pesticides that have active ingredients classified as "Reduced Risk" by the EPA, such as DuPont(TM) Advion(R) fire ant bait. Only a few products have earned this designation. They must meet a set of criteria that can include having a lower impact on human health, reduced toxicity to birds, fish or plants, and low potential for groundwater contamination.

Another key criteria for Chris' consideration of products involved product first aid requirements should a child or adult accidentally or unintentionally have skin exposure to or ingest the pesticide. Based on its low acute toxicity to humans, Advion(R) fire ant bait does not require specific first aid recommendations on the approved label.

According to Chris, Advion(R) fire ant bait is a good fit for the UCPS IPM program. "After application, re-entry of students and staff can happen immediately - that's key. I also like its very low application rate - 1 1/2 pounds per acre, and it's a broadcast bait."

Of course performance is the most important measure of success and the DuPont product delivers that as well. "We've seen a huge improvement in fire ant control at all of our schools," said Chris. "And we didn't receive one single call back from any of the high school sports fields last fall."

Since Chris instituted the IPM program, his efforts have saved the school district from $30,000 to $50,000 per year for pest control. His efforts have also garnered him praise and recognition from peers and academics in the industry.

In October 2008, Chris received an Outstanding IPM Coordinator Award from the School IPM Program at North Carolina State University. At the same ceremony, Union County Schools received a Leadership Award, which is given to school districts that have IPM programs in place and have assisted neighboring school districts with their programs. According to Dr. Godfrey Nalyanya, School IPM Program Coordinator, "Because of the effectiveness of Chris' program, other schools are asking about School IPM workshops and how to begin a program."

Local interest is high due to the 2006 Schoolchildren's Health Act that mandates that every school system in North Carolina have an IPM program in place by October 2011. Chris frequently gives tours of his facilities to other school districts. He also organizes workshops for other school districts that involve the state department of agriculture, as well as researchers and IPM specialists from NC State. Everyone from principals to custodial staff has attended the workshops to hear firsthand how to implement a successful IPM program.

Last March, Chris received the 2009 Southern Region IPM Center "Friend of IPM" Implementer Award for using IPM to keep pest populations at a minimum while saving the district money. "I'm really honored to be recognized at this level," Chris said. "It means a lot to our district and to what we're trying to do here."

Source: CJ Lampman, VIA for DuPont

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December 14, 2019, 7:42 am PDT

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