Jay and Joe Tallon Jr. are cold, calculating killers.
Creators of the Blizzard System, the Long Beach, Calif., brothers and business partners use nontoxic liquid nitrogen to put drywood termites on ice. Freezes them dead in their tracks.
“My brother Joe came up with the idea in 1984,“ said Jay Tallon, vice president of Tallon Termite & Pest Control.
“He realized that there aren`t any termite problems in cold weather places like Alaska and Montana. So he stuck a piece of infested wood into a freezer and the termites didn`t survive.“
A simple idea has been transformed into a successful new technology.
The process uses fiber optics to search out infestation between walls. Holes are drilled in the walls, and the fiber-optic devices are inserted to seek out the pests. Once the termites are located, liquid nitrogen is pumped into the infested areas. Temperatures in the confined spaces drop to 20 degrees below Fahrenheit and the pests turn into ice cubes.
Pure nitrogen, which makes up about 80 percent of the Earth`s atmosphere, poses no health hazard to humans, pets or plants. The method requires no tenting or chemicals.
Since the system was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Food and Agriculture in 1987, customers have been clamoring for frozen termites.
According to the Tallons, who have a patent pending for the method, the company`s average monthly revenue has increased from $85,000 in 1987 to $600,000 so far this year.
End of story? An indisputable environmental and entrepreneurial triumph?
Critics of the Blizzard System in the pest control industry say that the method is not time tested and, unlike fumigation, which kills termites throughout the entire structure, liquid nitrogen only works on infestation that is detected and confined.
“I`m still a little skeptical because it hasn`t been around that long,“ said Larry Musgrove, president of Musgrove`s Pest Control, in Santa Barbara.
“Freezing termites works, but you have to be able to find all the areas of infestation. Fumigation is 100 percent effective.“
“We feel that fumigants have been overused,“ countered Jay Tallon. “If termites are in one portion of the house, it doesn`t mean that they are in all of the house. The consumer is tired of chemicals and toxics, and we give them alternatives.“
In structures that are thoroughly infested, however, Tallon uses traditional pest control chemicals as well as the liquid nitrogen method.
“But in 8 out of 10 jobs, we use our system alone,“ Jay Tallon said.
The Tallons have hired a public relations firm and are embarking on a media blitz because they believe that competitors have hatched a plot that could drive them out of business.
“The Structural Pest Control Board is considering adding liquid nitrogen to its list of fumigants,“ Jay Tallon said. Such a classification would require the company to seal houses, evacuate occupants and apply a warning
“tearing agent,“ a superficial eye irritant, when using the odorless, invisible Blizzard System.
“It could put us out of business,“ he said.
The Structural Pest Control Board, a branch of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, regulates all pest control operators in the state. It has seven members, including three representatives from the pest control industry. “The Structural Control Board is after us strictly because of our economic success,“ he said. “It has nothing to do with safety issues.“
Jim Steffenson, board president and owner of a termite and pest control business near San Jose, denied that industry representatives have a conflict of interest.
“If that were the case, there would be no industry people on the medical examiner`s board, the contractor`s board or any other board that comes under the Department of Consumer Affairs,“ Steffenson said. “There have to be people from industry to give guidance and for their expertise.“
Questions about the classification status of the Blizzard System were brought to the board`s attention by industry representatives rather than by consumers, said Mary Lynn Ferriera, the board`s registrar.
However, she maintained that other pest control and termite companies would have nothing to gain if the board were to classify liquid nitrogen as a fumigant.
The board is to hold an open meeting about Blizzard on June 27 in Los Angeles. It has not been decided whether the session will be an informational meeting or a formal public hearing, which would be the first step toward classifying liquid nitrogen as a fumigant.