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Formosan Termites in Mulch from New Orleans Hurricane Debris

Netlore Archive: Email rumor warns that Formosan termites from the New Orleans area are being spread around the U.S. in cheap garden mulch made from Hurricane Katrina wood debris.

Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: Feb. 2006
Status: False

Email text contributed by Carolyn H., Feb. 23, 2006:

Subject: Fw: important if you buy mulch this year

If you use mulch around your house be very careful about buying mulch this year. After the Hurricane in New Orleans many trees were blown over. These trees were then turned into mulch and the state is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away. So it will be showing up in Home Depot and Lowes at dirt cheap prices with one huge problem; Formosan Termites will be the bonus in many of those bags. New Orleans is one of the few areas in the country were the Formosan Termites has gotten a strong hold and most of the trees blown down were already badly infested with those termites. Now we may have the worst case of transporting a problem to all parts of the country that we have ever had. These termites can eat a house in no time at all and we have no good control against them, so tell your friends that own homes to avoid cheap mulch and know were it came from.

Analysis: The Formosan subterranean termite has long been recognized as a serious problem in southern Louisiana, so serious in fact that in October 2005 the state's Department of Agriculture and Forestry imposed a quarantine on all wood debris from parishes affected by Hurricane Katrina. The declaration reads, in part, as follows:

The movement of any wood or cellulose material from the named parishes is prohibited unless either (1) such wood or cellulose material has been fumigated or otherwise treated for Formosan termites and is approved for movement by the Commissioner or his designee(s), or (2) the Commissioner or his designee(s) gives written authorizations for untreated wood or cellulose material to be moved from the named parishes.
The ban on removing wood waste from southern Louisiana is also mentioned in a November 12, 2005 article in USA Today describing hurricane cleanup operations in greater New Orleans:
In Louisiana, crews haul the waste to one of 150 dumps, transfer stations and temporary collection sites. Some is buried whole, some pulverized in giant grinders. Woody vegetation is chipped, then burned, buried or mulched. No wood waste can leave the state because it could contain voracious Formosan termites.
So, while it is certainly possible that some Katrina wood debris has crossed the state line through the negligence or unscrupulousness of private individuals (though no evidence of that has surfaced so far), Louisiana would be in violation of its own quarantine rules if it were true that, as claimed in the email, "the state is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away."

Statement from Lousiana Dept. of Agriculture & Forestry:

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Office of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has quarantines in place in the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita affected parishes of Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington.

All woody debris in the quarantined areas is going to an approved landfill within the designated quarantine area. There are a multitude of government (state and federal) agencies that are looking at this debris every day as it is deposited into these landfills. The contractors mulching and hauling the debris know the regulations and are abiding by them according to the quarantine requirements.

If there is anyone with knowledge of debris moving out of a quarantine area, they should contact our 24-hour hotline @ 225-925-3763. These are serious allegations and will be taken seriously.

Matthew Keppinger
Assistant Commissioner
Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry

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Sources and further reading:

Efforts Under Way to Prevent Spread of Formosan Subterranean Termites in Mulch from Louisiana
LSU Agricultural Center, 3 March 2006

Imposition of Quarantine
Declaration of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, 3 October 2005

Experts Warn Against Spreading Termites After Storms
LSU Agricultural Center, 12 October 2005

Cleanup Crews Tackle Katrina's Nasty Leftovers
USA Today, 12 November 2005

Termites: Hidden, Hungry Invader Threatens City of Mardi Gras
CNN, 24 February 2004

Updates and media sightings:

Termites/Mulch Rumors Untrue
Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture and Forestry press release, 3 March 2006

Disregard Email Rumor About Termite-Infested Mulch, Experts Say
Detroit Free Press, 6 March 2006

Email Claims Mulch Will Be Infested with Termites
NBC10.com, 7 March 2006

Rumor About Termite-Tainted Mulch Refuted
Pantagraph, 11 March 2006

Mulch Ado: Termite Threat from the South Is Exaggerated
Washington Post, 16 March 2006

Last updated: 03/16/06

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