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Peter Castronovo

Soda pop to innovation earns sanitarian an Excellence-in-IPM award

by Mary Woodsen

Peter CastronovoA few summers ago, Peter Castronovo had his ah-ha! moment at his department picnic when he noticed yellow jackets clustering around discarded cups of orange soda. As senior sanitarian at the University of Rochester, he was plagued each September during peak yellow jacket season with a rash of patrons being stung at the annual Clothesline Festival, held on the grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery. Could orange soda cut down on the number of people seeking medical help for serious stings?

It did, when placed in traps around the edges of the event.

It's this kind of innovation that has won Castronovo his Excellence in IPM Award from Cornell University's New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. IPM, or "integrated pest management," seeks least-toxic ways of dealing with pests.

"I'm very honored to be recognized by my peers. The average person can't always tell if you're really using IPM techniques, but your peers are your greatest critics," says Castronovo, a down to earth guy who considers himself first and foremost "a guardian of the environment."

Castronovo joined the university's Department of Environmental Health and Safety in 1985, where he manages the pest control and food safety programs. He's responsible for 11 million square feet on 450 acres used by 40,000 people a day. He cares for academic buildings, residence halls, libraries, a museum, animal research buildings, two hospitals, and medical office buildings. That's a lot of people dropping crumbs and a lot of potential pest problems.

But he's had great success. Since beginning a full IPM program in 1995, he's reduced the number of pests by 77 percent and costs by 30 percent. In 2002, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment recognized the IPM program at the university hospital with an award.

"In the early years, we used a good deal of liquid spray pesticides," says Castronovo. "But over time we learned there was a better and safer way to do things."

"Peter has reduced the university's annual use of 400 gallons of liquid pesticides in 1994 to less than 10 gallons currently," says Mark E. Cavanaugh, director of environmental health and safety at the University of Rochester. "He's constantly looking for safer and more efficient treatments."

When Castronovo's in-house pest control workers go into a kitchen with a problem, they don't just spray and leave. First they inspect and advise on fixing structural problems, like gaps under doors and removing piles of unused equipment. Then they focus on cleaning to make sure the kitchen isn't just feeding the pests. Finally, instead of poison sprays, they'll use baits and traps--which also help them monitor the population. It takes more time, but Castronovo finds that in the long run, it's healthier and saves money.

Castronovo notes that educating stakeholders is a big part of his job. "IPM is a process and it doesn't happen overnight. We're educating folks on how they can help themselves--but we're also enforcing when we have to. It really takes the whole university community for this thing to be successful."

"Peter is a leader in promoting safe structural pest management in sensitive environments," says Lynn Braband, IPM Extension Area Educator. "He shares his knowledge generously with others."

He also has a commitment to strengthening IPM, serving on New York State's Community IPM Coordinating Council for several years and also on the search committee for the director of the New York State IPM Program.

Castronovo is a strong advocate for IPM, saying "I encourage people to use IPM because it's safer, more effective in the long run, and you can save money. Sometimes it's not the easy way but it's the right way."

"Pete is a true leader in this area, with a passion for IPM," says Daniel G. Schied, who manages the grounds at the University of Rochester.

Castronovo will receive his award on March 19, 2008 at the New York State Pest Management Association meeting in Albany, N.Y.