Nontoxic avenger

After 15 years as an exterminator, Steve Tvedten was nearly finished himself.

“I was dying from exposure to pesticides,” he says of his condition around 1981.

He credits intensive “detoxification” treatments with saving his life and reviving what he described as rapidly deteriorating mental faculties.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t even count out change,” says Tvedten, a resident of Marne, a small town in Ottawa County.

After running his own exterminating company, he’s now an evangelist for nontoxic pest control.

“It’s been a war,” Tvedten, 60, says about his efforts to battle the powerful chemical industry. He claims to be the only exterminator ever indicted for refusing to use mandatory amounts of the pesticide chlordane, a chemical taken from the market in 1988 because of its toxicity.

Stories of pesticide poisonings from around the world are posted on one of the Web sites he created (; the site also makes clear there are far-flung pockets of concern about the hazards of pesticides. Tvedten says he often gets several calls a day from people who think they’re suffering from pesticide exposure and want help. “They come to me out of desperation.”

He insists that, along with being dangerous, chemical pesticides are ineffective.

“If they worked,” he says, “the pests wouldn’t keep coming back. What happens is that the pests build up an immunity.”

What works better, he contends, is a combination of nontoxic substances and common sense. Take carpenter ants, for example.

“Say you find them in the hollow of a tree next to your house,” he explains. “Instead of spraying that tree with a poison, you can use foam insulation.” Then you look for where the ants are entering the house, and block the space. Something as simple as smearing petroleum jelly around an area will do the trick. “I’ve never seen an ant try to walk across Vaseline,” says Tvedten. Sprinkling talcum powder around a nest will kill the ants by clogging the pores through which they breathe. A simple trap made of honey and borax will also kill them.

Although he sells a CD-ROM containing more than 2,000 nontoxic pest control techniques, Tvedten says he is ready to offer a book disclosing much of that information for free; The Bug Stops Here should be available in about two weeks at

“The pesticide industry has done a magnificent job of keeping everybody uninformed,” says Tvedten. “I’m trying to change that.”

Read Curt Guyette's related stories in this edition:
"Sprayed away" – Did calling in an exterminator put Angela Essenmacher's health and home at risk?
"Poisoning primer" – Environmental toxicologist Dr. Michael Harbut offers pointers to those who suspect toxic exposure.
"Home, toxic home" – Heidi DeBoer and her family won a court judgment for the pesticide poisoning they experienced in 1995; but they're still suffering from medical problems to this day.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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