Admiral Pest Control Evolves: Termite Fumigation Then and Now

Change comes in many forms. Even though Admiral Pest Control has been around for 65 years, making it one of the longest-running family-owned businesses in the Southland, not many people realize that it’s also been an active part of the evolution of pest control. Fifty years ago Earl Jones and his wife Betty had just taken over as the owner/operators of Admiral Pest Control, from Betty’s parents Walter and Lora Lance (who were the business’s founders). Young and eager to learn more about the pest control business, Earl listened intently one day as a Dow Chemical sales representative told him about a new fumigant that Dow was working on called Vikane.  It was apparent from their spirited discussion that Earl was very interested in the possible benefits of this new product. As a result, Dow invited Earl to be part of an introductory meeting to learn more (and give input on) Vikane.

Fumigation Then

Up until that point the chemicals methyl bromide and cyanide were used in the pest control industry. Even though these fumigants did the trick, they often left lingering odors after treatments that homeowners complained were sometimes so bad they couldn’t stand to be in certain rooms because of the smell. Plus, some people worried about the safety of having a chemical like cyanide in their homes.

Obviously, this was not the best of circumstances for Earl, since his primary concern was peace-of-mind and the well-being of his customers. So when Earl learned there was an odor-free, potentially safer fumigant alternative for the future, he jumped at the chance to learn more about it.

Earl recalls his introductory Vikane meeting with Dow, “There were about 75 of us sitting on bags in a warehouse watching them demonstrate the gas. I laugh when I think about it. Basically, they were saying to us there’s nothing that will react to it.”

This is particularly funny to Earl in retrospect because after he agreed to try out Vikane, it DID cause an unexpected reaction in the kitchen of one customer’s home. “The stainless steel sink turned as black as the ace of spades,” laughs Earl. “I called Dow and they said Vikane wouldn’t turn stainless steel black. Then they called back a little while later and said, ‘Yeah…turns out it can do that.’ When you test these things in a controlled atmosphere, it’s a lot different than the real world. It was a learning process for everyone.” In the end both Dow and Admiral Pest Control split the cost of a new sink for the customer.

Fumigation Now

Earl maintains that there isn’t a fumigation company today that doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Dow for putting the research dollars into coming up with Vikane, which turned out to be the next generation in fumigants. It’s lack of odor allowed people to get back into their homes after treatments without enduring the nauseating smells the old fumigants left behind. Plus, it’s much gentler on the environment, unlike methyl bromide. Unfortunately, it has since been discovered that methyl bromide has damaging effects on the ozone layer, which were unknown when it was used as a fumigant fifty-plus years ago.

Another change in fumigants came with the introduction of chloropicrin. This treatment was also safer on the environment, but the gas in the home had to be turned off by the gas company before it could be used. “It was a hassle [to have to coordinate with the gas company],” says Earl, “but it turned out to be good, because then we weren’t responsible if the water heater or furnace didn’t work after the gas company turned the gas back on.”

Earl retired from Admiral Pest Control in 1996, leaving the business jointly in the hands of his two sons, Jeff and Brian Jones, who still run the company today. But since Earl was so actively involved with the evolution of fumigation, does he think the pest control industry is heading in the right direction, especially in terms of protecting the environment?

“Yes, these changes are good,” agrees Earl, “but I’ve found that a home is the most important possession people have. If you do the job right [by choosing the right products], and have the right attitude, it will work out [for everyone involved].”

Earl sums up the differences between fumigation then and now with a quote near and dear to his heart. “My mom told me when I was little, ‘This world is changing everyday whether you change with it or not.’” There’s a lot of truth to that, in business, life, and even fumigants.