Gainesville Regional Utilities tested free samples of Sniff'n'Stop before buying cubes of the odorant for about $6 each. Photo: ICORP-IFOAM Specialty Products Corp.

Gainesville Regional Utilities Energy Services Supervisor Solon Bellot and his crews are on the front line of a huge conflict with Mother Nature. Squirrels, lizards, snakes, bats, birds, spiders, fire ants, wasps, and bees infiltrate cracks and crevices at any and all points from the ground to the head of 30,000 streetlights, shorting connections and startling technicians suspended 10, 20, and 30 feet from the ground.

“It's not fun when you drop the lid down on that light head and here they come,” says Kevin Walker, one of the utility's employees. “There's nowhere to run in that little bucket.”

Owned by the city of Gainesville, the utility provides electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications services to 90,000 retail and wholesale customers, making it Florida's most comprehensive utility. Fixtures should last five to six years before needing maintenance, but maintenance cycles in areas with dense foliage are significantly shorter. The desire to extend service life prompted a two-year field evaluation of an environmentally sensitive weapon in the war against pests.

Crews inserted 2-inch sponges coated with a nontoxic odorant into the end of the tubular mounting arm that attaches to the head on fixtures in trouble areas. The vinylized epoxy coating is odorless to humans but repulses birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles, discouraging them from taking up residence in electrical and communications equipment. Die cuts in the sponge allow it to be fitted around wires, making it quick and easy to install.

The greatest challenge for manufacturers of pest deterrents has been maintaining effective levels over time. The manufacturer of Sniff'n'Stop patented a process to store and time-release the odorant from tiny capsules about the size of a grain of sand. By mixing the granules into weatherproof pastes and paints, the odorant can be spread, pasted, or painted on any surface including steel, wood, concrete, and plastic. Variations of the semirigid putty have lasted more than 10 years in extreme climates throughout the United States, according to Phil Landers, president of the product's manufacturer, ICORP-IFOAM Specialty Products Corp., Sanford, Fla.

The material used for the sponge is the same polyurethane foam commonly used in furniture padding, and the vinylized epoxy coating is safe to handle without protective clothing or masks. “There are more toxins in a typical newspaper,” Landers says.

“I placed it in a light that I'd replaced late last year, in an area where nearly every light is chewed,” Walker says. “Where I expected to find squirrel damage, there wasn't even a bug in there. You could eat off the inside of the globe that we put in there, it was so clean.”

“It's working so well that we haven't had to return to the lights treated with it,” says Bellot. “It's much less expensive than replacing lights and repairing other damage caused by the critters. Based on what we've seen so far, this product is going to provide a cost-effective solution to wildlife problems.”

He plans to continue to deploy the sponge in every light where maintenance issues arise as a result of wildlife damage.

— Bob Green is a freelance writer specializing in utility construction articles.