Borer Beware

Reporter: Andrea Burns

It's about the size of your thumbnail, and could cause 6 billion dollars damage to the building industry - and the only warning you'll get before your roof falls in, is this. A clicking sound similar to the crackling of rice bubles that's the sound of the european house borer making a meal of wood holding up your ceiling.

"the whole country's taking this very seriously" John Van Schagen heads the european house borer response unit - a seek and destroy taskforce eradicating this pest from WA. "it's a nationally funded programme cos the other states see it as a threat to their housing industry as well"

It's likely the borer was brought to Australia in imported wood in the 1950's. With many homes on the east coast constructed using pine, getting rid of the pest took 10 years; "and so because it leaves no sign of its presence the european house borer is the most difficult of all wood borers to detect"

Until recently, WA was borer free because jarrah, not pine was our preferred building material. But now the first invader in a ceiling was discovered in a house in Brigadoon.

John says "up until now, we've found them in pine trees, in dead parts of live pine trees and in some cases in furniture, but in this instance, it's really the first case where it's attacked structural timbers in a house." The damage they dThis is the damage that has been done and you can see all the dust and the fress of the larvae and you can also see some tunnelling here"

- this is what the ceiling could have looked like, in time.

"once you get to this stage, a piece of timber like this becomes very unsound mmm" fumigating the house will cost up to one hundred thousand dollars. "he's come down with this little beetle and said james, i think i've found a borer up there"

One dead bug discovered during a routine termite inspection. Was all it took for james ragan to know how close he came to being wa's next ehb victim. It was only because james works at a pest control company that he knew what he was looking at. "it can do significant structural damage. The worse case scenario is your roof falling in"

European house borers have been found in suburbs from bullsbrook to sawyers valley to karnup, houses near pine plantatations face the greatest risks. When these pine plantations were first established, this land was on the outskirts of perth. Now suburbia's spread - and in some cases, new homes are going up just across the road from plantations where the borer is living.

James and wife kylie built about a kilometre from the gnangara pine plantation. They had thjeir pine treated but they say their builder didn't offer that option, and should have. James says "but i do worry if i didn't have that knowledge it's not something i would have asked for or even know to ask for."

John says "in areas where the house borer occurs, we recommend if people are going to use timber in the construction of their home, they use treated timbers...Don't panic. I don't think you need to rush into the decision of using a treated timber" john dastlik from the housing industry association says enforcing the use of treated timber is unnecessary. "we've had one infestation in structural timbers in 140 000 homes, even if it was 2, it's still a very small percentage of homes" The hia fears using treated timbers would increase the cost of a new house by up to five thousand dollars. John says "at the end of the day, the client would be the one that bears the cost"

"we don't want to see panic clearing, we don't want to see over use of toxic chemicals" greens' mp scott ludlum green questions the use of mandatory treatment. "i do think we have some of the technologies adn techniques we're going to need to work out how to eradicate this little thing" Like humans have distinctive speech patterns, european borers have specific eating patterns that computers can identify. Eventually, a thousand of these devices will be dotted in danger areas, data fed back to the response team to action. Traps are also laid.

"we put these pine logs out and the idea is if any beetles remain in the area, that's the bait? That the bait for them. It's like a sentinal trap" the wa agriculture department has established a quarantine centre, researchers are also working on kit to identify borers without the need for dna testing. To keep perth's newest suburbs safe, the bug will need to be wiped out over the next six years. John says "it's just a matter of finding every last beetle but we believe we can do it"

For more information about the European House Borer go to : www.ehb.wa.gov.au or by calling the Freecall Hotline on 1800 084 881

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