By Herb Weisbaum
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/13/2006 8:32:09 PM ET 2006-03-14T01:32:09

Another e-mail warning is making the rounds. This one says homeowners need to be “very careful” about buying mulch this year because it could be infested with a little termite from the South.

According to this bogus e-mail, many of the trees blown down by Hurricane Katrina were turned into mulch, so Louisiana is trying to get rid of “tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away." The e-mail says big name stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s will be selling this mulch. “Formosan Termites,” it warns “will be the bonus in many of those bags."

Not true. In a written release, Bob Odom, Louisiana’s commissioner of agriculture and forestry says “someone is using the Internet to cause hysteria about a problem that doesn’t really exist."

Here are the facts. The Formosan subterranean termite is a genuine menace; it’s a serious problem in a dozen southern states. That’s why Louisiana imposed a quarantine, back in October, for all parishes affected by the hurricane. No wood cellulose material is allowed to be moved out of the quarantined areas until it's been fumigated or otherwise treated for Formosan termites and approved by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

You can read more about the quarantine on the LSU Web site.

Of course, there’s always the chance termites (or other pests) could hitch a ride in a batch of mulch. But because of the precautions being taken, “the risk of spreading the Formosan termite is no greater today than it was before Hurricane Katrina,” says Professor Dennis Ring, an entomologist at Louisiana State University.

Lowe’s and Home Depot are trying to reassure customers that there is nothing to worry about. Both companies issued written statements saying they only buy mulch that is certified by the Mulch and Soil Council, a trade organization which sets industry standards for inspection.

Home Depot says it “does not and will not sell mulch from termite-infested trees, nor does it utilize any mulch suppliers from the New Orleans area."

Lowe’s called the Internet mulch warning “false and misleading.” The chain says the mulch it sells comes from “known sources — not storm wood or blown down timber.” Lowe’s has posted signs in its stores telling customers that “No wood, timber or debris from the hurricane damaged areas of Louisiana are used in mulch products sold at any Lowe’s store."

To read more about this e-mail hoax go to snopes.com. This site, with the funny name, does a great job of tracking urban legends. It’s a good place to check out any mass e-mailing you get — before you forward it to all your friends. From past experience I can tell you, there is a very big chance it’s a hoax.

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