Riding the bed bug wave

by nobugsonme on April 10, 2007 · 18 comments

in bed bugs, diatomaceous earth

Riding the coattails of the San Francisco Chronicle story Sunday, lots of less thorough reports on the “mysterious” bed bug outbreaks. I love how, according to the press, some weeks it’s as if there are no bed bugs at all, and others, they’re a postmodern plague.

This from CBS 5 news in San Francisco and this ABC7 television segment from the DC metro area, are both fairly uninformative, though the ABC segment mentions how many, many people are recording their own bed bug videos and putting them on YouTube. Watch out, many of them are like watching pesticide sprays dry.

This brief article is still telling people to diagnose their bed bugs by their “musty” scent. Good luck, there, folks!

This doesn’t qualify as news, but the Rapture Ready Discussion Board members are ready to chalk up this bed bug epidemic as a sign of the End Times. Listen folks, no disrespect to anyone’s belief system, but bed bugs were all over this country until about 1939, when the Court of DDT was in session until about 1972, and they more or less stayed away 30 years or so when they were more or less wiped out and had to scrabble their way back. And that’s where we are now. Bed bugs, a problem since caveman Biblical times and before, never entirely left, they just were way under control. Now they’re way out of control.

Finally, this gem of an article is bound to worry our friend Lou Sorkin, AMNH entomologist and Bedbugger advisor. A plant pathologist at University of Missouri frequently identifies insects and plants that people send in. But he was shocked to open one box to find live bed bugs swarming around. Some college kid sent them in without making sure they were properly sealed. Imagine the fun that ensued.

1 Alex April 10, 2007 at 12:05 pm

You asked for info on the long-term impacts of Vikane.

You’ll find some info here: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/sulfuryl-fluoride-ext.html

As you’ll see, because Vikane is a gas — sulfuryl fluoride — it dissipates VERY quickly and, thus, poses no long term impacts for dwellers/residents. Even professionals exposed to traces are likely safe, as no long-term impacts were seen in animals exposed to sub-immediately-lethal concentrations for 6 months (between 5-150 ppm).

Mainly, this stuff is a VERY toxic (i.e. “acutely” toxic) gas that should be handled VERY carefully and with VERY professional equipment. It is dispensed as a super-chilled liquid that near-instantly is vaporized at room temp to the gas, that then seeps and diffuses into every nook and cranny of the home — thereby killing all respirating organisms inside the tented structure.

Also, after it disperses upon removal of the tent, it pretty quickly reacts with stuff in the environment and is rendered non-toxic. The chemistry is pretty straight forward and well understood — so there won’t be any DDT stories about Vikane in 20-30 years (and we’ve been using sulfuryl fluoride for 60 years, so they’d have shown themselves by now anyway.)

Hope this helps.

2 Bugalina April 10, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Alex…Do you work in the NY area ?..Is it possible to tent a POD ? I have contacted someone, who was very nice and helpful, but they said I have to transfer the contents of the POD into a steel floored UHaul Truck, so as the gas wouldn’t escape. I am not doubting what they said, but I would obviously prefer to just have the POD delivered to a spot and then have it tented. They said the POD floor isn’t sealed enough. I so appreciate any advice you may be willing to give me. I would love to have my POD treated asap. but if I have to transfer the goods, I must wait until Sept….thanking you in advance..Bugalina

3 Alex April 10, 2007 at 1:07 pm

No, I’m in VA and am not a professional exterminator (though I did live in a basement apartment of a world-class entomologist and termite expert!).

As an ag policy analyst, I am familiar with fumigating grains and other crops for export (to kill any pests that might be introduced into new lands via crop shipments, i.e. biosecurity).

Perhaps you can place a suitable barrier under your POD? Heck, you could use a simple hydraulic bottle jack to jack up one end, place a VERY heavy mil plastic sheeting under that end of the POD, set it back down and repeat on the other end — pulling the sheet from the middle to the second side. When you’re done, you’ll have a full plastic sheet barrier under the whole shebang and the exterminators can fold the edges of the tenting to that.

Seems simple. Call the guy back and ask him if that will pass muster.


4 nobugsonme April 10, 2007 at 1:38 pm

HI ALex and Bugalina,

Thanks Alex, that was very helpful.

I copies and moved those comments on Vikane to the Vikane post a few days ago:

I am leaving them here, but if anyone else responds–please continue on the Vikane thread. I just want to make sure people searching for it will be able to find it!

5 hopelessnomo April 10, 2007 at 2:18 pm

And this article advises using pool filter DE! I posted a comment but it’s now disappeared and the story hasn’t been corrected. Outrageous…

And yeah, bedbugs only feed at night pales in comparison to recommending pool-grade DE.

6 nobugsonme April 10, 2007 at 2:28 pm

That’s insane. I am glad they directed readers to us even though I did not know of the article. I too left a comment about pool grade DE. This is appalling.

7 Alex April 10, 2007 at 2:41 pm

So what is appalling about recommending diatomaceous earth? Because it is worthless against bedbugs?

8 nobugsonme April 10, 2007 at 2:44 pm

No Alex,
It’s because POOL Grade DE is harmful to humans. You should use food grade DE and/or food grade DE with pyrethroids added (obviously, handle with care).
I don’t agree that DE is worthless against bed bugs, but I also think it’s not something you can use on its own to eliminate bed bugs. It has more value as an addition to your arsenal and even as a long term preventative, for those whose bed bugs are gone.
I’ve now added a special message for the people of Tampa, since the article Nomo links has several other bits of misinformation.

9 Alex April 10, 2007 at 3:40 pm

After a bit of digging, the problem with pool filter DE is that it’s heated. This melts the little microscopic spines that make it such an effective abrasive against insect’s waxy cuticle, which lead to rapid drying out of the insect and death. Melt the spines and DE isn’t a very effective mechanical pesticide.

Also, the heating and chemical treatment of DE convert some of the silica to crystalline silica, which is a respiratory hazard — though only at occupational levels (i.e. sandblasters, miners, etc.)

So natural DE is far more effective against bugs and somewhat less toxic (respiratory) than food grade — but neither is the type of hazard to get overly worried about.

This, of course, does NOT include DE which has been infused with chemical pesticides, of which there are countless formulations and varieties.


The pool grade is chemically treated and partially melted and consequently contains crystalline silica which can be a respiratory hazard.

10 Bugalina April 10, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Alex…You are a big asset to this site. Thank you so much for your educated answers.

11 hopelessnomo April 10, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Actually, Alex, in the interest of serving readers who are desperate for solutions, I need to say that pool filter DE is certainly harmful–you could kill your pets with it.

Further, pool filter DE has no place in insect control because it doesn’t work to kill insects–the crystals are too large or something else to do with the heating process that renders it ineffective in killing insects but I’m too rushed to pin it down for you. Lou Sorkin wrote about this on the yahoo group and I’ll try to find it in a moment.

Pool filter is a definite no-no for anything but a pool. Under no circumstances. We have to stress this. Thank you!

12 Alex April 10, 2007 at 4:19 pm

Well, you’ll note I didn’t recommend using pool-grade DE because the heating renders it pretty useless as a mechanical abrasive — which is where DE gets its anti-insect properties. The mechanical mode of action of DE against insects (again, it scratches the waxy cuticle allowing rapid dehydration) is one reason why no insects have ever developed resistance to it like chemical pesticides.

As for pool-grade DE killing pets: please enlighten me/us. I’ve not found any evidence that the treatment process of DE to make it a “pool grade” filtration media makes it an ingestion toxin. What I’ve found indicates it is a respiratory hazard.

As a side note, there is also pharmaceutical-grade (or “medicine grade”) DE that is given to animals/humans to kill internal parasites. So DE by itself is pretty inert and harmless as an ingested substance.

13 hopelessnomo April 10, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Ingesting pool-grade DE will kill you and/or your pets. I will post the links when I have them.

14 Alex April 10, 2007 at 4:38 pm

hopelessnomo: I really think you’re mistaken. Either you confusing pool-filter DE with something else, or you’re confusing pesticide-infused DE with filter DE.

Here is a link to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for pool filter DE: http://www.inlandreno.com/pdf/m140000100.pdf

I obtained it from this link, showing it is indeed an MSDS for pool-filter DE: http://www.inlandreno.com/details.php?id=38

As you can read, pool-filter-grade DE is so NON-toxic that there is NO toxicity data given for any route of exposure. This means it is so non toxic that they couldn’t kill any test animals with it in lab experiments via feeding or other normal exposure route, let alone the death of 50% of test animals for the LD50 test listed (LD50 is shorthand for “Lethal Dose 50% of test population”).

The only toxicity they refer to is the inhalation/respiratory risk we already discussed. Crystalline silica is a lung irritant and leads to much the same cancer as does asbestos — both do this via mechanical irritation/rupture of the cells lining the lung. The constant damage and repair initiation (which requires transcribing DNA) inevitably leads to occasional translational infidelity (i.e. mutation) which can lead to cancer.

But I await your links and will defer if/when I stand corrected.

Thanks for a civil and very interesting thread, y’all.

15 Alex April 10, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Also, I must stress that the respiratory risk from the crystalline silica in DE (even pool-filter-grade) is from occupational exposures — not the incidental and occasional exposure you’ll get from use in your home as a crack and crevise pest weapon.

If you understand epidemiological lingo, you might find this link useful:http://oem.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/58/1/38

This paper from CDC researchers published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine notes that the cummulative lifetime risk of death from lung cancer for white male diatomaceous earth miners (exposed for 45 full years of 5 day per week, 9-5 exposure to current OSHS limit of 0.05 mg of cristobalite crystalline silica per cubic meter of air) is 19 per 1000 men, with a 95% confidence interval that in reality such deaths are between 5-46 deaths per 1000 (which is pretty large spread as far as confidence intervals go).

While this is by no means insignificant and the CDC folks argue it means the current OSHA limit is too lax for DE miners, it does show that the kind of exposures you or I will see in our homes are irrelevant to our health. At no time will your house air carry anywhere REMOTELY CLOSE to 0.05mg silica/cubic meter, let alone carry such levels for any significant period of time.

16 hopelessnomo April 10, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Hi Alex, it is quite possible that I am mistaken. Unfortunately, I have limited time for this research and so far can only come up with references to WHO’s warnings about the ingestion danger for humans and animals of diatomaceous earth with more than 3% crystalline silica content. Saltwater DE–which is what I understood pool-filter DE was made of–has quite a high percentage of crystalline silica content, close to 60% I think. You MSDS clearly indicates a less than 1% crystalline silica content, so it would appear that I am wrong. However, I see repeated warnings on livestock feed providers’ websites against pool-grade DE precisely for its ingestion danger to humans and animals–so maybe there are a lot of us who are mistaken.

Quickly, a couple of warnings:
From a manufacturer, from a natural pesticides purveyor, and from several other websites that all seem to be reading from the same WHO document that I cannot find.

Perhaps the problem lies in the difference between freshwater and saltwater DE and the varying crystalline silica content in the different varieties available commercially.

I also remember an account somewhere by a pet owner whose cat died from the wrong kind of DE, but that can be anything and not useful as evidence.

Still, my view is that the risk of pool filter DE should not be minimized with an offhand reference to its occupational respiratory hazard! I’ll try to come up with something better tomorrow.

Regrets for not being a more spirited sparring partner.


17 Alex April 10, 2007 at 8:48 pm

I understand. And crystalline silica is the issue, clearly, so if some stuff is REALLY high in it, than that’s a different issue. The crystals are tiny and fracture into tinier ones — pretty same as asbestos. Those tiny, sharp crystals get in there and just pop cells. Not good.


18 nobugsonme April 10, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Since Alex has pointed out that pool grade DE is not an effective way of killing bed bugs (due to the heat treatment, which freshwater food grade DE does not undergo), then the degree of danger it poses is not so much of an issue, though I appreciate the links being shared. I will (during my next burst of editing energy) correct the DE FAQ somehow to reflect that pool grade DE is ineffective for these purposes.

We’ve been told by a number of PCOs, entomologists, and DE distributors that pool grade DE is dangerous and not to use it (perhaps they also had its ineffectiveness in mind) and that we should use freshwater food grade DE.

The only dangers I was aware of from pool grade DE were respiratory, and we do remind people often that freshwater DE also should not be inhaled, and D-20 or drione (freshwater/food grade DE PLUS pyrethroids) is obviously something to be careful with. One person at least complained of an unpleasant experience with drione.

Alex, from what I understand, freshwater/food grade DE is the same stuff taken internally by people and pets. It’s in lots of foodstuffs. It may be the same as the Pharma. grade you mentioned. I appreciate all of your input, ane we are unbiased in the sense that we’ll chance our instructions and FAQs if we have good evidence pointing us towards doing so.

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