The lead story in the “News” section of today’s New York Daily News is on bed bugs. That’s good: it’s always good to see bed bugs in the news.
It’s not a particularly helpful story, however.
For starters, there are inaccuracies. Let’s start with this caption below a photo of an adult bed bug:
Unfed bugs are 1/4 to 3/4 inch long. They are brown or red-brown in color…
They are never 3/4 inches long. Bed bugs, fed or unfed, range from 1/32 to 1/6 inch long. After hatching from the egg, they have 5 nymphal stages and one adult stage. Unfed bed bug nymphs (first instars that have never eaten) are clear in color. Fed bed bugs can be anywhere from red to rust to brown in color.
(Editor’s note, the error was made less egregious: by late Sunday night, it said “Unfed bugs are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.” This is still inaccurate, however.)
This matters because people considering whether they might have bed bugs need to know the correct size, and that unfed nymphs are translucent, not red or brown.
Also, the “do’s and don’ts” suggests people “bag books, papers, most loose objects, and contents of closets so exterminators have access to all cracks and crevices in the home.”
This is not good advice in and of itself. If you bag up everything in your home, or discard it (for that matter), before a Pest Control Operator (PCO) has inspected and verified the presence of bed bugs, then it may be very difficult for them to diagnose your problem. You may end up with all your stuff in bags and PCOs telling you you don’t have bed bugs. And they may be wrong.
What’s more, simply bagging stuff that contains bed bugs or their eggs means you have bags full of bed bugs. What are you going to do with that, now?
Your PCO may advice you to carefully inspect and clean and bag items, for a time during treatment. Make sure you do so only after the problem has been identified by the PCO, and after the PCO has told you when you will be removing stuff from those bags. The answers on that seem to vary. Reading this FAQ might help you be prepared to discuss the issue with your PCO.
One interesting tidbit was an update of the previous data from HPD on bed bug complaints and violations.
The numbers are off the charts: In 2004, New Yorkers placed 537 calls to 311 about bedbugs in their homes; the city slapped 82 landlords with bedbug violations, data show.
In the fiscal year that ended in June, 6,889 infestation complaints were logged and 2,008 building owners were hit with summonses.
They must get rid of the pests within 30 days or face possible action in Housing Court, the city Department of Housing, Preservation & Development says.
This would be for fiscal year July 2006-June 2007. You’ll recall that approximately 1/3 fewer complaints were logged by 311 the prior fiscal year, and less than half as many were declared actual bed bug cases.
But these numbers are misleading because they only represent cases where those with bed bugs were tenants in city apartments and called 311 to report their bed bugs. As I have been saying for more than a year, most people do not do this. Out of a hundred tenants in NYC with bed bugs, I’d be surprised if more than one or two called 311. Most people don’t even realize this is an option–they know from past experience that pest complaints are directed at landlords. Moreover, those who do know, more often than not, choose not to call, because they’d rather work through the landlord if possible, rather than file a housing complaint and risk alientating the landlord. (This is often the last resort.)
The numbers are also misleading because they don’t include public housing, which logged, “1,708 verified bedbug cases in 277 public housing projects this year, the city Housing Authority says.”
The numbers also do not include statistics for those who own co-operative apartments, condos, or other housing.
The statistics offered on bed bugs in the schools (50 schools suffered a total of 74 bed bug “cases”) don’t line up with data the same newspaper shared back in February 2007, when the same newspaper reported that 43 schools had identified a total of 95 live bed bugs. (The story is gone, so you will have to read about it here.) Though it’s interesting to know that only an additional 7 schools have discovered bed bugs in the last ten months, it seems they must be defining “bed bug case” differently now than then, to have gone from 95 “bugs” to 74 “cases”.
Any statistics from the schools are skewered, however, since teachers have to see, catch, and mail away a bed bug for verification before the presence of a bed bug in the classroom will be registered. And while this may seem reasonable, anyone here will tell you you can be bitten badly and for a very long time before you ever see one. A lone teacher in a busy NYC classroom has slim chance of finding a bed bug on a student. Shall we assume, then, there are more?
Perhaps the most intriguing story in the article was that of Bernard Spitzer’s apartment building. We’re told,
[Bed bugs] even contaminated five or six apartments in the swanky rental tower at 220 E. 72nd St. owned by Bernard Spitzer, the governor’s 83-year-old father.
Several tenants described a persistent, if intermittent, infestation on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors.
A few infested floors, midway up a high-rise: nothing unusual there. But wait:
Spitzer’s 28-story building sits atop the six-story home of Marymount Manhattan College, which discovered seven infestations in two residence halls. The problem was under control by October, a spokeswoman said.
Marymount Manhattan has three residences for students, none of which are in this building. It does cause one to wonder whether there is any connection between the incidents on the 15th-17th floors and in the homes of some of those who spend part of their time in the first six floors.
We also get an update on the city’s “response” to bed bugs:
City officials say HPD inspectors are increasing enforcement as complaints mushroom and the Health Department is handling education and prevention efforts. It’s not more actively involved because its focus is on disease-spreading pests, officials said.
“That’s not good enough,” said City Councilman Gale Brewer (D-upper West Side.) “It’s great that we’re not smoking as much, and great that we’re not eating trans fats, but we need to focus on bedbugs in the same aggressive manner.”
Brewer wants to create a Bedbug Task Force and bar the sale of reconditioned mattresses, which the Bloomberg administration opposes because it “would adversely impact lower-income New Yorkers,” a mayoral spokesman said.
I love Brewer’s comments about smoking and trans fats, both of which are banned from local restaurants. Bed bugs are not.
Brewer first went down this Bed Bug Task Force/resales of mattresses road in the fall of 2006, but we haven’t really seen any results yet from these initiatives.
All in all, the city’s response is very ostrich-like. Let’s compare with other cities in the US: San Francisco has guidelines for dealing with bed bugs in apartment buildings, hotels, and other locations, as does the state of California. Lexington, KY and Cincinnati, Ohio health departments (yes, health departments, Mr. Bloomberg) have both declared war on bed bugs.
Lexington tells residents to call the health department if they think they have bed bugs.
Cincinnati has a hotline just for bed bug information. They also have dedicated bed bug trash pickup for discarded furniture. We think encouraging residents to throw furniture away, rather than helping them pay for treatment, is misguided. But Cincinnati is trying. They think education is key. Hear that, Mr. Bloomberg?
San Francisco City Supervisor Chris Daly got $63,000 in this year’s budget to help low-income residents pay for laundry and freezing of possessions. San Francisco politicians listened to SRO activists who told them this money was needed. Because poor people seriously can’t afford to do the necessary tenant’s part of bed bug treatment.
And let me be clear: not one of these localities is doing enough to combat bed bugs. None of them, not by a long shot. Much more help is needed, especially laws about disclosure of infestations, tracking of infestations by government agencies (so someone is actually paying attention to where bed bugs are spreading), and financial assistance to landlords, homeowners, and tenants who are having trouble paying for preparations and effective treatment. Bringing back some of the recently outlawed, more effective pesticides for targeted bed bug use would go a long way (and no, I do not mean DDT).
Meanwhile, NYC is doing none of this. The NYC Department of Education has deployed “bed bug kits” to schools. Their website claims:
Schools are not an ideal location for bed bugs to reproduce, because they are nocturnal insects that require feeding prior to reproduction; but in the event that bedbugs do show up in our schools, the DOE’s Pest Management Unit is providing a Bed Bug Kit to deal with specimens.
This is erroneous information. Bed bugs are nocturnal if food is available at night, pure and simple. Transplanted to schools, they will bite, reproduce, and thrive. This is an example of wishful thinking, which seems to be the backbone of NYC’s bed bug policy.
NYC does not even tell tenants to call 311 about bed bugs, unless they wade through the HPD website looking for this directive.
And yet bases its assessment of the severity of the problem on those calls.
If you have trouble with the article link at top, try this one.