Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher has some progressive ideas about bed bugs

by nobugsonme on January 6, 2008 · 1 comment

in bed bug dogs, bed bug task force, bed bugs, bed bugs and health, boston, canada, cincinnati, health department, laundry, london, new york city, ontario, san francisco, toronto, vancouver

Jennifer Brown of The Star reports that Toronto politician Paula Fletcher is agitated about bed bugs–and trying to do something about them.

She wants the health department to investigate whether they’re a health hazard:

Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) has received so many calls from constituents she’s asked the health department to declare them a health hazard. Last month, Fletcher met with Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. It was decided the Board of Health would issue a report in February on what should be done about bedbugs in the city and whether they should be declared a health hazard.

Here’s a hint, Toronto: stress, anxiety, loss of sleep, are all health issues. You need look no further. Something more sinister is clearly a possibility, but these other concerns are not to be taken lightly.

Next, Fletcher wants people to talk about how to get rid of bed bugs, and prevent their spread:

In the meantime, says Fletcher, “We will have a bedbug summit with all the people who are interested in and involved in this issue.” Fletcher is advocating the city address the problem with education, not enforcement.

“Some people said they were living beside a house and the bugs were travelling from the house or apartment next door,” she said. “I’d like to see a focus on what needs to change in terms of behaviours; what do you need to do to stop bringing them in and what do you need to do to get rid of the bedbugs.”

This is all familiar ground for us.

Fletcher seems a bit distracted by the idea that bed bugs primarily affect a certain region of Toronto:

The bedbug problem seems to be concentrated in areas south of Bloor Street, says Fletcher.

“They might be north of Bloor, but the infestations and pockets are definitely south of Bloor. Right now tracking them is not a requirement but that’s one thing we’re looking at is how are we going to track and where are we finding them?”

While they may be more common in certain neighborhoods (and certainly spread more easily to those next door than to those across town), they will spread anywhere, and are certainly moving in all directions. And not just from neighbor to neighbor, but to workplaces, co-workers, people who frequent the same gyms, doctors, schools, and shops. Public transportation is likely to be affected. (David Cain tells stories of encountering this situation in London.)
Fletcher mentions the concern of people bringing in used furniture, and getting them to not do so is a public education issue. But her ideas about eradication methods are quite progressive:

“Sometimes people are bringing bedbugs into a whole building inadvertently and they are travelling unit-to-unit. I’d like to see a model where there are teams of people who go into a building to assist and not simply spraying, but cleaning, washing, getting rid of them and then when the spraying happens, you have a better chance to eradicate them.”

The article also quotes PCO and bed bug dog handler Michael Goldman of Purity Pest Control, who claims that “most hotels” have bed bugs, at least in one room. This is a far cry from the claims made by other companies.

The article also concerns itself with the need for notification of other tenants when bed bugs are found in a building.

Unlike schools that send home letters when lice are found in a school, superintendents rarely post a notice saying bedbugs were a problem in a unit, says Fletcher.

Finally, there’s a nod to Vancouver, which has some of the more progressive bed bug-fighting protocols in place (though we rarely get details of them).

Vancouver has launched one of the best pilot projects in its downtown east side as the city prepares for the 2010 Winter Olympics. “They’re vigorously trying to figure out what to do with bedbugs and they have a program set up but it’s very labour-intensive.”

The Vancouver pilot included tenant and landlord education, public education workshops, pest control and development of a health and safety protocol.

I hope politicians in New York City and other US cities with bed bugs (from Boston to Cincinnati) will take note, and that they’ll trade notes with their counterparts in other cities, from San Francisco to Toronto and Vancouver.

The number one complaint I’ve heard now from professionals (entomologists and PCOs) in several cities is that their local politicians will not listen to those with bed bug experience. This is a grave mistake.

Though it is not explicitly mentioned here, it’s clear Paula Fletcher is listening.

However, there was one small problem. This:

“The chemical approach isn’t necessarily the only way or best way to go. It’s one piece of a bigger puzzle,” says Fletcher, who would like the city to help people control bedbugs. “What people have to learn is that to control bedbugs they must become good at cleaning their bedding. People have to be taught how to do that.”

People do not get bed bugs, nor do bed bugs persist, because people do not know how to clean their bedding.

Reminds me of  when the chief medical health officer in Vancouver, John Blatherwick, implied bed bugs were spreading in Vancouver due to hanky panky in downtown eastside hotels.  Doing or not doing “naughty things” had no bearing on the spread of bed bugs.  What is it with politicians and their weird ideas?

Read the rest of the article here.

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1 charles dolwin March 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It’s good that Councilor Fletcher has drawn attention to the bed bug issue. It was a bit of a sleeper before she put it on front pages though for those in the know, we knew it was spreading and fast.
the issue of “health hazard” is one of legal definitions. Under the Ontario Health Promotion and Protection Act, bed bugs are clearly not a “health hazard” any more than a cut finger is a health hazard, or a bee sting, though each of these could be more serious in particular individuals, and so bed bugs can pose risks and stress, but under the Act the term “health hazard” is reserved for such things a epidemic diseases as typhus, or SARS or West Nile Virus or Polio as it was in the 50’s. Reg Ayre is quite right calling it a “health concern” .. but the terminology takes nothing away from the urgency of the issue. Everyone is scrambling to do things right to stop the problem, but it will take a process of co-operation that must be entrenched in both education and in regulation. Without education, the continuing stigma and misinformation is ongoing, and without regulation the blame game never stops.
The education must clearly educate individuals on how to protect themselves and what things they should be doing to stop infestation from being brought into their homes and what to do if they have it in their homes and the regulation must define responsibiities of all involved, tenants and landlords, municipal regulators includintg public health as a resource. When all those who are accountable start to work together more from a focus of solving the problem than blaming , then the problem will get solved. It is going to take a lot of work, and care, because it easily goes to temporary overkill with loads of spraying of inseciticdes for short term control, and this is happening…… rather than sustainable programs.. For the sustainable programs to happen, ALL stakeholders must understand their roles.. and there must be funding to help those who cannot help themselves and this takes management in the classic IPM model… few understand what IPM really means. Hopefully this will change but likely not without a lot of unnecessary overkill by excessive spraying before those in charge finally start to see how IPM works, and that it requires some knowledge .. more than just saying.,.,. let’s spray the whole building or every unit around an infested unit…
the latter may be necessary in some cases, but perhaps not in all or even most cases. That remains to be seen..
if that is the case, then there is going to be an awful lot of spraying going on for the forseeable future.. Let’s hope not..

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