In some cities, the housing department inspects for bed bugs. In others, it’s public health. Toronto Public Health apparently has jurisdiction over inspections for bed bugs in the city.
Joe Fiorito of Toronto’s The Star spoke with Reg Ayre of Toronto Public Health about why that body can’t legally class bed bugs as a health “hazard”:
Ayre’s office is downtown. He is a good guy in a hard job. He got right to the point. “Can we talk about what a health hazard is?” Sure, why not?
“We’re talking about a legal definition, in terms of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. It has to be a condition that would affect everyone in the community.”
He said, “Bedbugs aren’t, under the act, a hazard. But Public Health considers that they are a concern.”
I suspect the concept of concern offers little comfort to the woman in social housing whose arm swelled from bites and who had an epileptic seizure after treatment.
Nor is concern any help to the man who was so bothered by bites that he washed his body with gasoline – and do not even think that is a good thing to do.
Nor does concern ease the pain of the father who had to bring his young son to the emergency room one day last November, because the boy’s bites were so bad.
Ayre said, “All the definition does is allow us to serve orders. But bedbugs is an issue where we don’t go the legal route.”
I cannot count the people I know who wish we could go the legal route. Because I think Toronto is Vancouver waiting to happen.
At least beautiful, bedbugged Vancouver has the motivation of the coming Olympics to spark a cleanup. Our motivation?
I think I understand TPH’s distinction between health hazards and health concerns. But is the assessment that bed bugs would not “affect everyone in the community” because they would never infest everyone at once? Or because some people will be bitten and show no reaction to bites (as many as 50%, some experts say)? Or because, unlike SARS, the effects would not be as dire in the vast majority of cases? (Some do die due to bed bug bites, but it appears to be a very rare to have such a serious allergic reaction.)
From where I sit in New York City, I’d love to have my own city’s officials even admit bed bugs were a health concern.
But Fiorito is correct that the problem needs to be classified in such a way that agencies take care of it. If public health agencies can’t “go the legal route” in fighting bed bugs, can housing departments? Some agency needs to have some muscle when it comes to eliminating this problem.