Bed bugs in the New York subway, going viral

by nobugsonme on May 8, 2008 · 16 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs in the media, new york, new york city

Housing and Preservation Department Educator Edward Brownbear told those in attendance at the Greenpoint HPD Bed Bug Seminar on Tuesday night that bed bugs had been found on benches at a number of different subway stations.

Miss Heather and Renee of New York vs. Bed bugs both blogged about that terrifying (but as to be expected) situation.

Now Pete Donoghue of the Daily News has picked up the story via Miss Heather:

Brownbear cited three stations where he believed bedbugs had, at least temporarily, bedded down: Hoyt-Schermerhorn, Union Square in Manhattan and Fordham Road in the Bronx.

A housing preservation and development spokesman cautioned that Brownbear, while more knowledgeable about bedbugs than the average person, is not a trained scientist or inspector.

NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said the agency would check out the three hubs.

Brownbear may not be a trained inspector, but he had bed bugs in his home for five months. He is probably more qualified than many in the HPD to identify a scurrying bed bug.

I am concerned that they are only going to look at those three hubs. NYC Transit employees should be taught to search for bed bugs, and doing so should be a routine occurrence in all trains and at all stations.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign quipped: “Bedbugs on subway benches! Yet another reason not to fall asleep waiting for a train.”

The New York Post declares understatedly that “Bed Bugs Lurk Under Subway.”
If they were under the subway, however, we would not have to worry. The problem is, they are in the subway:

Sharis Lugo, 20, of Brooklyn leaped off a bench at the Union Square station when she heard the news, saying, “Ewww! That’s nasty . . . They’ve got to take these benches out of here!”

Now that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Why not get rid of the bed bugs instead?

It is possible, you know. But the first step is admitting we have a problem.

And Fox News shares videos of grossed out subway passengers (though Fox claims this footage represents passengers’ response to this news, this footage could have been stock “the subway is dirty” soundbites– bed bugs were not mentioned).

Perhaps in all the hysteria, New Yorkers will be reminded that we have politicians, we can demand they take action, and right now, the best way to channel that desire is to throw in your lot with New York vs. Bed Bugs. It only takes two minutes to make a difference.

The New York Post asks people on NYC subway benches about bed bugs in NYC subway benches:

More from Gawker.

The U.S. News Health column also picked this up: Bed Bug Infestations Continue.

So did United Press International, the AMNY Subway Tracker, Subway Blogger (imagne a whole blog about the NYC subways! How bizarre! Just kidding, folks), Wall Street Journal blog Buzzwatch, and Gadling.

1 Winston O. Buggy May 8, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Hearsay to say the least. I love the suggestions
eliminate all seating- that sounds great, wash with Clorox – ok but what about the bed bugs,
change to metal and plastic- works well at home NOT. How about reducing the most probable source or would that not be PC. Personally I would be more concerned with black car/taxi rides.

2 nobugsonme May 8, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Hi Winston!

Thanks for your comment.

The Daily News said:

“Edward Brownbear, an education instructor with the department, said he once saw bedbugs on a woman at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station – and on the bench where she had been sitting moments earlier – according to Heather Letzkus, 37, who wrote about it on her Greenpoint blog.”

It may be the case that he misidentified the bug he saw, though I would be more inclined to trust the identification skills of someone who had had a long battle with them at home (as he had) and who had presumably seen them up close.

I am not sure what his source was for saying other stations were infested — whether it was something he’d seen, or whether it was some kind of insider knowledge, or gossip.

It may not be true. However, it makes sense that at least some of the old wooden benches that populate our city’s subways would be infested by now, just like some of our elementary school classroom desks, restaurant sofas, and legal offices.

Oh, and yes–when anonymous entomologist/PCOs tell me to worry about bed bugs in car services and taxis, I worry. Boy do I worry.

3 Renee May 8, 2008 at 4:46 pm

I believe him. I listened to Ed Brownbear’s story of seeing bedbugs on a woman at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station and frankly he, quite literally, saved her from taking them home.

4 nobugsonme May 8, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Thanks Renee. It does sound convincing.

5 paulaw0919 May 9, 2008 at 11:16 am

Today on Fox5…It great that knowing what to look for, being vigilant, talking to neighbors and reporting a problem was mentioned. Thanks Lou.

Editor’s note: Thanks Paula. This got into the spam filter by mistake.

6 nobugsonme May 9, 2008 at 2:38 pm

More updates:

Lou Sorkin interviewed on WNYC:

[REPORTER:] Lou Sorkin, an insect expert at the American Museum of Natural History, says people unknowingly bring bedbugs with them from home into public. But, he says the subway isn’t the most likely place they’d turn up.

SORKIN: The theater and an office would have a higher priority of bedbug infestation than a subway bench or even park bench. It depends maybe on the geographic location of that particular subway bench or park bench.

REPORTER: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says its pest experts are focused mainly on rats, not insects, but that subway platforms, benches and stairs are regularly power-washed with hot water and detergent. How often depends on how much traffic they receive.

If nothing else, this is a good opportunity for people to learn more about bed bugs and how they spread. Thanks Lou!

7 nobugsonme May 9, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Jeff Eisenberg of Pest Away is also quoted in this ABC news story:

But though Seaton added that there have been no similar complaints from subway customers in the past, at least one Manhattan pest control professional said bedbug infestation has been a growing problem on the city’s subway system.

“I’ve been talking about it for five years,” said Jeffrey Eisenberg, president of Pest Away Exterminating.

Eisenberg said he personally reported bedbug sightings to subway administrators as long as seven to eight years ago.

“I have seen bedbugs firsthand on the subway,” he said. “I called the [Metropolitan Transit Authority], and they said they were looking into it. … They didn’t do anything about it.”

Cindy Mannes of the National Pest Management Association is also asked about the possibility of bed bugs in the NYC subway:

Cindy Mannes, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, said her organization has not received any such reports.

“I have not heard of anything relating to bedbugs in the subways of New York City or anywhere else,” Mannes said.

She added that such infestations could be possible, especially considering the steady human traffic in such facilities.

“If you think about large groups of people, in many cases this is how bedbugs are transported,” she said. “I know they’ve been found in movie theaters and other strange places. I know of nothing specific to any subway station, but if there’s upholstery anywhere, they can live in it.”

Despite a shortage of upholstered surfaces in most subway trains, Eisenberg said bedbugs, much like humans, can use trains to move from place to place.

“Subways don’t have a lot of [upholstery], which I think is their saving grace,” he said. “But buses do have upholstery, so that is a problem.”

8 nobugsonme May 9, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Lou Sorkin was also on Fox News this morning talking about bed bugs and how they travel.

9 Renee May 9, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Check this out, Nobugs: the Times gets in on the subway story, talks with Potter, and links to bedbugger:

Sorry, Renee! Your comment went into the spam filter too. Like Paula’s, I discovered this after linking to the article you mention. Not sure what’s going on with Akismet today.

10 Winston O. Buggy May 9, 2008 at 5:33 pm

I’m going with Lou and info from contacts in the underground. The odds of bed bugs on subways is
low. A transient always possible but a reliable food source and a safe haven on a platform in which to raise a family I think not. For those who have been seeing them for years on the trains I would ask where especially since they are somewhat secretive in their habits.

11 nobugsonme May 9, 2008 at 7:55 pm

The New York Times CityRoom has now also jumped in, asking not so much whether they’re there right now, but whether it can happen.

Winston, it looks like Michael Potter is also with you and Lou:

Dr. Potter said: “In other areas of the world where bedbugs are also a big problem, like India, there have been reports of massive problems of bedbugs on trains and on benches. I’ve heard from some pest control companies that work in India, that you have to be careful on which benches you sit in. There have been reports of bedbugs in trains in Europe.”

And it isn’t just a matter of watching where you sit in subway stations. “They used to be extremely common in movie theaters,” he said. (Netflix suddenly seems more appealing.)

The bedbugs hitchhike on people, in part because humans are a source of food. “They have to feed on blood,” Dr. Potter said, “so they are waiting for another blood meal to come along. If bedbugs are sitting on a park bench, or a subway bench, they will just wait for their next meal.”

And they are very patient. “Bedbugs can persist a long time between meals,” Dr. Potter said. “They’ll just hunker down. Studies show that bedbugs can live many many months, a year, perhaps longer without feeding.”

Suddenly, the chaotic image of panicked New Yorkers and a paralyzed transit system must have popped into his head, because he interrupted himself and said, “This is still probably a rare occurrence and people shouldn’t stop riding the subway.”

Potter also said,

If you go way back 100 years ago, bedbugs were very common on trains, on buses, in taxicabs, in all modes of transport…”

The upholstered seating in trains, taxis and buses does seem especially problematic.

Of course, I would never encourage folks to stop riding the subway. I ride it all the time. I do sit in the subway benches (which makes a few around here gasp in horror) but I admit I do not sit in the station benches.

12 paulaw0919 May 9, 2008 at 8:34 pm

I think I remember a bedbug sufferer in the forums possibly from Poland stating that he/she seen them in the day on the train he/she was on. I could be mistaken on which country but Poland comes to mind.

13 nobugsonme May 9, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Last year the SNCF French sleeper train cars were infested and a route shut down for treatment.

A few months ago, it happened on Thai trains — and the Thai rail officials blamed American backpackers, which I thought was a nice twist on the “people from other countries bring bed bugs” theory. 😉

14 paulaw0919 May 9, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Yeah, I forgot about that one from Thai! I do remember the stabbing pain in my side when their theory was read. Lord only knows. I’m just glad it getting out there more. I can almost here the clicking of people looking up information on bed bugs. Come one, come all! Knowledge in critical to success on this.
It’s not until after you’ve gone through it and then actually see it happening all around you, neighboring towns, and around the world that you finally “get it” and KNOW something Needs to be done.

15 nobugsonme May 15, 2008 at 1:00 am

The Straphangers did not include bed bugs in their Ten Plagues of the Subway, but everyone mentioning said Straphangers’ list seems to mention recent rumors of sneaky simes in the subway anyway.


See also this post on Consumerist which is about the rumor (via the Post), not the Straphangers’ list (which, again, apparently does not contain bed bugs). On Consumerist, the comments alone are worth the trip.

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