Newark tenants suffer health problems — possibly related to bed bugs, fleas, mice, or pest control treatment

by nobugsonme on July 23, 2008 · 7 comments

in allergic reactions, bed bugs, bedbugs, building evacuated, fleas

Thirty-eight residents of a Newark apartment building were hospitalized and all residents were evacuated from their 3-story, 6-family apartment building, after suffering from “light-headedness, sore throats, itchy, watery eyes and irritated skin,” according to this article from the Star-Ledger (via nj.com).

The building has problems with bed bugs, mice, and fleas, and has been treated for pests recently, and somewhere in there may lie the cause of this outbreak:

No one yet knows what caused residents of 521 S. 17th St. to break out with skin rashes, swollen eyes and sore throats, but officials believe it is somehow related to the infestation or the effort to exterminate the pests. City officials could not immediately say when the building had been last exterminated.

Whether the problems were caused by an allergic reaction to the bed bugs, mice, or fleas present, by a reaction to the pesticides used in the treatment for those pests, or by another cause as yet unknown, this is a very troubling story.

Residents were not allowed to go home tonight, and Mayor Cory Booker is determined to find the cause of this problem. Natural gas, water, and sewage issues have all been ruled out as possible causes.

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1 nobugsonme July 24, 2008 at 2:33 pm

After another day of testing, the report in the Star-Ledger this morning was that officials still don’t know what caused these health problems that caused so many to go to the hospital Tuesday.

They brought in an exterminator yesterday to treat “for fleas and bedbugs”, implying officials think those pests may have been the cause.

2 nobugsonme July 24, 2008 at 7:40 pm

And now, the landlord is blaming the tenants for living in a messy environment. Apparently he wrote them a letter on July 8th telling them to clean up their acts.

This would possibly explain the mice, but bed bugs do not come to live with you because you’re a slob.

Also, landlord Robert Lippman claims that he did not know about the bed bugs. It isn’t clear if the tenants had identified them and/or reported them to the landlord before the health problems broke out or not. On the other hand, reporting bed bugs to the landlord requires one to first identify that they have bed bugs, not always an easy task.

Lippman, who was away on vacation, said today in a phone interview that he brings in an exterminator every month to spray for roaches and mice. He said he was unaware that residents were having problems with fleas and bedbugs.

“Is there a mouse in the place? I’m sure. It’s a building and it’s dirty,” he said. “I’m not going to know if there are fleas unless they tell me.”

I still want to know what caused the health problems; I hope this question does not get buried under parties trying to assign blame.

3 Doug Summers MS July 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

The child in the picture with the story is showing clear signs of a serious allergic reaction. The face is badly swollen.

4 nobugsonme July 24, 2008 at 11:45 pm

I agree, it looks like an allergy. But to what? Bed bugs? Fleas? Mice? Pesticides? Mold?

And if it is an allergy, it seems unusual for 38 people to have similar reactions.

5 Doug Summers MS July 25, 2008 at 11:21 am

My top suspicion would be chemical exposure based on the information in the story & the picture.

Never seen that type of severe reaction to the pests that were mentioned or mold with a sudden onset of symptoms across a group of people from different households in the same building.

6 parakeets July 25, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I often thought if the true horror of just having bedbugs were accurately reported — eg., “50 tenants in a senior center in San Diego are all reporting red marks on their skin, blood spots on their pillows, itchy swelling, being unable to sleep, anxiety, sores that do not easily heal, skin infections, waking up with new marks on their body, allergic reactions” — the press could be all over it. What is this outbreak? What is this outrage? How could so many people be experiencing such symptoms at the same time? Why isn’t it going away? But once they say it’s bedbugs, everyone turns away and ignores what people are going through.

I agree with Doug that this case in Newark could be chemical exposure, but the horror of bedbugs alone is often ignored by newspapers. If this case is found to be “simply” caused by bedbugs and fleas, it will be dropped. However, if it is from some chemical exposure, it will be heralded and enviornmental exposes will be written and it won’t be ignored.

7 nobugsonme July 25, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Doug– a chemical reaction seems probable.

parakeets– you’re right!

Unfortunately, also, the latest article mentioning the condition of the building, the alleged presence of bottles of urine in the hallway and overflowing trashcans — all of this serves to detract from the bed bug issue.

We have to keep telling reporters what having bed bugs is like, how draining it is of time, finances, energy. How much moreso for those who are old, infirm, disabled, or who lack funds to pay for the basic necessities.

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