Though the media frenzy around bed bugs is conveying lots of good information, the bed bug B.S. is not any less prevalent than it used to be.
First, let’s consider this NBC 4i report that explores the issue of bed bugs and secondhand merchandise in Ohio.
(If embedded video does not play, click here to view.)
NBC 4i notes:
The owner of Trader Tots in Grandview told NBC 4 that she had to get a special license from the state to sell items like upholstered furniture, bedding and stuffed toys.
That license allows owner Michelle Salisbury and her employees to use a special chemical to fight bed bugs and other problems.
Really? Secondhand store employees are licensed to use magic bed bug juice? Something the rest of us can’t get?
Ooooh! What is it? Tell us more!
Don’t get too excited.
The license doesn’t allow Ohio secondhand store owners and employees to use a “special chemical” to kill bed bugs. (Well, except that all chemicals are “special” in their own way. Like snowflakes!)
In fact, the Ohio laws require people who sell upholstered furniture, bedding, and stuffed items like toys to “sanitize” them, label them, and keep them separate from non-sanitized items.
Unfortunately, as is true in other states, these laws do not take into account how difficult it is to “sanitize” items to make them free of bed bugs.
According to the Ohio Dept. of Commerce “Second Hand Procedures” (PDF), the most popular method is using a spray. (The fact sheet does not outline what the less popular methods are, implying by omission that merchants have no other or better options.) The two sprays approved for this purpose: Steri-Fab and MicroBan X-580 Plus.
These products have a place in the arsenal, but they’re not magic juice, and you don’t need a special license to apply them.
(Of course, please use caution when applying any pest control products; we’re glad to see that Ohio’s “Second Hand Procedures” says the law requires use in accordance with labeling instructions and the use of an “approved type mask”.)
These products do kill bed bugs. But a spray with them is not going to kill all bed bugs present unless they are sprayed directly, or eventually cross a residual which kills them.
Any spray used on these items is not going to 100% guarantee that all bed bugs and eggs inside are dead. Not by a long shot. That pyrethroid-resistance is widespread is another reason to be concerned about relying on it as a residual.
Which means that these products don’t really prevent bed bugs from being inside secondhand merchandise, or guarantee they don’t go home with shoppers.
Shopkeeper Michelle Salisbury seems to really care about preventing the spread of bed bugs to her customers, and yet the information the state is providing her and the sanitizing laws it’s requiring this and other merchants to follow are likely giving a false sense of security.
And shoppers are not being sufficiently warned of the potential condition of used stuffed items by the required label: “SECONDHAND MATERIAL, CONTENTS UNKNOWN. THIS ITEM HAS BEEN SANITIZED.” Most people would probably assume “sanitized” means 100% sanitized, rather than “an attempt was made at sanitizing.”
And if that creeps you out, remember that this is not an Ohio-specific problem. New York still allows secondhand mattresses to be resold after being spritzed with Steri-Fab.
I am glad the Ohio shopkeeper profiled here also does visual inspections, since this is very important, but these are not reliable, especially with items like mattresses, upholstered furniture, and stuffed animals, where bed bugs may be hiding inside.
Done properly, heat treatment or gas fumigation would be one-shot reliable methods for eliminating bed bugs in these items. Small items could be treated in a Packtite, but it would be costly to treat larger items and most secondhand shops probably could not afford something like this.
Merchants not only need laws which mandate procedures which really do render items 100% bed-bug-free, but if those laws are enacted, they also may need help in setting up the infrastructure to comply with them.
And that’s the big problem when it comes to eliminating bed bugs: money.