Were bed bugs behind the bug bomb fire and explosion in NYC Thursday?

by nobugsonme on July 13, 2013 · 3 comments

in bed bugs, bug bombs, foggers

On Thursday morning, a building in New York City’s Chinatown exploded and a fire was started after a resident set off many bug bombs (foggers) at once.

The New York Times noted Thursday that the explosion “was powerful enough to blow out windows on the first three floors of the five-story tenement building at 17 Pike Street” and caused “a partial collapse of the building and a fire…”.

This is what 17 Pike Street looked like before 1 pm Thursday…


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According to this story from Friday’s New York Post, 

The exploded pesticide canisters, known as foggers, were found in the building’s Piao Liang Ren Sheng Beauty Salon.

The cans “blew out a load-bearing wall” in the five-story prewar structure, a source said.

The blast caused the back of the first floor to collapse.

Resident Wang Xiao told investigators she put out 24 of the bug bombs on Wednesday but they didn’t do the trick.

So she put out another 24 yesterday and left them unattended. Aerosol from the canisters is believed to have ignited on a pilot light, the source said.

Three victims were in critical condition, and four were in serious condition at two hospitals late Thursday, authorities said. Two firefighters were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

(There’s some discrepancy in the reports — the same day, The New York Times said twelve were injured and that twenty cans of fogger were used in each instance.)

The New York Post, New York Times (here and here), WSJ’s Metropolis blog,  and other sources I consulted did not state which pest the woman was trying to treat using bug bombs.

However, a tipster anonymously wrote to me on Friday claiming he could “guarantee” that bed bugs were the target insect here.  We have not been able to verify this claim is true, however,

Update (7/13): Let me start again: it turns out our “tipster” was just speculating, and I apologize for that. But we will let you know if any information surfaces as to whether bed bugs were behind this incident.

Unfortunately, even if the building had not been blown up, if this was an attempt at treating bed bugs, this attempt would not likely have been successful.  Bug bombs (foggers), besides being highly flammable, are known to be ineffective against bed bugs, as a recent study of three OTC brands demonstrates — see this article (“Why are foggers and bombs still being sold to treat bed bugs?”) for more on that and for a link to the full text of the 2012 research study.

The New York Times also incorrectly stated in Friday’s story that “foggers are not marketed to kill bedbugs”– actually, they are, and here’s one example (Hot Shot Bed Bug and Flea Fogger)  even though it seems to be commonly known to pest management professionals and entomologists that they don’t work well against this pest.

It’s awful that so many were injured and there was so much damage in this case.  And yet things could have been even worse — people have died from using bug bombs incorrectly.  As the Times notes, Daniel Kass, Deputy Commissioner of NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is very concerned about the dangers of bug bombs, and the city went so far as to try and get the EPA to ban them in 2009 (to no avail).

Perhaps public education on this topic would help?  Maybe a multi-lingual subway-and-bus-shelters educational campaign?

After all, sugar is killing so many of us slowly, and much public transit space has been devoted to getting that message across, but total release foggers are, Kass claims in the DoHMH’s petition to the EPA in March 2009, causing 4-8 explosions a year in NYC alone, in addition to injuries and illness caused by exposure (you can download the petition as a PDF here).  With so many people employing total release foggers against bed bugs (which the NYC Bed Bug literature warns doesn’t work well — see page 7 of this PDF), this is an opportunity to educate people about safety as well as effective control of the red menace.

Remember: never use pesticides outside of labeling instructions (as was clearly the case here), and don’t bother with total release foggers for bed bugs.  Do it yourself treatment can work, but foggers (bombs), even used “properly,” are not the way to go.

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1 nobugsonme July 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm

However, a tipster anonymously wrote to me on Friday claiming he could “guarantee” that bed bugs were the target insect here. We have not been able to verify this claim is true, however,

Update (7/13): Let me start again: it turns out our “tipster” was just speculating, and I apologize for that. But we will let you know if any information surfaces as to whether bed bugs were behind this incident.

2 Northwest Exterminating Tucson September 25, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I love how people still think that it is best to use bug bombs instead of heat treatment to rid of their bed bug problem. If more people were aware of what heat could do I am 100% positive that they wouldn’t be burning their own buildings down.

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