The horrific story of a Rutland, Vermont foster family’s bout with bed bugs and subsequent failed treatment, followed by the alleged application of the banned pesticide chlorpyrifos by a second pest control company, suggests some changes need to be made to how bed bugs are treated — and that education about how to deal with bed bugs needs to be more widespread.
Vermont Public Radio (VPR) reported today on the story of Neil and Patricia Whitney, who have been foster parents for 21 years (and were deemed Rutland’s Foster Parents of the Year in 2008). Two years ago, the family took in a foster child who had bed bugs, on the condition that the Vermont Dept. of Children and Families would pick up the bill for treatment, if it ended up being necessary later. It’s not clear whether DCF also offered any educational materials on how to prevent the spread of bed bugs (such as using a Packtite or the dryer to treat clothing and items worn or brought into the home).
Had the foster child’s clothing and belongings simply been treated before her arrival, the problem would likely have been prevented. Instead, a month later, the Whitneys discovered they had bed bugs.
Vermont Public Radio reports that DCF then asked the family to self-treat for bed bugs:
At first, the Whitney’s said they were given cans of bug spray and told to take care of the problem themselves. When that didn’t work, the state hired a company called Nature’s Way.
Patricia and Neil said despite multiple treatments, their bedbug problem worsened. “I told them several times that I didn’t think it was working,” said Patricia. “I told social workers, I told the resource coordinator, I told the district coordinator.”
Starting with self-treatment was not a good idea.
And then when a professional pest control team was brought in, the state hired Nature’s Way, a company whose website suggests they use Cryonite (freezing CO2) and Actisol Fog Machines in treating bed bugs, though we do not know if these were the methods in use in this case.
When the bed bugs persisted, things went from bad to worse. VPR reports that in April 2013, the state hired Cary Buck of AAA Accredited Pest Control which DFC claimed was the Dept. of Health’s go-to company.
After treatment by Buck, the Whitneys were concerned by the state of their home, claiming chemical was “dripping off the kitchen counter and I could see where it was pooling on the floor” (the kitchen counter!), and then
Patricia said she contacted the state Agency of Agriculture to test their home and last spring, field agents found high concentrations of a banned and potentially harmful pesticide called chlorpyrifos. That prompted countywide testing and various amounts of the chemical have been found in dozens of other residences treated by Buck.
The environmental Protection Agency was called in to assist with cleanup, but the Whitney’s home remains uninhabitable.
Here’s the EPA factsheet on organophosphate chlorpyrifos, banned in the US for indoor use since 2001.
At this point, the Whitney’s home is still infested with bed bugs, the state is putting the couple, their son and foster daughter up in a rental apartment across the street, they have access to none of their possessions. The couple filed a lawsuit against Vermont Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine and some lower ranking officials from DCF, which has been dismissed by the judge, who says state employees working in their official capacity can’t be sued.
Two years on from the start of their bed bug problems, I hope the Whitneys will soon get help with the hazmat cleanup and the proper elimination of bed bugs. Good foster parents are doing a much-needed and service for the community and should be encouraged and treated well.
Foster parents and employees of the agencies which work with them, should also be trained in how to prevent and deal with bed bug problems. Self-treatment by people not licensed to apply pesticides and experienced with treating bed bugs successfully should not be encouraged. Bed bugs can be eliminated fully, but some treatment methods can make this harder.
Click here to listen to an MP3 of the Whitneys’ story from Vermont Public Radio.