Bonnie Friedman’s NYTimes Op Ed on Bed Bugs

by nobugsonme on February 5, 2007 · 6 comments

in activism, bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, celebrities with bed bugs, new york, tipping point, usa

The Bonnie Friedman article is here. And here’s an excerpt:

The exterminator, when he arrived, had just come from East 81st Street.  “From East 57th Street and up it’s plagued by bedbugs,” he said.  “And they’re all over the Upper West Side, too. People expect them in another neighborhood. But it’s not about hygiene. It’s about who has the money to travel.”

Jeff Eisenberg, the president of Pest Away Exterminating, said:  “Most calls come from Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue from people of means. I get tons of calls from Park Slope and Cobble Hill.”

Many of us know that bedbugs are a problem in the city, but we’re in denial. It just seems too horrible, too outlandish to think we could actually have them. I live on a pretty street in a well-maintained brownstone. My husband is a senior manager in a corporation; I teach at a university. I really believed that my neighborhood was somehow exempt.

Bonnie Friedman demonstrates that when well-known people, like writers, get bed bugs, they have a chance to share the story more widely. Nice work, Bonnie! I have not seen Maya Rudolph talking about this, nor many other people. (When you have a court case, you can’t really talk about it, I know.) But I hope they’ll start to, because we need that. It does wonders for getting people to take this seriously.

I am tagging this article as a “Tipping Point”, because I think Bonnie Friedman’s Od Ed may set off a torrent of people talking about their bed bugs. Bonnie isn’t a celebrity, but she is a writer and professor. And writing this article in the Times reaches a lot of people. I hope they will follow her lead. And I hope that when celebrities get bed bugs, assuming they’re not on a lawyer-imposed gag order, they will speak publicly. Bonnie knows bed bugs are not a sign of shame, or evidence you’re dirty. That director in Malibu cited in last week’s LA Times article isn’t talking. Why not?

Oddly enough, the lamp I had put out on the curb, wrapped and marked “Do not take — infested with bedbugs,” vanished in minutes, probably to be sold at a flea market. Black garbage bags filled with clothes and stuffed animals were slashed, their contents removed.

And after all my work, I couldn’t discount tales of apartments being treated four, five, six times.  “This is a much different bedbug than even 10 years ago,” Mr. Eisenberg explained, noting that bedbugs have become resistant to the pesticides that are normally used to eradicate them.  “Ten years ago, it was easier for me to get rid of them.”

It really is worth the extra work of destroying stuff on the street so others can’t use it. But sometimes this is impractical. We need education campaigns so that people will know not to pick things up when marked. And we need those darned orange bed bug warning stickers.

It’s clear to me that the city needs to educate people about this plague and make prevention a priority. This problem isn’t confined to homeless shelters; it’s everywhere. Travelers need to be told how to prevent bringing bedbugs into their homes. New York should follow Boston’s example in issuing stickers to place on discarded pieces of infested furniture to discourage others from picking them up.

As we’ve been saying for ages…

1 parakeets February 5, 2007 at 12:58 pm

I think the articles, such as this one, that are written by people who actually have bedbugs are the best. Obviously Bonnie Friedman totally understands because she has been there. I applaud people like her who speak up and say “I have bedbugs.” It isn’t easy to do.

Unfortunately, now matter how many people speak up, I don’t know what the solution is for the near future. We might be able to slow the spread somewhat, but bedbug infestations are increasing exponentially and spreading at such an alarming rate and through so many ways, that many of the changes that will eventually be put in place (such as laws about used mattresses) will sadly just be “too little, too late.”

You can throw out absolutely everything you own–clothes, books, furniture–and self-treat and self-treat –and yet still have bedbugs. Bedbugs just need a space in your building the width of an index card to live in and your body to feed on. The best chance, if you can afford it or if your landlord handles things properly, is repeated professional treatment, but even that cannot guarantee you won’t get bedbugs again if you live in a multi-unit building where building -wide bedbug control is not perfect at all times, forever.

2 nobugsonme February 5, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Parakeets, you’re right. laws about used mattresses and calling in pest control in a half assed way, are not enough.

At minimum, we need a multi-pronged approach. Used mattresses should not be sold. Items on streets should have clear warning labels. Education campaigns should make sure everyone knows what those labels mean (and I mean the full nightmare of what bed bugs can do). Landlords should be held to task and forced to implement thorough treatment plans that are aggressive and cover all affected units and every adjacent unit (all units to the top, bottom, sides of infested units). Tenants and homeowners should be forced to cooperate with treatment fully, with the exception that special treatments should be provided for people with compromised immune systems or allergies that make pesticides a dangerous proposition. Thermal treatments need to be perfected and legalized in areas they can’t be used now. But thoroughness is key: treating only the complainant will not suffice. We need government assistance for landlords or homeowners who cannot afford the level of treatment needed. People will balk at that, but insurance does not cover this, and people are going to need help.

Wow, just listing all that, it sounds like an impossibility. But if we’re going to live in cities, and in the absence of a treatment that is foolproof and inexpensive, we have to do it all. And now.

3 Geoffrey Day February 9, 2007 at 6:36 am

permalink to Reality Bites NYT article here:

permalink machine here:

PS: Dave Winer ROCKS!

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