The bed bug times are a’ changin’, ever so slowly

by nobugsonme on May 22, 2008

in bad ideas, bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, bed bugs in apartments, dumpster diving, mattresses, usa, used furniture

Or so it would seem.

Earlier this week, there was the bed bug bill in the U.S. Congress.

And yesterday, an article in the Maine Switch (a website for those in Greater Portland) about the city’s yearly trash pick-up of bulky trash items. Not surprisingly, the day is a yearly impromptu festival for bargain hunters and curb-crawling small-time entrepreneurs:

Just like spring flowers, the sprouting of ratty recliners and beat-up toys on the sidewalk is a sign of the changing seasons in Portland. These cast-off belongings cluttering the grassy strip between the pavement and the sidewalk represent the city’s annual bulky waste pick-up. And like a siren song, yard sale buffs, bargain-hunters and freegans can’t resist this annual opportunity to turn trash into treasure.

I’ve known people who’ve practically furnished their whole apartments with curbside finds. One of the best was the gorgeous sleigh bed a friend found a few years ago. One of the worst was a couch covered in cat hair (and god know what else), which, thankfully, only made a brief appearance in another friend’s apartment.

But the main point of the article, discussed at length, is the dangers of bed bugs lurking in used items.

Oh, but beware those mattresses. Should you haul one home (like one hapless Craigslist poster did recently), you may gain some unwelcome roommates.

“If you’re picking up a mattress or other pieces of furniture, you need to be conscious that they may have bed bugs,” says Doug Gardner, Portland’s director of health and human services. “There’s no way to tell with 100% accuracy.”

That is until you install your lovely find in your home and begin to wonder why you’re suddenly covered in little red bumps.

Unfortunately, unlike Doug Gardner, the author mostly fixates on “mattresses,” whereas any used items might potentially bring bed bugs to your home. Although to her credit, the author later notes wooden furninture is also a problem, I’d stress that other items are also potentially infested. Many, many people throw out everything they own, even though it’s almost never necessary (and they’re not usually acting on the advice of bed bug experts). Throwing everything out can cost you lots of money, won’t get rid of your bed bugs, and will spread them to neighbors and others.

The article has two other Bedbugger points of interest.

First, because of bed bugs, Portland started giving their refuse collectors Tyvek suits last year for the annual bulky trash pickup day. Unfortunately, the city isn’t itself attempting to warn trash pickers about bed bugs, for example here, or here on this PDF flyer. Even a brief one-line warning would help. I understand from this article that they don’t want to seem to be condoning the practice of trash picking during the bulky trash days, but warning against it would not do so and would be germane to avoiding further spread of the problem.

Second point of interest: if you have bed bugs and rent in Portland, the article notes that your landlord does need to get rid of them. If not, you can call the city inspections department:

If apartment renters find themselves assaulted by bed bugs and can’t get their landlord to respond, [city inspections director Jeanie] Bourke’s office fields the complaints. Her team of inspectors then makes sure the landlord hires a pesticide company to spray the place down and that the residents follow a tightly regimented routine requiring the washing of everything and the sealing of clothes and mattresses in plastic.

Thanks to the Maine Switch for focusing readers’ attention on the dangers of trash picking in 2008.


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