These days, education may do more to fight bed bugs than DDT

by nobugsonme on August 2, 2010 · 4 comments

in bed bug education, bed bugs, DDT, new york, new york city

The call for DDT keeps coming, despite scientific evidence suggesting it is not the solution to the current bed bug crisis.

Paul Driessen writes of bed bugs in the New York Post today:

Growing infestations of the ravenous bloodsuckers have New Yorkers annoyed, angry about officialdom’s inadequate responses — and “itching” for answers.

Instead, their Bedbug Advisory Board recommends a bedbug team and an educational Web site.

Dreissen insists that, instead,

New Yorkers want real solutions, including affordable insecticides that work.

There’s been a lot of grumbling about the idea of an educational website (New York City’s to-be-created Bed Bug Portal). Some people seem to think the need isn’t there.

I am not sure the problem in New York comes down to the lack of methods which work. Heat works — better than pesticides. And a combination of steam, pesticide sprays, and dusts can also work well.

However, affordability and availability of effective treatment is a problem. In New York, many folks needing bed bug treatment are getting second-rate treatment which is not consistent or aggressive enough to solve their bed bug problems.

Untreated neighbors, uninformed pest control professionals, landlords who take action too slowly or do not order inspections of adjoining units and prompt follow-up treatments — these problems all suggest a need for affordable treatment, as well as a need for more widespread education about bed bugs and how to treat them effectively.

Driessen argues instead in favor of bringing back DDT to fight bed bugs in the US, an approach which suggests, again, that the need for an educational campaign about bed bugs is great.

Those who know more about DDT and bed bugs know that this pest began to show resistance to DDT in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, the National Pest Control Association was recommending malathion as an alternative pesticide. Note: bed bugs also later developed resistance to malathion. (More on the history in this August 2008 PCT article from Michael Potter, some of which is commented on here.)

And let’s not forget that the BBC said in 2001 that recent applications of DDT to fight malarial mosquitoes in Africa caused bed bugs to become more active there.

More active?

That does not sound like the DDT mid-century American housewives knew and loved. The DDT they wanted to use to decorate a child’s room.

In fact, due to insecticide resistance, you might say it isn’t the same DDT at all.

Driessen says that

We need adult supervision and informed debate on pesticide policies, laws and regulations. We can no longer leave those decisions to anti-chemical activists in unaccountable pressure groups and government agencies. These zealots are making decisions that affect the quality of life for millions of Americans — and life itself for billions of poor people worldwide.

If not for the economy and mental health of Americans afflicted by bedbugs, then do it for Africa’s sick, brain-damaged and dying parents and children.

Yes, let’s have an informed debate.

There is an argument to be made for the serious reconsideration of pesticide policies which may affect our ability to fight bed bugs. We might consider bringing back pesticides which work in fighting bed bugs, and we might revisit Ohio’s failed request to the EPA for a Section 18 public health exemption which would allow Propoxur to be used under specific conditions to fight bed bugs.

Far from being what Driessen calls an “anti-chemical activist,” I was in favor of Ohio’s request, and disappointed in the outcome.

However, the rationale for bringing back DDT to fight bed bugs is just not there. The bottom line is that — leaving aside any environmental or health concerns — evidence suggests DDT would not be a silver bullet for bed bugs if it was brought back today.

As for malarial mosquitoes, I am not personally able to assess whether DDT is the best solution at this time.

I do know that you can’t conflate bed bugs with mosquitoes. They’re different pests which do different kinds of damage, and which may be affected differently by DDT.

1 Mark August 3, 2010 at 8:20 am

DDT? Like, kill Bald Eagles? Andrea Peyser, in her 9 July NY Post article also tried to sell us this stuff. Comment on her article and Driessen’s can be found at
The chemical companies may benefit from the current plague of bedbugs – it may be that there is political pressure to let them build up and then they sell us the solution – just like Hitler was allowed to build up arms – courtesy in part to Du Pont and General Motors, and then these companies greatly increased their profits selling us arms and chemicals. And of course the press was involved, mainly back then the Hearst Press. But that goes a bit off topic here….or does it?

2 nobugsonme August 3, 2010 at 11:35 pm


I am not sure I completely follow what you’re saying.

Are you suggesting that people are clamoring for DDT to come back because it will make the chemical companies big money?

Hypothetically, if DDT were still a highly effective pesticide where bed bugs are concerned, and if it were deemed safe to use, and brought back (and I note, none of this is really going to happen), then the pesticide manufacturers would probably stand to lose money, since they are currently marketing a wide variety of bed bug pesticides, which used in concert, have a better chance of killing bed bugs than just one product. (This is because of the products not being terribly effective partly due to pesticide resistance.)

Are you saying the chemical companies are going to wait until we’re all desperate, and then unleash a “silver bullet” product?

I don’t think that’s the case. If chemical companies were holding out on us, they could become disappointed if and when heat treatment becomes more cheaply available and becomes the primary mode of fighting bed bugs. (This is not inevitable, but could certainly happen.) I think they know this and I don’t think they’re holding back any solutions in order to raise profits.

Heat is a great way to treat bed bugs.

Unfortunately, the price of heat treatment is often higher than traditional spray and dust treatments (or at least the initial financial outlay is larger than an initial series of spray treatments — often these do not solve the problem and traditional treatments end up costing more). It’s thus perceived as being out reach of many. I hope this will change as availability is more widespread and there’s more competition in the market, driving prices down.

3 anon August 28, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Resistance occurs with OUTDOOR spraying.

I know you like the copy and paste liberal talking points but sometimes they are lies that cause the deaths of millions of people.

4 nobugsonme August 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Sorry, “anon,” but no. You have incorrect information.

Pests can become resistant to any pesticide, used indoors or out.

Bed bugs generally live indoors. So when people note they have shown resistance to DDT, they’re talking about bed bugs being resistant to DDT when sprayed indoors. They were inside huts in the example cited in the article above. They were indoors in the 1940s when they first showed resistance to DDT.

Your political rhetoric is inappropriate and your tone is obnoxious, but I am letting this comment stay in because perhaps others will learn from the response.

I am not against DDT being brought back in a limited way to fight bed bugs if indeed it were to be effective in doing so, and safe to humans and animals.

The sad fact is that it no longer seems to be the silver bullet it was once thought to be.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: