The EPA said what about bed bugs?!?

by nobugsonme on March 1, 2011 · 4 comments

in bed bugs, EPA

“A bedbug plague is sweeping the United States and shows no signs of stopping.”

There’s nothing very unusual about this quote.  You’ve probably seen similar statements made in the media.  You might even agree that it fairly represents — more or less — your perception of the spread of bed bugs.

The word “plague” is, you have to admit, a bit sensational.

And that’s why it struck me as strange that, over the last few days, the same quote has been attributed to an unlikely source, the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  The problem is, it’s doesn’t seem like precisely the kind of statement the EPA would make.

The Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the US Centers for Disease Control and the US Environmental Protection Agency expresses a similar thought, but in much less dramatic terms:

… the United States is one of many countries now experiencing an alarming resurgence in the population of bed bugs.

“An alarming resurgence” is definitely not good.

It gives me almost the same chills as a “plague,” but it’s not quite as dramatic.  It’s less Biblical, for one thing. “Plague,” for me at least, conjures up images of the ground and sky covered in locusts.  Or Bubonic Plague.

The “plague” statement attributed to the EPA appears to stem from an obvious mistake made in quoting a press release which was put out at the start of February by MidMos Solutions, which produces bed bug detection and control products.

(Disclosure: the MidMos product line includes BBAlert monitoring products, including the BBAlert Passive, designed by David Cain, who participates in our forums.  Bedbugger carries ads for BBAlert products.)

The MidMos press release was entitled Best Tips For Bed Bug Protection:

PRLog (Press Release) – Feb 09, 2011 – NEW YORK – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted its second annual bed bug summit in Washington, D.C. on February 1-2, 2011. ‘A bug bed plague is sweeping the United States and shows no signs of stopping,’ say the pest experts at MidMos Solutions. MidMos insists the best ways to combat these pests are education and early detection.

(Emphasis added.)

Note that the “bed bug plague” quote itself comes from someone at MidMos.  I don’t really have an issue with this.  It’s strong language, but not unexpected from a bed bug-related product supplier putting out a press release about their bed bug detection and prevention products and tips.

However, I am concerned when the media takes such a statement and apparently misattributes it to a quite different source, such as a US government agency.

few internet sources reproduced the MidMos press release and used the paragraph as written in the days that followed its publication.

However, things seem to have gone south when an interiors (home design) writer for Scripps Howard News Service, wrote in this article for Scripps,

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “A bedbug plague is sweeping the United States and shows no signs of stopping.” The experts tell us that the best ways to combat these pests are education and early detection.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, the author of the Scripps story which was published yesterday morning, appears to reference the main points of the MidMos press release, without naming the firm or products mentioned in it.  (I guess that’s what happens with press releases.)

Somehow the “plague” quote, mentioned in the same paragraph of the press release as the EPA’s recent bed bug summit, comes to be attributed to the EPA.

The thing about news agencies like Scripps is that their articles are disseminated very widely.

Friedmann’s story was first picked up from Scripps by The Seattle Times yesterday evening.

And only hours later (allowing for time zone differences) it was also picked up by the Australian national news agency, the Australian Associated Press.  Changed slightly to refer to the recent bed bugs on British Airways story (which Bedbugger covered here), but still carrying Friedmann’s byline, it was published in The West Australian (“powered by Yahoo News”), Yahoo Total Travel, and 7 News Queensland (both dated today, March 1st).

This article states:

British Airways recently had to apologise to a woman passenger after she complained of being bitten by bedbugs on two flights, one Los Angeles-London flight and the other Bangalore-London.

Now the US Environmental Protection Agency has warned that “a bedbug plague is sweeping the United States and shows no signs of stopping”.

I expect this story — and the incorrect association of this quote with the EPA — will continue to make the rounds for some time, as these news agencies have a wide reach.

For what it’s worth, at least one source close to Bedbugger who was present reported finding the conversations and presentations at the EPA’s recent Bed Bug Summit encouraging” overall.  That kind of story seems to have a harder time going viral.

1 NotSoSnug March 2, 2011 at 2:23 am

Very effective deconstruction, NoBugs.

Forgive me for going off topic of BBs but you may find this interesting as another demonstration of viral media. In January my farmer sister-in-law sent some photos of a black bear being beat up by their cows in an email to some friends and family. Within a few weeks the photos had crossed over to media outlets in Europe and all over the US attributed to some farmer in Oregon, among others.

My in-laws have eventually traced the path the photos took to get such wide exposure while trying to establish rights. The news broke out on Oregon TV, hence why a farmer there was interviewed and incorrectly attributed right at the start. Trying to rope in copyright is an ongoing headache for them now with the multitude of jurisdictions at stake.

Search the web for “cows attack bear” if you’re interested. If you find a slideshow of a few simmental hereford cross cows butting and kicking a yearling black bear, you’ve got it. No matter what the attribution says they’re my in-laws photos. There are no other similar photos online at this time but many versions of these. Note that every site you find showing the slideshow has advertising associated with it that my in-laws don’t see any revenue from.

2 Carpathian Peasant March 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm

While one would expect government agencies to be precise, I see no great harm in John Q. Public calling it a plague. The next door neighbor isn’t going to pay much attention if he doesn’t.

3 nobugsonme March 3, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Hi NotSoSnug!

That’s really unfortunate. I did see the footage, which is quite amazing.

4 nobugsonme March 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Hi Carpathian Peasant,

I don’t really have an issue with anyone using the word “plague.”

My concern is the way in which a quotation gets twisted — so very easily.

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