Foster family gets bed bugs & chlorpyrifos hazmat situation

by nobugsonme on January 16, 2014 · 16 comments

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.

Meanwhile pest control operator Cary Buck denies having applied banned pesticides. More on the Vermont homes which were found to be contaminated with chlorpyrifos here, here and here.

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.

1 Ryan January 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this about PackTite heaters. I use one frequently at home after a long day at work. -Ryan, CimexTek, Inc.

2 nobugsonme January 18, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Hi Ryan!

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I have a Packtite Closet which I use after travel and when coming home from somewhere dodgy (e.g. particular cinemas with a bed bug history, etc.)

3 Neil January 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Thank you for posting.

4 nobugsonme January 20, 2014 at 3:02 am

Good luck to you, Neil.

5 David Cain January 22, 2014 at 8:09 am


I could not agree more with the opener of this post.

Education and public awareness is the “fire break” in the bedbug epidemic and until it is clearly put in place along with programs for early detection sufferers will unfortunately continue to suffer.

Its not as if bedbugs have not been news since 2007 and yet we still hear of people failing to get eradication and often in spectacular ways such as this.

I sincerely hope the family get a speedy resolution and if they are reading this and want some technical advice and help please get in touch.

David Cain
Bed Bugs Limited

The world premier bedbug specialists.

6 Neil January 22, 2014 at 11:25 am

Thank you David for your support. We had contacted our attorney.

7 Anonymous January 22, 2014 at 11:40 pm

I have never had bed bugs, but it occurred to me today that a centrifuge might be a way of killing bedbugs in clothing. I need to purchase a laundry centrifuge to spin my clothing to near dry after I hand wash it. I have allergies and cannot tolerate the perfumed fabric softeners and detergents in the coin operated machines in our apartment building.

So I intend to purchase a centrifuge soon. It will spin at 3,200 rpm. I was wondering if that high a velocity (which is far above a conventional washing machine) would kill the little suckers. You would have to put the clothes into plastic bags first so the bed bugs didn’t escape out of the spinner into the machine. Flatten the bags of clothing against the walls of the centrifuge to balance the load.

Are there any entomologists who read this blog. Who might be able to weigh in on this idea?


8 CarpathianPeasant January 23, 2014 at 7:35 am

Seems like if you soaked the clothes thoroughly, that would drown anything alive, but I don’t know what to do about any eggs.

9 David Cain January 23, 2014 at 12:19 pm


Sorry but the centrifuge concept may be enough to disrupt the comparatively unprotected first instar nymphs but it not likley to do anything to the adults and later stages where the exoskeleton is a lot stronger.

The kind of centripetal forces needed would require a lot more than 4,000+ rpm and as such the equipment to do so would be cost prohibitive.

Also soaking alone will not suffice, it is the temperature of the water which is the effective component as proteins denature at 60C or 140F or alternatively dry clothes can be placed in tumble dryer for extended periods to dehydrate any bedbugs and eggs. However the simplest solution comes in the form of a decontamination unit such as PackTite.

It is also worth mentioning that the FAQ’s and forum of this site contain a wealth of information about bedbugs answering most of the common questions and offering bespoke advice via the forum.

David Cain
Bed Bugs Limited

The world premier bedbug specialists.

10 CarpathianPeasant January 25, 2014 at 2:27 am

So, what the dryer does is dehydrate them — like maybe turn them into dust? Then what does it take to suffocate them? Surely they breathe.

11 Ci Lecto January 26, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Sad story. The state assures someone that they’ll take care of them, then messed it up royally. Where does one go to get their life back? While we’re at it, based on this case and another in the Southeast (link below) I wouldn’t be shocked if there are more cases of “don’t ask-don’t tell” BB treatments around the country. We probably also need to use discretion in declaring a home “off limits” if one of these products were used. IE, if a product labeled in Canada and the EU, but illegal in the US is used, it might be acceptable to do live in that home.

12 David Cain January 27, 2014 at 5:28 am

Hi CarpathianPeasant,

The exoskeleton of bedbugs means it takes years for them to dry enough to crumble under pressure to the extent that they could be turned to dust.

I have spent many weeks working on methods to attempt to suffocate bedbugs using all sorts of material for atmospheric replacement with CO2 through to O2 consumption with chemical reactions. To date no method has been above 80% reliable and that is just not good enough in my book. Often what appears to be a dead bedbug will “wake up” a few days later as if the change in atmosphere allowed them to play possum to survive the process.

They are nothing if not a worthy adversary.

David Cain
Bed Bugs Limited

The world premier bedbug specialists.

13 Lou Sorkin January 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

“The exoskeleton of bedbugs means it takes years for them to dry enough to crumble under pressure to the extent that they could be turned to dust.”

I don’t believe it takes that long. A few weeks to a few months time will definitely dry them out, esp. under dryer, warmer temps. They can get battered around and break apart in a home situation. You can couple this with dermestid larvae feeding on them and it can go pretty quickly; the larvae leave bits and pieces and also their own frass composed of dead bed bugs. Bugs on pins and in insect collections stay that way for 100 years or more as long as people with clumsy fingers don’t pick them up! Granted, dead bed bugs that just die somewhere and left to disintegrate would take years, many years, to become pieces and dust.

14 CarpathianPeasant January 28, 2014 at 9:31 am

Mr. Cain,

How about just no air at all?

15 Lou Sorkin January 28, 2014 at 11:12 am

David said he was using an oxygen scavenger when speaking about oxygen consumption in order to reduce the amount of oxygen present. I’ve used argon fumigation, replacing the oxygen with argon. The gas is used for many types of museum and art objects because there’s no reaction with substances; that is, will not react with and ruin paints, textiles, wood, etc. The dead bed bug waking up might have something to do with carbon dioxide fumigation. I’ll look up info on these things. There’s an IPM working group meeting coming up in March in Colonial Williamsburg; we also have a website: David, you might find interesting info here.

16 Neil January 29, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Meet with lawmakers today in Montpelier, Vt. to tell them our dealing with bed bugs and the process that was taken to rid them. The news link below was released this morning.

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