City Takes Aim At Exploding Bed Bugs Problem

Bryan Virasami, Newsday, September 19, 2006

Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

No joke: A rapidly growing number of New Yorkers are falling victim to the yucky, blood-sucking critters.

After hundreds of complaints, the City Council held a public hearing Monday during which a Harvard University entomologist, pest-control experts and officials with the Bloomberg administration agreed the bed-bug population is exploding across the city and throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

Apartments, hotel rooms, private homes—nowhere is safe.

The numbers don’t lie. According to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, it received zero complaints of bedbugs in fiscal year 2003. A year later, the department recorded 79 complaints, and in fiscal year 2005, that leapt to 928. In the 2006 fiscal year that ended June 30, the department logged a phenomenal 4,638 complaints.

The hearing, which spanned four hours, included testimony on proposed legislation that would make it illegal to sell reconditioned mattresses in the city, currently a common practice at many stores.

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“Nobody seems to be paying attention. There isn’t any oversight,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), who said her office has received hundreds of complaints about bed bugs. Brewer co-chaired the hearing with Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

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Richard Pollack, an entomologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston who has studied bed bugs, said the insects disappeared in the latter part of the 20th century but recently made a surging comeback.

The return, he said, “has been attributed to a supposed increase in international travel and immigration.” One council member rejected that characterization as unfairly blaming immigrants.

The city issues summonses to landlords after receiving complaints, but encourages them to hire exterminators to fight the problem before it takes other action, the HPD said.

It was clear during questioning at the hearing, however, that some council members hold misconceptions about bed bugs and their living habits, and that the general public needs education as well.

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Bed bugs, said Pollack, live mostly in bed seams but they also live and deposit eggs on nightstands, dressers, sofas, picture frames, wall hangings and rugs, as well as metal frames with rust.

Pest control experts are best at tackling the problem, the experts said, because many over-the-counter products are not used properly or don’t work.

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