Bedbugs Take America, America Attempts to Fight Back

"You can only flee, finally"

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Let's talk about bedbugs. They are disgusting, almost impossible to beat, and, apparently, they are back. Morever, they are spreading like plague: a Times Square movie theater closed just Tuesday due to the pests. Now that we have a chance in the news doldrums of August, it's time to get serious about bedbugs, and we're going to do our part. Here, the Wire offers a survey of the last month's commentary on the bedbug crisis, to add to the musing column we already covered on the creature's entomological peculiarities.

  • Thank You, Liberal Environmentalists "Unfortunately, " writes P.J. Gladnick at conservative site Newsbusters, "the EPA has banned since 1972 the only insecticide really effective in combating bed bugs: DDT. ... It will be a case of liberal idealism vs. personal comfort," he predicts. He wonders if the mainstream media will begin to "develop a 'strange new respect' for DDT."
  • Environmentally, Bedbugs a Real Problem, admits John Laumer at Treehugger, covering the various options for dealing with the pests. Moving to the suburbs, "cooking an entire apartment building to bake them out," constant washing, and "multiple (often ineffective) pesticide applications," are all pretty anti-green. Laumer says DDT may become "necessary," but forcefully refutes the suggestion he's seen in some quarters that "the banning of DDT use ... was somehow responsible for the recent return of the bed bug menace." In fact, he points out, "DDT was banned almost 25 years before bedbugs became resurgent."
  • The Pesticide Question Bruce Watson at DailyFinance delves deeper into the DDT matter, and takes a look at what chemicals may still work:
Many people attribute the bedbug resurgence to the 1972 banning of DDT, but the truth is a bit more complicated. ... For much of the last seventy years, the bugs' evolving resistance raced against the development of new poisons. For decades ... the regular arrival of new pesticides consistently kept the menace under control. However, the EPA's decision to ban entire classes of chemicals opened a door for a bedbug resurgence.
  • Leaving Us With the Following Options "It's worth noting that scientists don't agree on whether a silver-bullet pesticide exist," offers Nina Burleigh at Time; thus, those campaigning for pesticide x or y to be allowed are, in the long run, just wasting time: the bugs will eventually become resistant to those chemicals, too. It turns out "a dose of vigilance--if not outright paranoia--is the best preventative." When bedbugs do strike, the "machines that heat entire rooms to well north of 113°F (45°C), at which point the bugs die," may be the best option.
  • New York City Prepares for Battle "To combat the spread of the insects," notes The New York Times' Javier Hernandez, "the city is urging residents to inspect mattresses and pillows if someone in their household has come into contact with bedbugs. The city recommends using professional exterminators to fight infestations, as well as sealing cracks and eliminating clutter." The insects, he says "are now official on New York City's hit list."
  • Much Good May It Do Newser's Michael Wolff, in a dramatic mood that may prove prescient, calls this "earnest government, but far from any understanding of the existential and apocalyptic nature of the beast." Bedbugs are impossible to get rid of, he writes grimly, and "with them, everything else in your life becomes meaningless ... You can only flee, finally."
  • Dogs to the Rescue  A slightly more upbeat article comes from The Atlantic back in 2009. Pamela Paul tells of the effectiveness of bedbug-detecting dogs. Writes Paul: "if the idea is to use less pesticide, dogs may be your best bet." They can "determine which rooms require attention, avoiding the telltale stench of mass fumigation and saving thousands of dollars by treating only the affected rooms."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.