If you get bedbugs, you don’t have to call a licensed pest control company, but you’d be foolish not to, is the take-away message from a warning issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last August. “Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bedbugs can make you, your family, and your pets sick,” the EPA said in a consumer alert quoted by The Hill Healthwatch online. “It can also make your home unsafe to live in – and may not solve the bedbug problem.”
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Alarmed by reports of dangerous pesticide misuse and extreme measures being taken by some homeowners and apartment dwellers in do-it-yourself efforts to eradicate bed bugs, the U.S. EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint statement last July warning consumers against using outdoor pesticide products inside their homes in attempts to get rid of bed bugs. Reports from licensed pest control professionals in the field and news media of people dousing their beds, their pajamas and even bathing their children in garden insecticides has caused growing concern among government officials, the medical community, public health guardians, and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). The use of harsh chemicals not approved by the EPA for residential use can cause severe burn-like irritation of the skin and eyes, possible damage to the central nervous system, and may even expose you to carcinogens.
There have also been numerous news reports of house and apartment fires begun by desperate people using highly flammable liquids to kill bedbugs. In January, a Cincinnati, Ohio man who was wiping down his furniture with a mixture of insecticide and alcohol started a fire in his apartment when his cigarette ignited fumes from the chemical mixture. In July 2008, an Eatontown, New Jersey man blew up his apartment while attempting do-it-yourself pest control. A pilot light ignited the chemical spray and fumes causing an explosion that blew out the front windows of the apartment and resulted in a fire that destroyed the man’s apartment and caused serious damage to neighboring units.
“Pest control firms reported seeing many ineffective and potentially dangerous measures used by do-it-yourselfers, including ammonia, bleach, fire, smoke, kerosene, wasp spray, and bug bombs, as well as concentrated pesticides bought on the internet,” University of Kentucky entomologist and national bedbug expert Michael Potter, writes in Bugs Without Borders, Defining the Global Bed Bug Resurgence, an international survey of pest management companies recently conducted by the University of Kentucky in conjunction with the NPMA. “As bedbug victims become more desperate, serious injury may result from such applications, especially among those who choose not to hire a professional,” he warns.
Bedbugs do not always respond to home treatment. These apple seed-sized insects that feed on human blood are hard to kill, a function of their biology and behavior. At best, do-it-yourself home treatments may force bedbugs to relocate, spreading infestations more quickly. These insects have a tough, protective carapace that is not easily penetrated. To kill, pest control products must come into direct physical contact with the insect; and their eggs are unaffected by products currently approved by the EPA for residential use. When not feeding, bedbugs hide in inaccessible spaces deep inside minute crevices, inside walls, behind baseboards, under floorboards, and inside electronic devices. Bedbugs and their eggs are also easily transported on clothing and belongings, allowing infestations to quickly spread through a home or apartment building. This combination of biology and behavior makes it nearly impossible to kill an entire bedbug infestation with a single pest control treatment. Three professional pest control treatments spaced two weeks apart are typically required to successfully exterminate a bedbug infestation and ensure that all hidden bugs and newly-hatched eggs have been killed.
Professional extermination by a licensed pest control company with an expertise in bed bug elimination is the most effective way to exterminate bed bugs. The EPA, on the Bed Bug Information Page posted on its website, states, “Getting a pest management professional (PMP) involved as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself is very effective at preventing further infestations.”
Fast action is essential in battling bed bug infestations. Bed bugs reproduce at an alarming rate and infestations can grow quickly. During its 6- to 12-month lifespan, a female bed bug can lay 500 eggs with offspring capable of reproducing within a month. It is common to see three or more bed bug generations present in an established infestation. Prompt treatment in the earliest stages of infestation can limit the infestation and prevents it from spreading.
To successfully treat bedbug infestations, licensed pest control professionals employ a combination of environmental management procedures, called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and a variety of pest control materials approved by the EPA for residential use only by licensed pest management professionals. Effective bedbug extermination begins with meticulous pre-treatment preparation to remove clutter, clothing, bed linens and other items that might allow bedbugs to escape exposure to pest control materials. When site preparation is complete, a combination of pest control materials is employed to attack bedbugs on multiple levels.
Concerns about health and safety issues that have arisen from misuse of pest control chemicals by unlicensed or improperly trained pest controllers and unqualified contractors trying to cash in on public fear prompted the EPA to warn consumers to avoid insect extermination services made with “unrealistic promises of effectiveness or low cost.”
Last July, a Newark, New Jersey pest control company was accused of illegal application of chemicals not approved for residential use. While providing bed bug treatments to 70 homes and apartments units, technicians sprayed powerful chemicals on mattresses and children’s toys. In Cincinnati, Ohio last June, an unlicensed contractor hired to exterminate bed bugs saturated an apartment complex with an agricultural pesticide, sending seven tenants to the hospital and causing public health authorities to quarantine the property.
In the hopes of preventing such incidents, the NPMA recently developed Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs (BMP) to serve as a guide for both the industry and consumers. A list of consumer tips for selecting a pest professional provided in the BMP recommends that consumers hire only qualified and licensed pest management firms to protect their health and safety and ensure that the pest control services they receive are safe and effective. The NPMA further recommends that consumers give preferential consideration to licensed pest management firms that have attained QualityPro certification, indicating that they exhibit the highest technical, educational and ethical standards in the industry.