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EPA Announces Bed Bug Summit, Seeks Public Participation

(Beyond Pesticides, December 13, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that a national summit on bed bugs will be held by the Federal Bed Bug Workgroup on February 1-2, 2011 in Washington, DC. The public is invited to the summit to learn and discuss ways to solve the bed bug problem that is sweeping the country. It is the second such summit organized by the EPA, the last having been held in April 2009 (see summit recommendations), seeking input from scientists, regulators, and professionals in addition to the public as to how best to confront the issue. One of the recommendations from the first summit, that an interagency federal task force be created, led to the formation of the Federal Bed Bug Workgroup as a collaboration between the EPA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and National Institutes of Health.

Bed bugs have recently begun to spread rapidly throughout the country, due in part to global travel and increased resistance to pesticides, and have reached levels not seen since the end of World War II. This resurgence, coupled with the bugs’ adapted resistance to common treatments such as pyrethroids, has led to widespread public anxiety and drastic attempts to stem their spread through various means. Often these attempts have included the use of highly toxic and harmful chemicals. For example, in 2009, the State of Ohio, dealing with infestation in several major cities, petitioned the EPA to approve the indoor use of the pesticide propoxur, which the agency considers a probable carcinogen and banned for in-home use in 2007, due to concerns posed to children. About 25 other states supported Ohio’s request for an emergency exemption. In comments to the agency objecting to the petition for propoxur, Beyond Pesticides and other environmental and public health advocates urged the agency to reject the request, citing the serious public health threat associated with the chemical, as well as the availability of alternatives. EPA rejected Ohio’s petition in June.

Efforts which use chemicals such as these are unnecessary and can actually cause more harm than the bed bugs themselves. It should be emphasized: Bed bugs do not transmit disease and can be controlled. The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have put together a joint statement on bed bug control which provides background information on the recent rise in bed bug problems, discusses the public health implications of bed bug infestations, and stresses the importance of controlling them with an integrated approach. They are of course a cause for concern and a nuisance, but they can be effectively eliminated through a range of non-hazardous practices that do not put you and your family at risk. These techniques, which can be found on the Beyond Pesticides’ bed bug page, include:

Caulk and seal crevices. Prevent bed bugs from entering your home.
Eliminate clutter. Getting rid of as much clutter as possible will help you locate and eliminate infestations.
Vacuum. This will only remove visible bed bugs, but is important to get rid of dead bed bugs and their frass. Use a stiff brush to dislodge eggs in cracks and crevices and use a vacuum attachment that does not have bristles to get into the corners. Be sure to discard the bag immediately after vacuuming.
Launder Fabrics and Clothing. Wash and dry clothing for 30 minutes or a full cycle at the hottest setting the fabric will allow. Dry clean only clothes can simply be put into the dryer. If the fabric is too delicate for the hottest temperature, place it on a lower heat setting and let it run for the full cycle.
Encase mattresses and box springs. Make sure the encasement has been tested for bed bugs and will not rip and does not contain synthetic pesticides impregnated in the material. It will eventually kill all bed bugs inside.
Steam Treatment. Steam treatment will kill all stages of bedbugs. Move the nozzle over the bed bugs at a rate of 20 seconds per linear foot, and wrap a piece of fabric over the upholstery nozzle to reduce water pressure to make sure bed bugs don’t blow away. Many pest control companies provide this option, but you may have to ask for it.
Heat Treatment. Heat, either blown with a fan or ambient, can provide complete control of bed bugs, if all areas of infestation reach 120 degrees F.

Additionally, EPA has created a website which emphasizes an integrated pest management approach to controlling bed bugs.

Experts say it is going to take a comprehensive public health campaign — public-service announcements, travel tips and perhaps even taxpayer-funded extermination programs for public housing — to reduce the bedbug problem. People can get bedbugs by visiting infested homes or hotels, where the vermin hide in mattresses, pillows and curtains. The bugs are stealth hitchhikers that climb onto bags, clothing and luggage.

For more information, see our program page and read our factsheet, “Got Bed Bugs? Don’t Panic.”


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