Notes From The Bedbug Workshop
This evening I attended the HPD workshop conducted at the Greenpoint Reformed Church. Given the start time was 6:00 p.m. (and thus difficult for many people to attend), I was very pleased with the turnout. For those of you who were not able to be there but want to learn more, I took copious notes. Here they are.
The presentation was given by Edward Brownbear (the gentleman in the above photograph). He is the Lead Education Instructor for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. What’s more, he himself has had bedbugs and provided a number of personal anecdotes as to how he fought them successfully.
The presentation (entitled Bed Bugs On The Move) broke into three components:
- Your rights as a tenant or landlord
- Pest management
INTRODUCTION: What Are Bedbugs?
Per Mr. Brownbear, in 2006 HPD received ~1,000 complaints about bedbugs. In 2007 that number shot up to ~3,500 – 4,000. Some of the hardest hit areas were Bushwick, Ridgewood, East Harlem and Harlem.
There are 91 species of bedbugs. New York City sports three of them. There is the “common” bedbug which is, as it name indicates, the most common. There is also the “tropical bedbug” which is more active in summer weather. I didn’t get the third one. Regardless of species, all varieties of bedbugs:
- Detect “heat signatures” from as far as three feet.
- Prefer to dine upon human blood (lactic acid, body heat and breath attract them).
- Cannot fly, but can crawl very quickly.
- Can carry disease but will not transmit (it has to do with how they feed which is very different than, for example, a mosquito).
- Can be difficult to detect because before feeding they are as flat as a piece of paper.
- Are nocturnal.
- Are attracted to fibers and wood.
- Can hibernate for up to 18 months.
Two reasons for the influx of bedbugs in New York City are as follows.
- Increased international travel.
- Reconditioned mattresses.
What is a reconditioned mattress? It’s probably not what you, dear readers, think. A reconditioned mattress is a mattress that has been dry cleaned and resold. That’s it. Although the law states that these mattresses are to be labeled with a yellow tag, they are often are not. Anyone who suspects that he (or she) has been sold a reconditioned mattress without proper disclosure should contact the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Bedbugs feed for approximately eight minutes, then fall off the human body and find a (preferably dark) place to digest to digest and make bedbug babies for seven days. Mr. Brownbear was reluctant to talk about Bedbug Sex Ed. 101, but the attendees insisted and an entomologist stepped up to the plate and gave us the deets. For those of you who have ever wondered how bedbugs do the nasty, today’s your lucky day!
The male bedbug does not have a penis. It has an appendage designed to stab the female bedbug in a “cleft” on the underside of her body. Underneath this cleft is a pocket— padding if you will— that protects her internal organs. This mating process is called “traumatic insemination”. Try that one at your next trivia night!
Females lay 3-5 eggs a day. The gestation period is ten days and the maturation period is five weeks. In her lifetime, a bedbug can lay 500 eggs. These eggs are 1/36 of an inch thick and are clear, thus they are very difficult to see. Bedbug babies are also translucent and measure approximately one millimeter thick.
Are Bedbugs Dangerous?
As I indicated earlier, they can carry disease but studies have shown they do not transmit them. However, people vary in regards to reactivity to bedbug bites. Even a dermatologist cannot tell the difference between a bedbug bite from that of a tick or mosquito. Those who have high sensitivity or conditions such as eczema will have more reactivity to bedbug bites. Others, however, will have little to no reaction at all.
It was at this point that one of the more terrifying points of this entire meeting (in my opinion) was brought up: bedbugs make good “hitchhikers”, e.g.; they can attach themselves to a person’s clothing and spread. Five different subway stations have turned up positive for bedbugs. Three of them (the ones Mr. Brownbear could recall) are:
- Fordham Road, Bronx
- Union Square, Manhattan
- Hoyt-Schermerhorn, Brooklyn
At the latter most they were found on a subway bench, which makes sense given it is has been established these little critters like wood.
YOUR RIGHTS AS A TENANT
Under New York City Housing Code bedbugs (just like roaches) fall under a level B violation with “A” being the lowest level of severity and “C” being the highest. Mr. Brownbear advised that anyone afflicted with bedbugs should call 311 and report them. However, he conceded that doing so presents a number of problems. Among them:
- The reaction time will be slow. HPD has 600 inspectors.
- Many people work and cannot stay home waiting for HPD to show up.
- The inspector actually has to see bedbugs “at large” in your apartment. Merely showing them bites and/or trapping bedbugs in a jar is not sufficient.
- This is problematic given that bedbugs are nocturnal and inspectors work conventional business hours, therefore…
- He advised that you look for hiding places, such as chest of drawers, under mattresses, etc. to show the inspector before he (or she) visits.
- Regardless if you are responsible for bringing bedbugs into your apartment or not, the landlord is legally obligated exterminate.
YOUR RIGHTS AS A LANDLORD/PEST MANAGEMENT
Not surprisingly, the landlord’s burden is pretty light. All he (or she) must do is provide proof that an exterminator was paid within 30 days of being cited. However, here are a few tips for tenants:
- Do your homework.
- A landlord is not to exterminate bedbugs. Only professional (as licensed by the D.E.C.) is qualified to spray for bedbugs.
- Multiple applications will be needed. Preferably once a week for three weeks.
- Leave your apartment for 6-8 hours after exterminating and come home.
- A non-toxic method was suggested:
This product is readily available at hardware stores and only the “food grade” variety should be used. Simply put, is leeches moisture out of an insect’s (any insect’s) body, thus killing them. While deemed safe for people and pets, be sure to use take precautions for your furry friends (and in the case tonight scaly ones, e.g.; iguanas) and wear a mask while applying. Applications should be made every couple of weeks for maximum effect. Be sure your blankets do not touch the walls or floor, as these creepy little critters will try to take refuge in your bed.
It was at this point that the meeting started to wind down. Here are a few tips/items of interest worth passing along:
- When traveling, do not use suitcases: use soft-sided washable luggage.
- If you suspect you have luggage that might be infested, run it through a dryer at 120-130 degrees.
- Do bedbugs have natural predators? Yes they do, but it would take thousands of them to get rid of an infestation.
- Has the city ever intervened regarding a bedbug infestation? YES. There were two cases of a building-wide infestation in Bushwick. The Department of Health stepped in and tenants were evacuated from the building so it could be exterminated. Mind you, this is a rare occurrence.
- It was brought up by one attendee that NY1 be contacted to do a Q & A about bedbugs on a ‘call-in show”.
- NYC vs. Bedbugs was present with lots of useful information and a handy form letter you can fill out and send to David Yassky (our city councilman) to make known your concern about the bedbug problem in North Brooklyn.
- Someone asked if there was a “bedbug map” of New York City. Bedbuggers is the place to go.
- Ann Kansfield offered to help put together a media campaign to raise awareness about bedbugs and induce more action on the part of out city officials.
- I advised contacting our Representative, Joseph Lentol. I have contacted him in the past about quality of life issues in his district. He is very good with the constituent services. I speak from experience when I write this.
HPD gives a number of workshops. All are free for the asking. Some of the topics they cover (aside from bedbugs) are mold and mildew; roaches and vermin abatement and lead paint awareness. If anyone is interested in learning more about these workshops, Mr. Brownbear can be contacted at:
browned (at) hpd (dot) nyc (dot) gov