Agencies prepare for bedbugs
The Register-Guard (OR)
Sunday, June 26, 2011
As bedbugs arrived in
increasing numbers in Lane County, the persistent little pests have
spurred a wave of entrepreneurial activity.
Local pest control companies are
adding staff, bug-killing equipment and bedbug-sniffing dogs.
Retailers are stocking bedbug products, including sprays and
Motel, retail and second-hand shops
are training their staff to spot signs of the bugs, writing bedbug
control plans to insure proper and speedy action upon discovery -
and they're contracting with pest companies to insure attention
when the bugs turn up.
"It's a big business," said Dave
Ottovich, owner of "Ask the Bug Man" Pest Management Services in
revenues at treatment companies are up 24 percent, at $319 million
in 2010 from $258 million in 2009, according to the National Pest
A half dozen new companies with
"bedbug" in their names were launched in Oregon since August,
including Progressive Bedbug Solutions and Bedbug Guys. And Lane
County's pest control industry grew last year, with two new firms
joining the existing dozen.
Neither scientists, public health
experts or pest control experts know sure-fire ways of treating
bedbugs. The bugs develop quick immunity to insecticides. No
technique, including whole-room heat fumigation, is perfect.
The National Pest Management
Association counsels exterminators to manage their customers'
expectations: "Because of the cryptic nature of bedbugs, it is
difficult to be 100 percent sure that all bedbugs and eggs have
Bedbugs have proved an ongoing
bonanza for the pest control industry. It takes three or four
treatments to wipe out an entrenched population. Commercial
establishments are willing to pay pronto to avoid business-damaging
publicity if word of an infestation leaked. And homeowners just
want the bugs out of their lives.
"Some companies are charging an arm
and a leg," Ottovich said. "To me they're playing on people's
Treatments run from hundreds of
dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the seriousness of
the infestation and whether the client is a single family homeowner
or a hotel or dormitory operator, the pest management companies
Sprague Pest Solutions, a regional
pest management company based in Tacoma, bought $500,000 worth of
room-heating devices with temperature probes so that the company
would be prepared for the arrival of bedbugs, Eugene branch Manager
Mike Mulloy said. Sprague invested in three dogs with handlers at a
cost of $10,000 each. And the company hired one additional employee
in Eugene, three in Portland and 10 in Seattle just to deal with
the demand for bedbug services.
"We get calls (saying) we need the
dog here today," Mulloy said. "They say: 'Help us. Help us. Bail us
out. We hear you've got heat.' "
When Sprague's first dog, April,
got too busy, the company added May and June, who all started out
as mutts in an animal shelter, Mulloy said. Now the company is
evaluating whether to add a new dog, Julius, to meet the demand.
The Eugene branch averages a call a day about possible bedbugs and
about 80 percent of them are confirmed upon inspection, Mulloy
The Good Earth Pest Company based
in Corvallis - and covering Lane County as far south as Cottage
Grove - has treated increasing numbers of bedbug infestations since
2006. The company averages two confirmed infestations a month,
owner René Kesecker said.
The company uses heavy duty vacuum
extraction and steam applied directly to the mattress and other
furniture. "You've got to address every nook and cranny," she
And the company selectively applies
insecticide where concentrations of bugs were found to "take care
of any stragglers," Kesecker said.
Ottovich said he first puts out
traps to determine if there is, in fact, an infestation before he
breaks out the insecticide. About 75 percent of home owners who
call him with concerns about bedbugs don't turn out to have them,
he said, many times they call after seeing a news program about the
As demand for anti-bug measures
increases, gadget makers are busy supplying a range of devices -
many of them not cheap - to deal with the apple-seed-sized
The cost of heat-killing
decontamination chambers, for example, runs from $20,000 to
$500,0000, St. Vincent de Paul executive director Terry McDonald
McDonald is experienced in bedbug
issues: He is an adviser to the Connecticut Coalition Against
Bedbugs. He got involved while launching a mattress recycling
effort in the Eastern seaboard state. One system runs
propane-generated heat through baffles in a refrigerator truck to
treat objects, such as furniture that's locked inside, McDonald
said, adding, "It doesn't have to be very hot at all. Bedbugs die
at 123 degrees."
A Portland nonprofit group began
producing $500 bedbug-resistant beds in partnership with Pesznecker
Brothers metal fabricators.
Bedbugs can't crawl on slippery
finishes. So the Central City Concern bed has slippery legs that
are bent outward, preventing the mattress from touching the wall,
so there's no pathway for the bugs.
A West Linn company called Cimex
Science invented a $1,000 bedbug trap that attracts the bugs with
carbon dioxide, heat and body odor concocted to mimic a tasty
Northwest dry cleaners will convene
in Portland on July 24 for a one-day course on bedbugs. They're a
risk for the industry, but they're also an opportunity, according
to the National Cleaners Association. Some cleaners may want to
develop bedbug services as a revenue stream, if they can do it
without scaring their existing customers, according to the New
Specialty shops and hardware stores
are laying in products for customers with bedbug fears or
infestations. The True Value Hardware in south Eugene upped its
number of bedbug spray varieties to three recently in response to
customer demand, clerk Trevor Evans said.
Bed Bath & Beyond at Oakway
runs a looped video about bedbugs in its linens department.
"Colleges are seeing explosions of bedbugs," it warns; then it
peddles Allergy Luxe mattress encasements made of a "micro-denier"
Bug-tight encasements are an
important tool because they deny bugs their most convenient hiding
place. Bed Bath & Beyond carries encasements made by three
companies, ranging in price from $89.99 to $99.99 for queen size
beds. Two encasements are needed for each bed - one each for
mattress and box springs.
St. Vincent de Paul, which has $9
million in annual sales at Lane County thrift stores, started
training all of its staff to spot signs of bedbug infestation,
including blood smears, black feces spots and shed
So far the bugs have turned up
twice: Once in a mattress from Reeds port and a second time on a
hide-a-bed that a customer donated at one of the Lane County
drive-through donation sites, McDonald said. The staff spotted the
bugs, sealed the items in bags and sent them to the dump. "When we
start seeing a significant influx - from 1 to 3 percent of product
coming in with bedbugs - then we'll move rapidly toward a (heat)
fumigating system. Before that point, it's more cost effective to
discard the product."