Bedbug Issue Proving Difficult to Regulate

The Henderson Press
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Like cheating on a spouse or embezzling company funds, likewise, almost everybody shies away from recognizing or even talking about the bedbug problem in Southern Nevada.

Infestations are more common than might be imagined, and devastating economic impacts would occur in the local hospitality industry if a trend in unmanaged outbreaks became widespread knowledge and nobody - the Southern Nevada Health District nor the mattress, bedding and furniture industries - can come to grips with regulations aimed at eradicating Cimex lectularius.

The bug itself is easily defined - they're the size and color of an apple seed, will hide in suitcases, boxes and shoes to be near a food supply, and are nocturnal creatures that come out at night for a blood meal.

They not only are found in mattresses and headboards, but behind baseboards, electrical switch plates, picture frames, wallpaper, upholstery and in furniture crevices.

What's not so easily defined is the refinement of current health district regulations, originally adopted in 2007, that keep bugging those who are subject to them.

Such was the case at the April health district board meeting, where proposed amendments to the regulations drew so much criticism from frustrated mattress, bedding and furniture owners and their attorneys that adoption of the amendments was postponed until August for further industry input.

"We need paved road fencing to prevent debris? We're not in that business," Jack Campbell, manager of Walker Furniture, told the board as he read from a laundry list of health district permit requirements that included regulations for lighting and plumbing.

"That's unrelated to bedbugs, I'd say," he concluded.

Currently, nonprofit organizations such as Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army are exempt from any regulations governing the sale of used mattresses, bedding or furniture.

"We shouldn't be exempting anyone," Southern Nevada Health District Board Member and County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said. "Maybe we shouldn't even allow them to accept them."

Originally, the only sanitization method allowed was a dry heat treatment that required temperatures of 230 degrees to "bake" and kill bedbugs, but that temperature was lowered to 125 degrees in the amendments.

Still, store owners say the method is financially unreasonable.

Greg Phillips, owner of Phillips Furniture in Henderson, said he looked at installing a dry heat oven system for sanitizing used mattresses he accepts, but discovered it would cost him $230,000 to sanitize that way, and the few mattresses he gets wouldn't pay for the system.

In the absence of a sanitization method, Phillips ships his used mattresses to a California company that has a Clark County health permit.

"My feelings on which method they should use is they're getting too complicated," Phillips said. "They're trying to cover all the bases and not trying to solve their problem."

The proposed amendments come at a time that reports of bedbug infestations are exploding worldwide.

"The results of our 2010 Comprehensive Global Bed Bug Study suggest that we are on the threshold of a bedbug pandemic, not just in the United States, but around the world," Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said in a published report.

Some 95 percent of the association's 1,000 U.S. and international pest management company respondents indicated in the 2010 study their company has encountered a bedbug infestation in the past year. Prior to 2000, that number was only 25 percent.

Some 67 percent of the respondents reported treating bed bug infestations in hotels and motels.

The major cause of greater infestations is increased mobility of infected goods and persons.

"Travelers create more of an opportunity to bring things in," Giunchigliani said.

Dwight Blackburn, owner of Blackburn Pest Control in Henderson for 28 years, said the problem here exists, but not as badly as elsewhere.

"Today, it's the number one pest problem in the country," he said. "Locally, though, hotels have been on top of things. Being proactive is the reason why it's not as bad here as it is in other areas."

Still, a Web site called The Bedbug Registry (bedbugregistry.com) shows in the past five years that Nevada has had 170 bedbug reports, with 69 in Las Vegas hotels and motels. Also, 15 apartment buildings reportedly had infestations.

The reports are unconfirmed by any source and may be skewed by unhappy customers.