Bedbugs Survive Most Do-It-Yourself Attacks

Columbus Dispatch
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bedbug sufferers cannot bomb their way to relief, according to a new study that tested the effectiveness of three popular over-the-counter pesticide foggers.

Susan Jones, an Ohio State University entomologist and bedbug expert, said the foggers generally did little to control the blood-sucking parasites.

The product labels promise otherwise.

"It did nothing to the bugs, even when they were out in the open and the droplets fell down on them," said Jones, co-author of the study that appears this month in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

"They walked away scot-free."

Now, she and others say, it's time for the Environmental Protection Agency to pay attention to the research. Federal officials should enforce product standards for bedbug control to keep the public from wasting money on treatments that don't work and could make the problem worse, she said.

"Essentially, the public is being disserved by a federal agency that will not take a stand," Jones said.

Bedbugs have become widespread throughout the nation, with Ohio particularly hard hit.

The pest-control company Terminix just put Columbus at No. 7 on its annual list of most-infested cities, up from No. 11 last year.

Cincinnati was in second place, behind Philadelphia, and Cleveland ranked No. 15. No other state had as many cities in the top 15.

"The problem is not getting any better, anywhere," said Lonnie Alonso of Columbus Pest Control.

Many people battling a bedbug infestation buy over-the-counter products because they can't afford professional extermination, which is far more effective.

Still, Jones said, the foggers aren't a good second choice. Modern-day bedbugs have become largely resistant to pyrethroids, the primary ingredient in the foggers, she said. They also don't reach bedbug hiding places, and even if a direct blast did manage to kill some on contact - as would a human with a shoe - there's no residual effect.

Jones said there's more progress to be had by washing, drying and sealing clothing and bedding; eliminating clutter; and vacuuming rugs, corners and baseboards and then sealing and disposing of the bag.

"You have to think like a bedbug," she said. "That picture above your bed? It's a favorite hiding place."

But people who are desperate - and often welt-covered - are likely to keep looking for affordable products that work, Alonso said. "You can say all you want, 'Don't do it yourself,' but people are going to," he said.

His company sells higher-priced products that range from about $25 a can to $165 for a concentrate that makes 25 gallons of spray, he said. They're not the foggers sold in stores.

But because of EPA regulations, Alonso has to tell people that the $25 can of spray that contains the bedbug-killer propoxur is not labeled or intended for indoor residential use.

And that's pretty strange, he said, because the same label says the product is OK to use in hospitals, supermarkets, airplanes, schools and restaurants. "It's crazy," Alonso said.

Jones said government regulators and officials have to get serious about the bedbug war. "I've been in touch with the EPA about the study, and I haven't gotten a straight answer," she said.

"They don't understand how it affects those who can't afford an exterminator - it devastates people's lives."