New York's Bed Bug Blight Abates
Sunday, January 1, 2012
New Yorkers have one more reason to celebrate the new
year: Bedbugs are losing their bite.
The panic that gripped the city in 2010, when the nasty critters
invaded every corner of the five boroughs-from people's homes and
workplaces to trendy clothing shops like Victoria's Secret-is
subsiding. City agencies that track the bloodsuckers and the
exterminators who stamp them out are reporting fewer cases. Even
ordinary New Yorkers are feeling less edgy about the scourge.
In fiscal 2011, bedbug violations in apartment buildings
declined by 344 instances, to 4,481. Queens was the only borough to
report an increase, with 17 more violations, for a total of 610,
according to the Department of Housing Preservation and
Development. A violation occurs when inspectors find at least one
From January through November 2011, the city's 311 help line
received 22% fewer calls about bedbugs compared with the same
period a year earlier, said the city's Department of Information
Technology & Telecommunications, which tracks complaints and
"Those numbers are probably the best gauge for how much bedbugs
are in the overall consciousness of New Yorkers," said a spokesman
To be sure, bedbugs are still a big problem. Because they are
introduced when people travel, hotels have been particularly hard
hit and must remain especially vigilant. Another trouble spot:
low-income housing units where landlords are not exterminating
properly or are simply unable to get rid of the bugs as tenants
reinfect the buildings.
"There is just not enough money to deal with bedbugs effectively
at this level of housing," said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban
entomologist with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future who
also was the chairman of the city's Bed Bug Advisory Board. "I hate
the idea of stigmatizing people who can't afford to deal with this,
but it [continues to be] an issue of poverty," she added.
That was not the case more than a year ago, when bedbugs took up
residence in exclusive neighborhoods, luxury hotels and high-end
"I think people freaked out so much and got overly cautious that
it's helped a little bit," said Alyssa Bleiberg, a public relations
professional who had a bedbug outbreak in a former apartment
several years ago. She has since educated herself on how to avoid
getting them again.
Experts said that the city's education efforts-and people's
anxiety levels-have paid off. The city set up a bedbug website that
provides information on how to prevent, recognize and treat
infestations. HPD has developed new training programs for its
inspectors to help them better detect the insects. In November, HPD
unleashed its latest weapons, Mickey and Nemo, two bedbug-sniffing
beagles. Meanwhile, the state passed a law in 2010 that requires
landlords to disclose any prior bedbug infestations in their
Hoteliers are also getting a handle on the problem.
AppleCore Hotels, which owns five budget properties in the city,
outfitted its beds with bedbug-resistant mattress casings and
implemented new inspection procedures, regularly examining
electrical sockets, baseboards and bed frames for evidence of the
pests. "The number of incidents has declined [at our hotels]," said
chief executive Vijay Dandapani, "and guests are less anxious these
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Exterminators lament the loss of a lucrative
"The extermination industry got access to millions of dollars,"
said Benett Pearlman, chief executive of Positive Pest Management
in Whitestone, Queens, whose company has service contracts with 165
apartment buildings. "Now we are seeing a major drop in business.
We go weeks without bedbug complaints."
As exterminators ruminate about their future, New Yorkers are
turning their newfound knowledge into power.
Scott Keatley, who works with homeless people and regularly
visits residents in low-income housing units, was terrified of
bringing bugs home with him.
Now the director of Nourishing NYC has armed himself with
prevention information and a new routine. At the end of a day when
he feels he may have been exposed to the bugs, he puts his clothing
in the dryer for 10 minutes after he gets home.
"It alleviated my fear," he said. "I feel more in control."