N.J. exterminators stay busy as bedbug cases rise across the state
The Star Ledger (NJ)
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Gregorio Lozano and his team pulled up to the target address and
got ready for battle, donning white bio-hazard suits and
off-loading silver tanks of cryogen.
They were on the hunt for bedbugs.
With the bedbug population larger than at any point in recent
memory, exterminators are busier than ever, with infestations of
the wingless red insect - no bigger than a pin head - increasingly
being found far beyond homes and bedrooms. They're now being found
in stores, offices and the workplace.
"There really is a mass paranoia about the insects now," said
Steve Spinelli, owner of Titanium Laboratories in Nutley, which
devotes 80 percent of its business to bedbugs, up from 15 percent
in recent years.
Experts say labor lawyers have begun advising businesses on
their liability and whether they should pay to treat not only their
offices, but the homes of employees as well.
David Cassidy, a labor lawyer at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus
in Bridgewater, expects to see the issue come up soon in new union
In rare cases, Cassidy said, bedbugs might warrant employee
disability claims if someone is bitten at work. Even if no one is
bitten, morale tends to drop after an infestation, he said. Some
employees get labeled as "dirty" if their peers suspect they're
responsible for the bedbugs, Cassidy said.
"We've coined this harassment as giving someone the 'Scarlet
B,'" he said.
Despite increased concerns, experts say most people know little
about bedbugs or infestation signs. Others try to remain ignorant,
preventing the chances of catching the infestations at a small
"There are still people out there in New Jersey that are
incredulous that it can happen in New Jersey, to them, said Peter
Di Eduardo, an account manager at Bell Environmental exterminators.
"They think it can only happen in New York."
Americans once thought bedbugs were relegated to good-night
wishes. Effective pesticides wiped out most U.S. bedbugs in the
1950s. But increased international travel to places like South
America, Asia and Africa allowed bedbugs resistant to traditional
pesticides to travel back to America, said Changlu Wang, a
professor at Rutgers University's Department of Entomology.
Outbreaks began to pop up in major cities, especially in New
York, attracting media attention and scaring people about what
lives in their mattresses.
At the same time, some exterminators were found to be equally
ill-informed about how to deal with bedbugs. In January, the state
Department of Environmental Protection fined a Newark company, TVF
Pest Control, $860,000 and revoked its pesticide business license
after spraying at least 50 residences and apartments for bedbugs in
three counties with two banned chemicals during a six-month period,
according to the DEP.
"If you're spraying pesticides incorrectly, and besides the fact
that you can make people sick, you wind up irritating the bugs, so
you're ending up spreading them to your neighbors' apartment," Di
Legislature, meanwhile, has gotten into the act. The Assembly in
2008 set basic guidelines for landlords and tenants facing an
infestation. Since then, the Legislature has passed seven more
laws, including the establishment of 30-day warranties from
exterminators and requirements for health care facilities and
shelters to keep a standing agreement with a pest-control
Most recently, the Senate has proposed a $500 tax credit to
offset the high costs of extermination.
Lozano, who first learned to battle bedbugs when his own house
was infested, works in Bell Environmental's bedbug division,
created about two years ago to deal with increasing infestation. In
the past year alone, bedbug calls have risen about 50 percent.
"How many calls have we been to? I don't know - thousands by
now," Lozano said. "This is my second call today."
At a home in Paterson, Lozano and his extermination team -
garbed in white suits and latex gloves - moved through the
downstairs, checking sofas, beds and drapes. This was actually the
second treatment, and the team found some lingering bedbugs.
As they searched, Lozano stopped and pointed to the shoulder of
Di Eduardo, who had accompanied the team.
"Look at that sucker!" Lozano said. A large bedbug had crawled
up Di Eduardo's suit, nearly to the neckline. Di Eduardo looked
down, picked it up between thumb and forefinger and squeezed it,
leaving a trail of blood on his latex gloves.
"You know, I'm most worried about taking them home to my wife,"
he said. "She'd shoot me."