Unfair fight; As bed bugs spread, the best weapon against them should be unleashed
Columbus Dispatch (Editorial)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Bedbugs are infesting more and more places, causing misery for
people across Ohio. But a federal agency still refuses to let
exterminators use the one pesticide proved to work.
The pesticide Propoxur kills bedbugs on the first try where others
fail. Susan Jones, an entomologist for Ohio State University,
illustrated that point vividly last week for an Ohio House
committee. She passed around to lawmakers two clear containers, one
with Propoxurtreated bugs and the other with bugs treated with the
product that is currently permitted for use by exterminators.
Predictably, the Propoxur bugs were dead and the others were still
alive and kicking.
The House committee then unanimously approved House Resolution 31,
asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to allow
emergency use of the chemical, which hasn't been used residentially
for more than a decade. The full House will hear the measure and
vote on it. A resolution doesn't have any force of law except to
show that lawmakers support this action.
Bedbugs began their resurgence several years ago. Reports of
infestations in Franklin County nearly tripled last year, to 6,900
reports, from 2,200 in 2009. And that's only the infestations
residents reported to county health officials, city code enforcers,
social-service agencies and a few exterminating companies.
Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to root out and kill. When
mapping the bedbug genome, OSU scientists found recently that the
current variety of bug plaguing Ohio has begun producing a protein
that helps it to safely excrete most poisons.
Some Ohioans can afford repeated visits from exterminators who
apply less-effective chemicals or extreme heat to kill
the bugs. The people who are left to suffer are those who can't
afford this, especially seniors in low-income housing. They even
abandon their homes and belongings, as these bloodsuckers cover
them in itchy welts, sometimes causing allergic reactions and
The EPA doesn't have hard figures on Propoxur's toxicity for
humans, so to be safe, it heavily overestimates the danger the
chemical might pose. But the only reason the EPA lacks that
information is that the manufacturer decided in 2006 not to reapply
for permission for indoor use of Propoxur, even though it had been
used in homes since the 1960s and remains the active ingredient in
many flea and tick collars for household pets.
The suffering caused by the bugs, and the lengths to which people
will go for relief, should be reason enough for the feds to grant
the state an emergency waiver over a short period, allowing
professional exterminators to apply this chemical in a safe
The alternative is that desperate people take unsafe steps to
solve their problem, especially the poor. They sometimes hire
questionable exterminators to spread who-knows-what all over their
house, possibly harming their children and pets. That very scenario
occurred near Cleveland in the mid-1990s, when dozens of low-income
families relied on a scammer to kill their cockroaches, and he
applied an outdoor agricultural pesticide that causes
Or as one Ohio exterminator, Andrew Christman, testified on
Wednesday, "I even heard of a family recently who rubbed gasoline
on their skin so they could sleep at night."
Could Propoxur, when applied properly, really be any more
dangerous than measures like that?