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Public meeting highlights lessons learned about bed bug policy

Posted: November 13, 2015

Philadelphia, Pa. -- You discover bed bugs in your newly rented row home. Did you bring them in on your own things when you moved in? Were they already in the walls of the house? Did they creep in from a neighbor’s home? Who is at fault? Who should pay for pest control? What should you do?

According to Michelle Niedermeier, community IPM coordinator for PA IPM, the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force generally feels that a bed bug infestation should be considered a no-fault situation. “Bed bugs happen, and we need to work together to deal with them,” she said.

Strategies for working together to deal with bed bugs was the topic of an October 21st meeting of the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force. The meeting -- which was the first in a new series of quarterly meetings open to the public -- highlighted the action plans implemented and lessons learned in Lancaster, Pa., and New York City, N.Y., as well as the Pennsylvania laws and regulations regarding pesticide applications.

Guest speakers included Kim Wissler, health officer from the city of Lancaster; Mario Merlino, assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene; and Daniel Duer, field technician and pesticide enforcement officer at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The presenters discussed the major challenges they face in managing bed bug infestations in their municipalities. These include overcoming the stigma associated with bed bugs, such that infestations will be reported and not hidden; ensuring that only licensed pest management professionals conduct bed bug inspections and treatments; and deciding which agencies should be involved in management and enforcement.

“We heard from two different cities about two different models, both of which have pros and cons,” said Niedermeier. “In Philadelphia, we plan to adapt these and other models in the design of our own policies and legislation.”

Niedermeier said that so far the City of Philadelphia does not have any policies related to bed bugs.

“Currently, bed bugs are not known to spread disease in the ‘wild,’ although in laboratories they are capable of spreading disease,” she said. “As a result, the health department doesn’t consider them to be a pest of human health concern, and they currently aren’t able to do anything about them. In fact, no one in the city wants to deal with this issue. Since no one is in charge, no one is taking time to monitor infestation levels. A study conducted in South Philadelphia by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania estimated that 11 percent of households had bed bugs in the past five years. It’s a real problem.”

The Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force has been working with Councilman Mark Squilla to create a set of policy recommendations for the City of Philadelphia.

“Mark Squilla himself had bed bugs, so he is empathetic to the cause,” said Niedermeier. “He’s going to put forth our policy recommendations and guide them through City Council beginning in 2016.”

Still in the development phase, the task force’s recommendations so far include creating and/or editing and adopting a policy that outlines the expectations, rights, and responsibilities for those involved; adopting best management practices for bed bugs; providing education and outreach to the public; and soliciting funding to pay for policy implementation.

Besides members of the bed bug task force, other attendees at the meeting included representatives from the city’s contracts office, Department of Streets and Department of Public Health; lawyers from property management offices and from tenant representative networks; social workers; officials from mental health organizations; owners of pest control companies; and members of the general public.

“This meeting was really just the beginning of the task force’s effort to bring people together around the issue of bed bugs,” said Niedermeier. “When it comes to bed bugs, no one is at fault. Everyone must work together to get rid of them properly, so they don’t spread. Everyone must be committed to the protocols.”