EPA plans national bed bug summit

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The Environmental Protection Agency is planning its second national bed bug summit for this winter in Washington, D.C. as the blood-sucking pest continues its blitzkrieg on the United States and EPA bans of more effective pesticides are under increasing scrutiny.

The summit is a repeat of an event held in April 2009 in Arlington, Va., but since then the bed bug problem appears only to have grown worse.

Just this week, bed bugs were discovered at the lush Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York as well as the offices of the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the EPA has still not decided whether to allow the use of a more effective pesticide in Ohio, where the problem is particularly acute.

Even so, several top officials on the front line of the battle against bed bugs told The Daily Caller that the EPA has increased its focus on the issue since its potential role in causing the “epidemic” came under greater scrutiny.

Besides planning a second bed bug summit, the agency also recently updated a website that lists hundreds of EPA-approved substances to combat bed bugs.

The EPA has also recently issued large grants and is studying whether some pesticides currently used for other purposes might be used to target bed bugs, too.

As TheDC reported in August, there were almost no bed bugs in the United States between World War II and the mid-1990s.

Around when bed bugs started their resurgence, Congress passed a major pesticides law in 1996 and the Clinton EPA banned several classes of chemicals that had been effective bed bug killers.

Now some health officials are clamoring to bring those chemicals back to help solve the bed bug “emergency.” Meanwhile, EPA bureaucrats have downplayed the idea and environmentalists are pushing hard against the effort, citing safety concerns.

The issue has led to a standoff between Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who dismissed Strickland’s appeals over the issue in a June letter.

However, the EPA has yet to hammer the nails into Ohio’s pesticide coffin, as a top Ohio agriculture official said the state is still holding out hope the EPA will approve the use of Propoxur.

Unlike many of the pesticides banned in the late 1990s, Propoxur was available for use in residential homes until 2007. At that point, the EPA requested further data from its producer for fear it could pose a risk to children. Industry chose to voluntarily restrict its use from residential areas instead, said Matt Beal of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Beal is heading Ohio’s push for an emergency exemption for Propoxur.

Any Propoxur manufactured before 2007 is still available for use in residential areas, so pest controllers have a limited supply they use “in order to really smash or crush those infestations,” Beal said.

For this reason, Beal said Ohio has offered to collect data on how Propoxur affects residents whose homes are treated with the chemical to show the EPA it is safe. So far, though, the EPA hasn’t made up its mind whether to pursue that route.
Although it’s been almost one year since Ohio requested an “emergency use” permit to battle bed bugs with the chemical, Beal said the request is unique. “Everybody is learning while they’re going,” Beal said.

Without Propoxur or other, more effective pesticides, bed bug victims face a far more expensive and time-consuming eradication of the pest because of growing resistance in wild bed bug populations to the pesticides that are still allowed by the government.

According to research at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, academic headquarters for studying the six-legged beast, some strains of bed bugs can survive, zombie-like, for up to 16 days after being directly sprayed with currently used pesticides.

As with many issues, whether the more effective, banned pesticides are safe depends on who you ask.

Bob Rosenberg of the National Pest Management Association, a trade association representing pest controllers, doesn’t have kids. But if he did, he told The Daily Caller, he “wouldn’t think twice” about having them applied to a residence they were living in.

Officials from Franklin County, Ohio told the EPA the move is necessary given how dire the situation. There, they have “infestations in schools, firehouses, apartment buildings and many other buildings,” a Jan. 15 letter from the county’s health director Paul Rosile said.

One of the arguments cited by Rosile and other proponents of reviving the effective pesticides is that desperate bed bug victims – who feel helpless as zombie bed bugs destroy their lives – are resorting to far less safe alternatives to hit back, do it yourself style.

“Many are resorting to other unsafe methods of treatment, including procuring farm, lawn care and garden chemicals to rid their home of the pests.”

Needless to say, heavy-duty agricultural pesticides were never intended to be sprayed at the base of one’s bed, and while certainly effective, they’re a rather perilous route to sleeping soundly.

That sounds pretty bad. But environmentalist groups say the pesticides that would be effective on bed bugs are dangerous, too.

For instance, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the most powerful member of Washington, D.C.’s green lobby, objected to Ohio’s push for better bed bug sprays in a Jan. 20 letter to the EPA.

Propoxur – the pesticide Ohio was hoping to use — “is a known human carcinogen,” NRDC wrote, and “causes a variety of poisoning symptoms, many of which can mimic common illnesses; these include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, sweating and tearing eyes. More severe poisoning can cause muscle twitching, drooling, seizures, respiratory paralysis and death.”

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