WASHINGTON - It was appropriate that the U.S. EPA chose Georgetown University to host the 2nd National Bed Bug Summit Feb. 1-2, since the talk was dominated by the call for more education.
More than 250 people attended the two-day event which attracted government, regulatory, research, consumers, and industry representatives for what was billed as the first step toward establishing a framework for a national policy to combat this wide-spread pest problem.
“One of our goals is to reduce consumer confusion when it comes to bed bugs,” said Claire Gesalman, chief of EPA’s communications services branch. “We want to close the gap of missing information by establishing a central clearinghouse of information.”
However, tackling the communication issue when it comes to bed bugs is not an easy task considering the number of stakeholders involved. There are consumers, pest management professionals, and numerous government agencies at the federal level including EPA, USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as numerous state and local government entities.
The central clearinghouse of information that EPA’s Gesalman spoke of in her remarks, would serve the various constituencies’ needs for communications tools that can be used to help educate consumers on how they can be part of the solution to controlling bed bugs. However, no delivery platform for the dissemination of the information has been decided upon and lack of funding is hampering the effort.
Representatives from public housing authorities in Portland, Ore., and Boston, Mass., both credited successful communication efforts aimed at tenants in helping them with getting the message across about the facts associated with bed bugs. “It is an ongoing process of education for residents and we have had success when we have been able to get the right information into their hands,” said Jonathan Wild, property manager with the Housing Authority of Portland.
Getting the information into the hands of consumers that are impacted by bed bugs, however, is not as easy as putting up a poster in the laundry room or having a tenant meeting.
“It is a two-headed issue that you have to contend with,” said Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, IPM specialist/urban entomologist for the New York State IPM Program, who has worked extensively in New York City and Long Island’s Nassau County. “You have social and cultural blockers that lead to challenges in getting the information out there and providing treatment. As a result people who need the service are falling through the cracks.”
Industry professionals in attendance agree that better communication is part of solution but that time is of the essence.
“This is a serious crisis that we are facing,” said Bob Rosenberg, vice president of government affairs for the NPMA, who spoke on a panel at the event. “There is a need for a coordinated response that involves industry and government.”
Stoy Hedges, director of technical services for Terminix, attended the two-day event and feels a central clearinghouse of information would be helpful to both consumers and industry.
“The government, the EPA in this case, is well-suited to being a host for such a clearinghouse,” said Hedges. “Having the ability to link to the latest research papers and other information, as well as forums for getting questions answered would be very useful.”
Hedges cautioned that while a central information source would be helpful, the information provided would have to be verified by EPA before being released for consumption.
“There is a lot of information out there regarding bed bugs and not all of it is accurate,” said Hedges. “Whatever format it is finally presented in, the information needs to be verified so consumers are getting an accurate picture.”
NPMA recently released its Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs, available at www.npmapestworld.org, in order to facilitate the distribution of the latest factual information on bed bug detection and control for consumers.
“Consumer protection is very important to the pest management industry,” said Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for NPMA. “Industry professionals have the knowledge and are in the best position to recommend the proper treatment strategies.”
Hotel Industry Works To Check Bed Bugs Out
No industry has been put under the spotlight of the media and consumers when it comes to bed bugs that the hotel industry. And while hotels have certainly been one of the places bed bugs have taken roost, they are not alone.
“It is not just a hotel problem,” said Jim McInerny, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, who participated in a panel discussion during the 2nd Annual National Bed Bug Summit.
McInerny said that 3.8 million people stay in hotels in the United States every evening and that the industry has taken numerous steps to make sure its room inventory is bed bug-free.
He cited the extensive educational materials, including DVDs and tip sheets provided by Orkin, Ecolab, NPMA and EPA, and hours of in-person training that his members have done with housekeeping staffs across the country to identify and react appropriately when a suspected bed bug infestation is identified.
“Contrary to popular belief, our members do not raise bed bugs down in the basement,” said McInerny with a smile. “The information that we have is good and needs to continue to be better communicated but bed bugs are not a hotel sanitation issue.”
While the event included several presentations on the latest technologies available to treat for bed bugs and updates from the research community on their efforts, no across-the-board treatment remedy is apparent.
“Bugs go where people go and that is part of the problem,” said Rick Cooper, vice president of Bed Bug Central and a researcher at Rutgers University. “Field experience is helping the industry develop the proper treatment methods but there has been overreaction to the problem in some areas.”
For example, encasement of infested items such as clothing or furniture, has proven more effective in some cases than simply throwing the items out in the trash, which was accepted as a standard response when an infestation was discovered. When it comes to combating bed bugs, Cooper said “it is not about the what, it is about the how.”
Allison Taisey, program coordinator for the Northeastern IPM Center at Cornell University, echoed Cooper’s sentiments saying, “No two bed bug treatments are alike and you can’t simply offer one definitive solution.”
And while industry and government agencies are both driving at the same goal – getting a handle on a pest that one in five consumers have had or know someone who has had an experience with bed bugs, the Summit left unanswered questions and some wondering if the government and industry are on the same page.
“We both want the same thing and that is to find solutions to controlling and eliminating bed bugs,” said Rosenberg. “We know that EPA and the other agencies do not have the needed staff or resources to attack this problem as fast as everyone would like.”
Rosenberg cited the fact that the USDA has devoted one researcher to the bed bug effort and that is simply not enough to meet the need.
As for the industry’s desire that EPA relax the barriers for certain product registration requirements and fast-track new products that might help in the fight, Rosenberg said he is hopeful. He indicated the industry is partnering with EPA on several efficacy workgroups to study options for new products, including some currently labeled for agriculture uses that avoid the resistance problems and could prove effective.
“We can work together to find solutions and events like this escalate the awareness of the issue and demonstrate a need for the government act,” said Rosenberg.
Veteran industry PMP Billy Tesh of Pest Management Systems in Greensboro, N.C., attended the Summit and came away concerned about the speed at which the EPA was moving to address the issues surrounding bed bugs.
“There seems to be little movement on the main issues with bed bugs,” said Tesh. He acknowledged that EPA and the other government agencies were in a budget crunch but he said that should not stop them from being more resourceful.
“They need to find a way to reallocate and refocus existing resources toward bed bug research and programs to help stem the crisis,” said Tesh.
Like others in the industry he feels establishing a central clearinghouse of information would benefit all the shareholders with a stake in eliminating bed bugs. Tesh would like to see a single entity lead the effort but with representation from the pest management industry, as well as the apartment and housing and hospitality industries.
“If they involve the stakeholders in the effort, the likelihood of the information being beneficial and accurate increases,” said Tesh. “And that will benefit everyone.”
Though not overly optimistic about the prospects, he to hopes EPA will take another look at the product registration and re-registration process, and consider allowing certain products not currently labeled for bed bugs to be updated.
“Industry will have to continue to push EPA to take a second look at some of the older chemistry that could help,” said Tesh. “Research has shown that effective control for bed bugs is achieved through a rotation of pesticides, and the more options available the better our chances are of eliminating the problem.”
Q&A with EPA’s Lois Rossi
EPA’s recent National Bed Bug Summit put yet another bright spotlight on a pest that just won’t seem to go away. It also put the activities of EPA and other government agencies under the microscope, and posed the question – what are they doing to stem the tide? PCT went directly to the EPA’s Lois Rossi, director of EPA’s Registration Division, the branch of the agency that is responsible for new product registrations of chemical pesticides, for her reaction to the Summit and what EPA is planning on doing to help consumers and the industry combat this issue.
PCT: Is the current bed bug crisis going to impact the way EPA handles new product registration in terms of fast tracking registrations?
Rossi: We are now focusing our efforts on a sustainable program – one that is comprehensive and multifaceted – including a variety of educational, non-chemical, and chemical approaches for bed bug management and control. The prudent use of safe and effective pesticides is just one component of a comprehensive strategy. EPA remains committed to expedite any new applications for pesticides proposed for bed bug control and is working with researchers and industry to encourage the development of new, safe and effective pesticides.
While EPA is currently working with various parties including pesticide registrants and federal agencies on possible new uses of existing chemicals as well as encouraging new chemicals, there are no new
chemistries currently in the registration process. EPA has been in discussions with several registrants and researchers to discuss registrations of new technologies, though no new applications have been submitted yet.
PCT: Is EPA considering expanding label usages for bed bugs with other currently registered products that might offer improved efficacy against bed bugs?
Rossi: In January 2010, we added bed bugs to the label of a product that contains two active ingredients: imidacloprid, which is new for bed bug products though not a new chemistry, along with cyfluthrin, which is used in other bed bug products. We are actively working with USDA-ARS to identify pesticides that are registered for use against other pests and may be effective against bed bugs.
PCT: How does EPA plan on working with the pest management industry to solve the bed bug issue?
Rossi: The recent Second Bed Bug Summit with stakeholders such as the pest management industry is an example of the ways EPA engages the pest management industry. Their input toward a national bed bug strategy is necessary for coming up with a solution to the bed bug problem.