If you get bedbugs, you don’t have to call a licensed pest control company, but you’d be foolish not to, is the take-away message from a warning issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last August. “Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bedbugs can make you, your family, and your pets sick,” the EPA said in a consumer alert quoted by The Hill Healthwatch online. “It can also make your home unsafe to live in – and may not solve the bedbug problem.”
Alarmed by reports of dangerous pesticide misuse and extreme measures being taken by some homeowners and apartment dwellers in do-it-yourself efforts to eradicate bed bugs, the U.S. EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint statement last July warning consumers against using outdoor pesticide products inside their homes in attempts to get rid of bed bugs. Reports from licensed pest control professionals in the field and news media of people dousing their beds, their pajamas and even bathing their children in garden insecticides has caused growing concern among government officials, the medical community, public health guardians, and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). The use of harsh chemicals not approved by the EPA for residential use can cause severe burn-like irritation of the skin and eyes, possible damage to the central nervous system, and may even expose you to carcinogens.
There have also been numerous news reports of house and apartment fires begun by desperate people using highly flammable liquids to kill bedbugs. In January, a Cincinnati, Ohio man who was wiping down his furniture with a mixture of insecticide and alcohol started a fire in his apartment when his cigarette ignited fumes from the chemical mixture. In July 2008, an Eatontown, New Jersey man blew up his apartment while attempting do-it-yourself pest control. A pilot light ignited the chemical spray and fumes causing an explosion that blew out the front windows of the apartment and resulted in a fire that destroyed the man’s apartment and caused serious damage to neighboring units.
“Pest control firms reported seeing many ineffective and potentially dangerous measures used by do-it-yourselfers, including ammonia, bleach, fire, smoke, kerosene, wasp spray, and bug bombs, as well as concentrated pesticides bought on the internet,” University of Kentucky entomologist and national bedbug expert Michael Potter, writes in Bugs Without Borders, Defining the Global Bed Bug Resurgence, an international survey of pest management companies recently conducted by the University of Kentucky in conjunction with the NPMA. “As bedbug victims become more desperate, serious injury may result from such applications, especially among those who choose not to hire a professional,” he warns.
Bedbugs do not always respond to home treatment. These apple seed-sized insects that feed on human blood are hard to kill, a function of their biology and behavior. At best, do-it-yourself home treatments may force bedbugs to relocate, spreading infestations more quickly. These insects have a tough, protective carapace that is not easily penetrated. To kill, pest control products must come into direct physical contact with the insect; and their eggs are unaffected by products currently approved by the EPA for residential use. When not feeding, bedbugs hide in inaccessible spaces deep inside minute crevices, inside walls, behind baseboards, under floorboards, and inside electronic devices. Bedbugs and their eggs are also easily transported on clothing and belongings, allowing infestations to quickly spread through a home or apartment building. This combination of biology and behavior makes it nearly impossible to kill an entire bedbug infestation with a single pest control treatment. Three professional pest control treatments spaced two weeks apart are typically required to successfully exterminate a bedbug infestation and ensure that all hidden bugs and newly-hatched eggs have been killed.