Council members push for task force on bed bugs

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Three City Council committees convened Tuesday to look into what can be done about a bed bug problem that has worsened annually in the city in the past five years.

Among those peppered with questions about city policies on bed bugs was Andrew Buts of the city Health Department, who in passing mentioned his organization’s Rat Task Force.

“Why not a Bed Bug Task Force?” asked Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D−Manhattan), hailed by Council comrades as a tireless anti−bed bug fighter for years.

The occasion was a public hearing at City Hall by the Council Consumer Affairs, Health and Sanitation and Solid Waste Management committees.

Committee members acted following introduction of proposed legislation on sanitizing of mattresses, controlling sale of reconditioned mattresses and possible establishment of a Bed Bug Task Force.

City officials said that in 2004, bed bug complaints totaled fewer than 400, but swelled to more than 9,000 in 2008.

Bed bug experts said the insects were nearly wiped out just after World War II, but returned to North America, Europe and Australia in recent years. Reasons given include a government ban on DDT and increased travel.

Councilman Robert Jackson (D−Manhattan) opened the hearing by offering what he said was first−hand information on bed bugs.

“As a child, I was bitten often by bed bugs,” Jackson said.

Brewer told the assembly that bed bugs do not constitute a health problem since there is no evidence they carry disease.

“What we have is a mental health issue,” Brewer said. “These insects drive people crazy because they infest dwellings and other places without regard to who and where and are hard to get rid of.

“We must get rid of them, but we also must get rid of the stigma attached to them. They are nobody’s fault.”

Discussion centered again and again on whether used mattresses could be enclosed in plastic bags before they were discarded.

Several officials said the cost of heavy gauge plastic bags might be prohibitive for some people, particularly one large enough to enclose king−size mattresses.

Other Council members also pointed out that throwing away furniture believed infested by bed bugs was not a solution for many families, who could not afford to buy replacements.

Brewer also asked city agencies to publish signs and bed bug−fighting literature in more languages.

“English and Spanish is not adequate,” Brewer said. “Toronto publishes their information in 14 languages.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at or phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 6:36 pm, October 10, 2011
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