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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Battling bedbugs prove to be a challenge

Battling bedbugs prove to be a challenge
Morning update
By Jenna Pizzi
Vermont Press Bureau
BARRE — Barre Housing Authority buildings have had a longstanding problem with bedbugs and on Wednesday the Stowe Pest Control thermal remediation trailer spent another day pumping heat into a few of the units at the North Barre Manor, with an aim to kill the critters.

It was not the first time the trailer's operators spent the day working on the building, and it will likely not be the last.

“It is going to keep occurring,” said Chip Castle, executive director of the housing authority, who said bedbugs have been a constant problem for about two years.

“This issue is probably not going to go away in my lifetime, unfortunately,” he said.

Castle said the housing authority has tried many different approaches to eradicating the pests, including chemical treatments, which don't always kill the bugs and often give tenants headaches, but thermal remediation has proven to be quite successful. Thermal remediation consists of blocking off contaminated rooms, removing combustibles and items that could melt or be damaged, and bringing in portable heaters to superheat the room.

Castle, who claims he has become somewhat of an expert on the bugs, said that is because thermal remediation kills all stages of bedbugs with temperatures up to 130 degrees.

“The heat treatment has done the job and we stay on top of it with inspections,” he said.

Donald Lesure, owner of Stowe Pest Control, the company that contracts with the housing authority, said when he first went into business in central Vermont in 1997 he would come across bedbugs, about once every five years, but in the last year couple of years he has gotten a call about bedbugs almost every day.

Although bedbugs have been a boost for business, he said, he could do without them.

“They could go away and I would be happy,” Lesure said.

In the past two years the number of bedbug complaints by visitors staying in Vermont hotels has also jumped. Of the 864 licensed lodging establishments in the state, there have been eight bedbug-related complaints so far this year. There were 18 in 2010 and 15 in 2009, according to Department of Health spokesman Robert Stirewalt.

The Budget Inn in Barre is the latest to have evidence of bedbugs found in a few rooms. Within the last six months evidence of the pests were also found at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin, according to the Health Department.

The Health Department said bedbugs are not a threat to public health, but are more of a nuisance. The department recommends that guests not be allowed to stay in a room where there is evidence of bedbugs, but it does not have the authority to close a hotel or motel because of them.

“The hotels that have bedbugs are dealing with the bedbugs quickly,” Stirewalt said.

To draw attention to the issue, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is holding a webinar on Thursday for interested business owners to learn how to protect their hotels, motels and inns from infestation.

Castle said the best defense for the housing authority, besides the thermal remediation treatment, has been in public education to make people aware where bedbugs might be and the many ways they may hitch a ride into their apartment or home.

Jon Quackenbush, who owns Pest Pro, a Winooski-based company that responds to bedbug calls throughout the state as well as in New Hampshire and New York, said when the economy worsened he saw a spike because people began to shop more at thrift stores or pick up a piece of furniture on the side of the road.

“As the economy starts to drop you see some curbside shopping,” he said. “Then you introduce them to your house or apartment and it goes from being one room to two.”

Quackenbush also has his own secret weapon in the war on bedbugs — a specially trained dog named Jack who can sniff out the pests. Jack is one of two bedbug-sniffing dogs in the state.

It is likely that Jack will be able to keep his job for a while, because it doesn't seem that bedbugs are going to disappear any time soon.



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