Infested: Bedbugs Stay Strong in NYC

bedbugmap.jpgEvery once in a while we read a story about something horrible that is "on the rise" in New York -- Sicilian mobsters, truck traffic, marijuana busts, syphilis, singer/songwriters -- and after a momentary shiver of dread we realize that this is the way of the world, or journalism at least, and that we probably won't hear about it again until some editor decides the time is ripe to revisit that particular panic to engage the readership.

Not so with bedbugs. We read about that invasion in 2005, in 2006, 2007, and several times this year, starting, promisingly enough, on New Year's Day.

It doesn't seem to be a passing thing. Now the Brooklyn Eagle informs us that "Brooklyn calls to 311 to complain about bedbugs have surged more than 1,900 percent since 2004 — and this year’s figures are heading even higher." And McBrooklyn makes it all the more vivid with a scary map via the Bedbug Registry.

If you're across the River, don't feel too safe, because the Registry map shows lots of little blood-red dots in Manhattan, too.

Here in happening Greenpoint, the map shows dozens of infestations, including one in the building next door to ours. "Some tenants uncooperative with management in having their apartments exterminated," reports the Registry. "Be very cautious of this building."

Thanks a lot. We actually observed through open windows some of the decontamination process last month: furnishings removed (and left on the sidewalk! No sign or anything!), remaining chairs and tables sealed in clear plastic, men in white clothes spraying.

That ought to help for a while. But that was just one apartment, and there's no such thing as bedbug immunity. A friend of ours a few blocks up got bedbugs in 2006. She set all her bedding out in the street with large, clear signage explaining the situation; within an hour, someone had taken her mattress anyway.

Thinking back on that -- a guy or a couple of guys ripping the BEDBUGS sign off a mattress and hauling it away -- it strikes us that the role of illiteracy, or just plain ignorant disregard, in the spread of this plague is not to be underestimated. Perhaps that's why in January the City announced a series of "local bedbug seminars." Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported in a March "Postcard from New York" that the seminars "began by turning dozens away from a meeting for more than 150 Upper Manhattan residents. Last week a seminar in Brooklyn drew about 75 people." That's good attendance for a public health lecture. Miss Heather of newyorkshitty attended one, and gives a good summary, which included this depressing note: "Not surprisingly, the landlord’s burden is pretty light. All he (or she) must do is provide proof that an exterminator was paid within 30 days of being cited."

We wonder how many of them do even that. The invaluable Bedbugger notes that NPR's "This American Life" recently interviewed residents of the infested 349 St. John's Place. Bedbugger adds that it had previously covered that infestation with info from the Daily Heights blog. "If you walk past the building, you’ll see a ton of furniture with the word 'bedbugs' spraypainted in red paint," reports that correspondent. "The unidentified real estate broker continues to knowingly re-rent apartments in the infested building."

The City urges affected citizens to "contact your Management Office immediately so that a work ticket for a visit by a NYCHA exterminator can be filled out." Those of us with absent or unapproachable landlords might try 311. Or maybe DDT.

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