ATLANTIC CITY — The city’s public housing authority has a bedbug problem, part of a growing infestation in the region that is giving exterminators a financial boost and residents persistent itchy welts.
The Atlantic City Housing Authority advertised this week for a bedbug exterminator for some of the homes it oversees. Similar efforts were under way this week at senior housing developments in Monmouth County.
Bedbugs have been a problem in Atlantic City for the past three years, said Garry Alston, the city’s chief code-enforcement officer. Alston said the housing authority is only the latest victim of the scourge.
The city adopted a new policy in February requiring a bedbug inspection as a condition for getting a certificate of occupancy for new homes or apartment rentals. His office regularly fields complaints from new tenants about the blood-suckers.
“Last year we were inundated with them,” he said. “I came up with this preventive maintenance measure. It’s helped somewhat.”
Alston said the insects are difficult to kill.
“You bag everything and have the apartment treated,” he said. “They hide behind light switches, baseboards, in furniture, under the corners of carpets.”
The housing authority did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Exterminators said the little parasites are becoming more common in southern New Jersey, probably because the biting bugs hitch rides on visitors from Philadelphia and New York, two of the nation’s most bedbug-friendly cities.
“We’re probably up 80 percent from last year and 80 percent more from the year before that,” said Phil Van Wickle, owner of Absecon Island Pest Control in Atlantic City. “It’s amazing.”
Van Wickle said the extermination industry still has not come up with an easy or foolproof way of dealing with the pests.
“By leaps and bounds, they’re the most difficult problem we deal with,” he said.
Bedbugs do not discriminate between rich or poor. In fact, Van Wickle said, people who regularly travel outside the country are more likely to encounter the pests.
“We did a doctor’s beautiful house across from the beach. The daughter had gone to Mexico and brought them back from the trip,” he said.
The thought of the biting insects creeping around your warm bed in search of a blood meal while you sleep is enough to make anyone squirm.
The problem has become so vexing that the Greater Wildwoods Chamber of Commerce hosted seminars on bedbugs in March. The six seminars were so popular, the chamber plans to offer them again next spring, even to non-members, Executive Director Tracey Dufault said.
“It was very informative,” she said. “We are a tourism county. That’s why it’s very important to the chamber to open this up as a seminar, not only to chamber members but anyone.”
Dufault said hoteliers, innkeepers and owners of rental condos want to get rid of infestations as soon as possible. After the seminar, hotels stocked up on metal luggage racks — one way to keep the bugs isolated.
“You don’t want to be known as the place that has bedbugs. You don’t want anyone saying, ‘Don’t go to Cape May County because,’” she said. “The chamber was very on top of this. They addressed it before it became a concern.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement this summer about the rise of bedbugs across America. The exact cause of the resurgence is not known, the CDC said, but the infestations could be related to increased travel and bans on pesticides such as DDT. They have had an incalculable impact on health care, lost wages, lost revenue and reduced productivity, the agency said.
Tenants who can’t get help from their landlords can call their county health department, which can get a court order or issue a summons, said Cape May County Health Director Kevin Thomas.
The state Department of Community Affairs’ Bureau of Housing Inspection oversees inspections of hotels, he said.
“We do get periodic complaints, usually in multiple dwellings,” he said. “There have been reports in the Wildwoods and in Ocean City.”
Harry Ross, an exterminator with Ross Environmental Solutions in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, gave the presentation to innkeepers in the Wildwoods in March. Southern New Jersey has seen a growing number of complaints over the last decade, he said.
Exterminators use a variety of techniques, from freezing the insects with carbon dioxide to overheating them with steam. The industry is working on more effective pesticides, he said.
“It’s a question of doing a thorough inspection of the rooms and surrounding rooms,” he said. “It has very little to do with cleanliness. It’s a function of bad luck.”
Even exterminators get squeamish about the bugs. Ross said when he takes a vacation, he always checks his room for telltale signs of the vermin such as dark spots or exoskeletons.
“When I go to a hotel, the first thing I do is take the headboard off,” he said. “I have a personal life. While I know how to take care of bedbugs, I sure as heck don’t want to bring them back home.”
Telltale signs of bedbugs
- Welts or red marks on the arms, legs, face or neck.
- Tiny dark spots on the mattress.
- Shed exoskeletons or live ones hiding in mattress seams.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Most bed-bugged cities in America
National extermination company Terminix in August released its top 10 cities for bedbug infestations based on call volume at its 350 locations.
1. New York
7. Columbus, Ohio
8. Dayton, Ohio
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Los Angeles
Source: Terminix, based on call volume