ATLANTIC CITY — Bedbugs were found in 28 of 267 apartments in a city housing development where some residents had complained the problem was allowed to fester.
Three weeks of treatments at Community Haven, followed by regular checkups, a new method to log complaints and ongoing education for residents are the result of cooperation between the city, management and exterminators, a bedbug expert working as a consultant said Friday.
But the woman who brought City Council’s attention to the problem after she had to take in her mother because bedbugs had gotten so bad said the new plan doesn’t seem much different from the old one — which she said didn’t work.
“What happened here is a tremendous show of cooperation between the public and private entity,” said City Councilman Marty Small, who has been working with residents to fix the problem that’s in his district. “I would like to see these steps implemented at other senior buildings throughout the city, especially the six in my ward.”
Chemical treatments are planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for three consecutive weeks for the building at Virginia and Pacific avenues, Small said.
The treatments would start about 9 or 10 a.m., and keep residents out of their apartments for about four hours, said Joe Nicholas, a retired K-9 officer who, under his nickname Joe Nick, also trains bedbug-sniffing dogs.
A check also will be made to address the mice problem that residents have said is even more prevalent than the bedbugs.
“This is the same thing they did before,” Georgina Lee said of the chemical treatments. “They don’t kill the bugs. They just go somewhere else.”
Lee’s legally blind mother, Viola Craig, continued paying her rent for three months while she lived with her daughter because the bedbugs were out of control, Lee has said.
“We want heat,” she said of an alternative treatment to the bedbugs.
“We prefer to use heat, when it’s practical and possible, because it kills all stages of bedbugs,” said Eric Braun, bedbug technical services manager for Ehrlich Pest Control.
His company is not involved in the Community Haven work, but he spoke to The Press of Atlantic City as an outside expert on the topic.
Heat is the only thing that kills the bedbugs in the egg stage, he said. But, nothing can guarantee the problem does not return. And treatments are not designed to prevent spread to other areas, but instead to treat the problem area.
His company recommends a program be put in place to keep on top of the problem.
That is now being done at Community Haven, Nick said.
Dogs will return to the building two to four times each year to check for bugs, and a logging system will make sure residents’ concerns are addressed immediately. And there will be meetings to keep residents educated on what to look for.
Nick said he hopes the attention the problem has gotten will encourage people to come forward rather than try to self-treat the problem due to embarrassment, which instead leads to spreading.
This week, Western Extermination inspected each unit both visually and using a bedbug-sniffing dog.
“Dogs detect the odor left behind by live bedbugs and also viable eggs,” Braun said. “They are more effective than visual human inspection.”
Before the dogs come, the area should not be treated with any bleach or harsh chemicals for both the protection of the animal and to avoid masking the odor of the bugs, he explained.
Instructions given to Community Haven residents on how to prepare include telling residents to clean countertops and other areas to avoid harming the dogs or disturbing the scent. But, Lee said, she almost cleaned with bleach in preparation before finding out that this would be wrong. She also said some residents told her they saw spraying of chemicals being done before the dog came on the second day.
“We don’t want the same story expecting a different result,” Lee said. “Guess what they did today: the same story expecting a different result.”
But Small was optimistic.
“I’m happy,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, the issue’s not going to go away over night, but I think this a positive step forward by management. I’m just happy that my constituents are getting the service they deserve and that’s all I ever asked for.”
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