There's nothing like a pest infestation to interfere with your building's sustainability goals. Luckily, there are a variety of eco-friendly treatments to address bed bugs without sacrificing quality or human health.
Bed Bugs: The Rundown
It's crucial to understand that bed bugs are not a sign of sanitary issues or a problem with your building. They're after one thing: fresh blood. They thrive in locations where humans sit still for more than an hour. Multi-family housing, hotels, offices, hospitals, and even schools are prime locations for bed bugs to camp out.
"Bed bugs are a problem with people as much as they are a problem with an insect," says David Shangle, an exterminator with Dalsh Consulting in Chicago. Humans exasperate the problem by taking in used furniture, having too much clutter, and not reporting bugs.
Prevention = Green
The truly green approach to bed bugs is having a zero tolerance policy against them. A preventive attitude combined with a plan of action will greatly reduce the need to resort to chemical eradication. Have an open policy for reporting bugs, schedule regular inspections, offer awareness training to staff and tenants, and immediately react to potential infestations.
Inspections have the greatest power of curbing bed bugs. They can be as simple as directing staff, particularly cleaning crews, to search daily to scheduling walk-throughs with a pest management company. Shangle recommends using dogs, particularly for large locations or multiple rooms. These dogs are trained to smell bed bugs and can be useful either as part of preventive practices or after treatment.
The most effective bed bug treatments use integrated pest management, combining conventional products with eco-friendly alternatives to thoroughly kill the insects. There are two categories of green solutions:
- Bio-based: Bio-based dusts, sprays, hormones, and oils are applied to small areas, like insecticides. For example, diatomaceous earth and silica aerogel are nontoxic because they kill bugs through a physical process, as opposed to chemical. While safe for human exposure, these treatments are time-consuming and involve multiple applications.
- Temperature: Bed bugs die after exposure to extreme levels of heat or cold. Heat treatments use large heaters to raise a room's temperature. Though expensive, it is an immediately effective, one-day solution. Steam and freeze dry applications are ideal for surface treatments, such as furniture, mattresses, and baseboards. Unlike dusts and chemicals, however, there is no residual effect.
If your facility is housing bed bugs, you may have doubts about how sustainable conventional treatments are. Because traditional insecticides are designed for limited applications, such as in cracks and crevices, they can be used with a clear conscience.
All insecticides in the U.S. are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, which provides a material safety data sheet (MSDS) and an instruction label. The risk of toxic exposure is drastically reduced if the directions are followed, explains Stuart Mitchell, a member of the National Pest Management Association. "There's no form of interpretation – if it's not on the label, then you can't do it." However, only a professional should apply them.
Words of Caution
While exterminators can properly use conventional products, they become a serious hazard in the hands of a flustered owner or manager. "When untrained individuals use over-the-counter insecticides, especially at the point of desperation, they're obviously not going to read the label," warns Mitchell.
Greg Zarek, senior vice president of Metro Pest Control in New York City, recommends avoiding the do-it-yourself approach. "You're buying pesticides that are improper for use, then misapplying them, spreading bed bugs throughout the process, and doing it in an unsafe manner. It's dangerous, the problem gets worse, and it costs you more money in the long run."
Regardless of which treatments you use or proactive measures you've taken, cooperation is essential at all levels, says Shangle. "If everybody's on board and carrying out an effective plan, then bed bugs can be addressed successfully."
Jennie Morton ([email protected]) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.