Tuesday, April 14, 2009

EPA Holds a Bed Bug "Summit"

By Alan Caruba

I know the media and, by extension, everyone else is focused on April 15 as the day tax returns must be filed, but there is another event going on in Washington that is not likely to get much attention.

It is a two-day, April 14-15 Bed Bug Summit being held by the Environmental Protection Agency to address the nationwide infestations of bed bugs. One of the reasons this nasty little pest has burst upon the scene goes back to the banning of DDT by the EPA.

By the end of the 1950s, bed bugs were no longer a significant pest problem. Bed bugs had been so thoroughly eliminated by pest management professionals that a new generation of them had never seen one or had any idea how to combat them. Of the many insect pest species, bed bugs are among the most difficult to eliminate.

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” got the anti-pesticide panic going by defaming DDT. Not only was it banned here, but also worldwide. The ban has since led to millions of needless deaths in malarial regions like Africa.

Bed bugs are common in other nations that are less attentive to insect pest eradication and with the rise of international travel they hopped a ride to the United States via the luggage of foreign tourists and Americans returning home from traveling abroad. They began showing up initially a few years ago in hotels and resorts frequented by travelers as well as the homes of Americans who had been overseas.

Had the EPA not banned DDT in 1972 it is very likely there would be no significant bed bug problem here in the United States.

As the EPA put it at the time, “The general use of the pesticide DDT will no longer be legal in the United States after today, ending nearly three decades of application during which time the once-popular chemical was used to control insect pests on crop and forest lands, around homes and gardens, and for industrial and commercial purposes.”

This has been a chronic problem with the EPA. It tends to create or exacerbate more problems than it solves.

The agency banned Chlordane in the 1980s; it was one of the most effective and successful termiticides ever invented. Pest controllers used to pump it into the ground around a home and it would stay there for a half century as a chemical fence against termites seeking access through foundations or getting close enough to build a mud tunnel to get inside a home. Termites are responsible for an estimated five billion dollars damage annually, more than all the fires and floods combined.

In 1998, Harry Katz, a pest management expert, noted that “Many studies were made of chlordane’s effect on humans. The World Health Organization reports about a study in 1981 in which mortality of 782 workers who manufactured chlordane and heptachlor for up to 20 years showed no increase in cancer in comparison to normal death figures. In another study by Wang and MacMahon in 1980, all cancer deaths were lower than expected. In a follow-up study in 1982, the two Harvard researchers looked again at the mortality rates of termite control technicians and found there was no significant increase of cancer cases.”

These and other bans almost always come down to a political and/or ideological decision. The science regarding such bans rarely represents any real or significant threat unless perhaps someone literally drinks the stuff from the bottle!

The EPA has a registration process for new pesticides (and renewal of older ones) that literally costs chemical producers millions of dollars before a pesticide can be registered for use either exclusively by pest management professionals and specific to particular pest species, or made available off the shelf to the public.

During the Clinton administration, Carol Browner, then the EPA Director and now the environmental advisor to President Obama, announced the restricted use of one of the most effective pesticides against a whole range of insect pests, Dursban, and removed it from use by consumers who had been using it successfully for decades to rid homes, dorm rooms, offices and everywhere else of cockroaches, spiders, ants, mosquitoes, etc.

Browner said the Agency was "shutting off the manufacture of this chemical” according to the Associated Press, but anti-pesticide fanatics complained that the EPA action did not recall the product already on store shelves. The EPA saw no problem allowing the use of Dursban to continue as an agricultural application to protect food crops against insect predators.

The primary reason given for the Dursban ban was that the action was taken to protect children from exposure. Any time you hear it’s “for the children” that’s a sure sign there is little real science-based justification.

The EPA effectively banned a pesticide called “Ficam”, a remarkable product that eliminated a wide range of insect pests and was applied with nothing more toxic than water. By demanding that the product go through the multi-million dollar registration process again, the EPA drove it from the marketplace when the manufacturer decided it wasn’t worth it.

These bans are almost always based on the ideology that pesticides are a threat to humans and other species like birds or fish. When properly applied pesticides are only a threat to insect pests that have, for millennia, transmitted diseases to humans.

In parts of Central and South America today, people are dying of Dengue fever and a nasty disease called Chagas. In the United States Lyme Disease, transmitted by ticks, continues to afflict people. By contrast, a pesticide-based campaign against West Nile Fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, has proven effective.

There is a reason your favorite supermarket or restaurant is not home to insect and rodent pests. It is because professionals using pesticides keep it pest free. There isn’t a school, a hospital, or any other public facility that is not kept pest free in the same way. Usually the work is done at night so as not to disturb the delicate sensibility of the very people being protected.

For two days the EPA will listen to testimony about the bed bug problem afflicting the nation. They could have saved themselves the time, effort, and cost involved by simply adopting a more science-based attitude toward pesticides, but that is not going to happen so long as the ideologues and other scare mongers are in charge.

In the interest of full disclosure, years ago I used to do public relations for “Ficam” and I continue to provide PR services to my state pest management association. For nearly four decades, I have known dozens of pest management professionals who take justified pride in keeping the homes, offices, and businesses of their clients pest-free.

11 comments:

Rich Kozlovich said...

Great article! Although you didn’t mention it, and I am sure that you are aware of this, DDT will no longer kills bedbugs. DDT is credited with eliminating bedbugs because it did all the heavy lifting. At the end pest controllers shifted to Malathion for the knockout punch.

From a technical standpoint it didn’t much matter that they banned DDT, because we had multiple weapons in our arsenal that worked so well we only had sporadic problems around the nation.

I did my first bedbug job about 25 years ago and didn’t have another one until about 3 years ago; right after this plague broke out. It was so rare then that I had to call someone to tell me how to handle it.

However, from a philosophical standpoint the ban has been devastating. DDT is not a dead issue….it is the only issue. The ban on DDT gave these radicals more power and influence than they ever dreamed of. Couple that with the Endangered Species Act ruling (Hill vs. TVA) by the Supreme Court and you have the basis for much of the power they have garnered unto themselves; at humanities expense.

It is outrageous that the EPA is conducting this farce about bedbugs. Being involved in my industry’s affairs I can tell you that prominent scientists and state regulators that I have known for years have told EPA officials that the problem is the lack of adequate chemistry. At the National Pest Management Association’s legislative day EPA officials stood before the assembled audience and declared that they are aware of the chemistry issue, but they made it clear that this may “take time” Why? That is just a stall. They absolutely KNOW what is wrong, and they are at fault. All that they are doing here is window dressing. This is nothing but activity in place of accomplishment and while giving the impression of accomplishment.

In 1996 when Carol Browner’s EPA pushed the Food Quality Protection Act forward it was based on a number of false criteria. Two of them were the fraudulent endocrine disruption study out of Tulane University and the National Academy of Sciences report that strongly “insinuated all kinds of dangers, although they failed to produce on iota of evidence that any child, or anyone else for that matter, has ever been harmed by the legal use of a pesticide---a fact reluctantly admitted by the pesticide alarmist Phillip Landrigan, the chairman of the committee that produced the report."

When they set these committees up, they are not impartial. Just as with DDT….these panels are filled with Rachel Carson ant-pesticide supporters and acolytes.

As a result we lost Dursban and a host of other products that worked effectively and inexpensively against bedbugs. Make no mistake about it. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Although bedbugs don’t transmit disease (although recently I have been told tht there has come to be some dispute about this) there are a host of diseases transmitted by pests, from which the chemical manufacturers and pest control industry has protected the public .

We, along with the public health officials and medical workers are the thin gray line that stands between the nation (and the world) and disaster. But we need tools with which to do it!!!! Strip us of our tools over theoretical and irrational health claims made by irrational and misanthropic greenies about pesticides and there won’t be just some bites by bedbugs that may become infected by scratching; there will be a body count. If anyone doubts that they merely have to look at all the policies promoted by the environmental movement around the world and the only conclusion that one can come away with is that they hate humanity, and banning pesticides is a good start when the real goal is to ban people. We aren’t going green. We are becoming gangrenous.

By the way, for the benefit of your followers and In interest for full disclosure…..I am an exterminator and have been for 27 years.

Ed Darrell said...

One of the reasons this nasty little pest has burst upon the scene goes back to the banning of DDT by the EPA.Mr. Kozlovich got it right. Bed bugs fear DDT not at all any more. They were among the first pests to develop powerful resistance to the stuff. In fact, overuse of DDT probably contributed to the current plague of the little critters.

By the end of the 1950s, bed bugs were no longer a significant pest problem. Bed bugs had been so thoroughly eliminated by pest management professionals that a new generation of them had never seen one or had any idea how to combat them. Of the many insect pest species, bed bugs are among the most difficult to eliminate.

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” got the anti-pesticide panic going by defaming DDT. Not only was it banned here, but also worldwide.
"Defaming" suggests that she unfairly attacked DDT. The President's Science Advisory Council wrote in 1963 that Ms. Carson's only error was going too easy on DDT. That's still the way the science stands. As the National Academy of Sciences said, despite the great benefits of DDT, its dangers far outweigh the benefits in the long run and we must stop using it.

DDT has never been completely banned. It was manufactured in the U.S. for a dozen years after EPA said it couldn't be used on cotton any more. It's still manufactured in large quantities in India and China. It was "banned" for agricultural use only in the U.S. and Europe. In Mexico DDT has been in constant use since 1946 -- and Mexico has the same problems with these pests that the rest of the world does. DDT is no panacea. It's dangerous to wildlife. It's not nice stuff.

The ban has since led to millions of needless deaths in malarial regions like Africa.That's like saying lack of effort on the part of America's pest eradication industry has led to needless deaths in regions like Africa -- it's equally inaccurate. WHO stopped using DDT in gross quantities and in broadcast spraying because it stopped being effective against the target vectors. More DDT wouldn't be an effective way to fight malaria, especially without many other tools.

Bed bugs are common in other nations that are less attentive to insect pest eradication and with the rise of international travel they hopped a ride to the United States via the luggage of foreign tourists and Americans returning home from traveling abroad. They began showing up initially a few years ago in hotels and resorts frequented by travelers as well as the homes of Americans who had been overseas.

Had the EPA not banned DDT in 1972 it is very likely there would be no significant bed bug problem here in the United States.
Interesting conclusion. Bed bugs have been resistant to DDT since the late 1940s. How would killing other species with DDT contribute to eradicating bed bugs?

As the EPA put it at the time, “The general use of the pesticide DDT will no longer be legal in the United States after today, ending nearly three decades of application during which time the once-popular chemical was used to control insect pests on crop and forest lands, around homes and gardens, and for industrial and commercial purposes.”

This has been a chronic problem with the EPA. It tends to create or exacerbate more problems than it solves.
Let's not forget that EPA was acting under court order; in open court, in two different suits, DDT was found to be more dangerous than beneficial. When DDT manufacturers sued to stop EPA's relabeling, the courts came down hard against DDT and the case for it. DDT manufacturers, who we might suppose had the biggest dog to lose in that fight, didn't even appeal the rulings.

Let's fight bedbugs and stop trying to trash the reputation of Rachel Carson.

Ayrdale said...

It is very fitting that you touch on the fact that so-called green ideas and ideals cost lives.

The blood of millions of innocents is on green hands over DDT, and green quackery is on the ascendency.

Alan Caruba said...

Ed, you are right that insects, over time, do develop resistance to a particular insecticide. That's why it is essential that new ones be developed.

As for Rachel Carson, he book was full of exaggerations and, to be kind, misinterpretations. It has long since been thorough debunked.

And, yes, DDT is still in use in other nations because it remains just about the only effective agent against the spread of diseases by mosquitoes and other insects.

The defense rests his case.

Ed Darrell said...

As for Rachel Carson, he book was full of exaggerations and, to be kind, misinterpretations. It has long since been thorough debunked.I keep hearing that. But what I have is the word of the President's Science Advisory Council that says the book was accurate, the study on the future of chemicals by the National Academy of Sciences that said Carson was accurate, and the accounting by Discovery Magazine that found way more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies supporting Carson's conclusions especially with respect to birds, and no contrary studies.

The only site I can find that tries to offer evidence of Carson's exaggerations is the wacko group around Lyndon Larouche, and Steve Milloy's site, in which every reference fails to turn up.

If Carson's book was debunked, can someone point me to at least one claim in the book that has not borne out as accurate?

Alan Caruba said...

Ed, apparently the only reason you visit here is to debunk ME!

In brief, almost everything Carson wrote about DDT was and is wrong. Responses to Carson's book abound, IF you really want to find them.

Lastly, the National Academy of Sciences is a political instrument as is every other government agency. You trust them at your own peril.

Brian G Valentine said...

Science? What science?

All the EPA needs to ban something is testimony from a few teary-eyed moms - who know nothing about chemistry, biochemistry, or any science at all for that matter - about how "we" are KILLING children.

That's enough evidence for EPA to ban anything.

The only guy with enough guts to stand up to the EPA was Tom DeLay (who owned his own pest control business and then got fed up with the EPA constantly trying to put him out of business).

Then DeLay evidently did some things that were not in his best interests and it made me very sad indeed

Brian G Valentine said...

" ... the National Academy of Sciences is a political instrument as is every other government agency. You trust them at your own peril."

The Understatement of the Year.

The NAS has mangled so many things because of politics and personalities; things I have had personal experience with them would make you swoon.

As a very gracious gesture, someone once offered to nominate me for NAS membership. Despite this undeserved flattery I respectfully declined -

in my heart, I simply could not accept becoming a part of the organization

ytba said...

Sheesh, the way Ed Darrell is taking your criticism of Rachel Carson awfully personally. Maybe they're related? He's certainly no more truthful than she was, anyway.

Alea said...

Time a strong advocacy group forms to take on the EPA. It has been corrupt from its core. Bad or down right fraudulent science is often used to push through their agenda which is often tied directly to big money -- like the oil industry. ex. scrubbing sulfur from diesel and big oil making the capital investment to do so. When the real science shows that sulfur is an atmospheric coolant - as illustration by Cacatow sp - that raised the mean global temp fy about 10 degree for several years.
The EPA has not been an effective watch dog for the people real interests and has been directly responsible for increased cost of fuel and suffering du to pests - and parasites.
This agency needs complete revamping -- is too entrenched and beaurauecratic and does not act in the true interest of the people.
Time to sunset it - and downsize the function.

Julie said...

You are correct. DDT is perfectly safe for humans, animals, and estuaries. The lies about DDT and Chlordane including the rest of these chemicals came from the eugenics crowd. You can eat DDT, it is so safe. Until people do some research and get past the bumper sticker propaganda, they will continue to live in misery.