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Bennett warns of bed bug invasion
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 14 avril 2011

Housing rights activist Arnold Bennett is warning Montreal city officials that if they want to avoid the kind of problems that New York and other North American cities have had with bed bugs, they are going to have to do more soon.

He said that after a slow start the city of Montreal has moved in the right direction with its plans to set up a confidential data registry that would map the prevalence, geographic distribution, and evolution of bed bug infestations across its territory.

The public would be able to consult the registry, as well as the experts, while exterminators would be required to report infestations. The value of a confidential data bank is that it would protect the privacy of tenants with bed bugs, but exterminators wouldn’t be able to use it to solicit landlords.

However, Bennett said that what is really needed is coordination across metropolitan Montreal, not just the centre-city, because bed bugs don’t know boundaries. “Here’s the problem, the little buggers can hitchhike,” he said.

Recent reports of the pesky bugs making their way into Victoria’s Secret lingerie and the CNN newsroom is the kind of news that makes your skin crawl.

Bennett said that the creepy crawlers are everywhere: on chairs in public libraries, on that couch you sat on at a friend’s party, in second-hand clothing stores, in brand new mattresses, in laundromats, and even in five star hotels.

They are transported in the suitcases of unwitting tourists, travel via public transit, and are carried in cargo ships to North American ports. He said that globalization has been a major factor: cheap goods are being imported from countries with virtually no labor or sanitation standards.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t easily remedied. “Qualified exterminators aren’t being paid enough and quality control varies greatly. The specifications need to be re-written so that we don’t just end up with the lowest bidder,” he said.

This is a more complex problem than cockroach extermination. Bed bug infestations need to be treated non-toxically with both heat and cold methods, as well as auxiliary techniques such as the use of sniffer dogs.

But Bennett cautioned against a do-it-yourself approach: unscrupulous companies are selling toxic sprays that can kill pets, but pet owners aren’t being informed about the risks.

Montreal needs trained inspectors who can ferret out the problem and assess it, along with janitors in public housing where infestations have increased dramatically in the last few years. “Quebec needs to fund public health issues,” he said.

“We also need to identify the missing links in prevention,” he said. “There are 125 ethnic groups in Côte-des-Neiges/NDG whose members speak neither French nor English. So, the language barrier is a big issue,” he said.

Bennett would like to see city and community groups work together to combat infestations. Recently, the NDG Community Council sponsored a workshop in Chinese. He said that this is exactly the kind of cooperation that is needed.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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