City steps up to stomp-out bed bug problems

The Toronto Board of Health approved $75,000 in emergency funding this week to help poor and elderly residents fight a bedbug infestation.

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health, presented his recommendation for the one-time cash infusion on Nov.17. The funding is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to counter the surge in bedbug infestation throughout Toronto in recent years.

Reg Ayre, a manager at Toronto Public Health, said that bedbug update presented to the Board of Health will give city officials a better understanding of the problem.

“We’re hoping for a final report with a more comprehensive plan in the late spring of next year,” Ayre said. “At that time there will be a much bigger request in terms of resources and funding.”

On top of the funds, the Board of Health voted to form an advisory committee consisting of city councillors Janet Davis (Beaches-East York) and Paula Fletcher (Toronto-Danforth), along with public health advocate Wangari Muriuki. The committee will assist Toronto Public Health as it prepares the final Bed Bug Project report for the city due in March 2009.

Bedbugs were eliminated in Toronto 50 years ago, but have made a comeback in the last seven to 10 years due to increased global travel, lack of public awareness and the bugs’ increased resistance to pesticides.

Despite its efforts, Toronto Public Health has received nearly 1,500 calls regarding bedbug infestation since March.

Paul Morton, owner of Armour Pest Control, estimated that incidences of bedbug infestation have increased 1,000 per cent in the last 10 years and are spread all over Toronto. He attributed the resurgence to the discontinuation of powerful insecticide such as DDT and lack of awareness.

I’ve been in business fro 30 years,” he said. “The first 20 years I didn’t get any calls for bedbugs. In the last 10 years I’ve gotten them everyday.”

Morton applauded the city’s plans to tackle the bedbug problem. He stressed the need for public awareness to combat the problem and financial help for lower-income households beyond the $75,000 pledged at Monday’s meeting.

The resurgence of bedbugs prompted Toronto Public Health to create the Toronto Bed Bug Project last March. The project’s goal is to inform city residents how to spot bedbugs and to advise them on proper techniques to eradicate the bugs before they spread.

Toronto Public Health has targeted five social housing buildings around Toronto as test subjects in its effort to “reduce and prevent” conditions that lead to bedbug infestation. Other efforts include cooperation with Seaton House’s Bug and Scrub program, which sends trained crews into infested residences and prepares them for pesticide spraying by moving furniture and sealing cracks in walls.

Coun. Davis said that although the new funds won’t solve the bedbug problem it will provide a measure of relief for some of the hardest hit until the city come up with a final plan.

In order for the city’s bedbug eradication program to be ultimately successful, she said a “city-wide strategy” is needed. The scheme involves health and social workers, landlords and tenants working together with the city.

This is a very complex problem and we need a comprehensive approach for the long-term,” she said.