Bedbug infestation catches city unprepared

After multiple reports of bedbug infestations at an unnamed hotel in his ward, Howard Moscoe had seen enough. The then Ward 15 councillor decided to ask hotel management to deal with the problem and have the infestation taken care of discreetly and efficiently.

After several weeks of being ignored, Moscoe took direct action by threatening hotel management with the prospect of placing large signs out front of the hotel stating: “This hotel is infested with bedbugs.” Only after that did the hotel finally take action.

This example from two years ago only begins to scratch the surface of the bigger issue: the unprecedented infestation of bedbugs that has taken a completely unprepared Toronto by storm, and policies still haven’t improved.

“Bedbugs have been pretty prevalent in this city for the past 10 years at least,” Mark Joseph, owner of Magical Pest Control, said. “However, in the past year the increase in cases has been tremendous.”

Toronto Health Media Relations Coordinator Susan Sperling claims they keep no specific statistics or information about bedbugs in Scarborough.  Rather, they treat Scarborough cases in the same fashion as anywhere in the city.

And while Joseph agrees bedbugs are truly everywhere in the city, he claims the biggest outbreaks are still in apartments where they are most difficult to treat.  In his experience, Scarborough has some of the most severe cases.

“One of the worst pockets in the city is the apartments around Victoria Park and Danforth — they are simply infested,” Joseph said. His pest control company is based in Toronto but services most of Southern Ontario.

While the media has only really caught on to the bedbug frenzy over the past year, Moscoe says it has always been an issue. He also says the real problem isn’t actually the bugs, but faulty legislation and lack of power and resources available to Toronto Health Services.

“The problem we have is that Toronto Health won’t declare bedbugs a health hazard, so they really can’t do anything major about it,” Moscoe said. “If they can’t deal with head lice, how do they expect to handle bedbugs?”

Moscoe wrote a letter to Toronto Health Services in 2008 requesting they finally take action and declare bedbugs a health hazard, something which still has not taken place. Without this classification, bedbugs get no special treatment from the city’s health department.

“The public health department does not have the power to demand entry or demand that treatment takes place in a building or location that is infested, they are reluctant to talk about it because they can’t do anything about it,” Moscoe said.

Toronto Health Services failed to respond to an interview request by press time.

In 2008, the city enacted the Toronto Bed Bug project as an attempt to battle the infestation.  What effect it has actually had is much more subjective. According to Moscoe, education alone is not enough, and people need professional help to deal with bedbugs.

“The Bed Bug Project hasn’t helped at all, and I’m not aware of any financial aid programs for residents who can’t cover the hefty costs for an exterminator,” Moscoe said.

According to Joseph, it can cost up to a few thousand dollars to have bedbugs exterminated from a home, and in an apartment every unit needs to be treated or they will return. However, if a single tenant refuses treatment, there is absolutely nothing that can be done.

“You can’t get rid of them yourself, and you need to do block treatments in apartments.  There is simply no area of the city that doesn’t have a problem anymore,” Joseph said.

Moscoe agrees that the common misconception that bedbugs only appear in poverty stricken areas and apartment buildings is completely false. They can be everywhere, regardless of income or status.

“Bedbugs don’t discriminate,” he said. “They will eat off the sheets of the rich just as quickly as the poor.”