OUR VIEW: Blame government for bedbug bites (poll)

By: Wayne Laugesen
November 12, 2010
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You’re asleep when an ugly, flat parasite pierces your skin and feasts on your blood. You awake the next morning like a measles patient, covered in hideous red bite marks. Who you gonna call? Frank Morales and Eco-Rid. (Warning: bedbug bites are grotesque, see them here if you dare)

Morales has found a pricey way to capitalize on the growing nightmare of bedbug infestation, and he should give thanks to federal regulators for banning every cheap chemical that has been known to kill bedbugs.

The Environmental Protection Agency long ago banned bedbug killing DDT and has more recently banned Propoxur and Diazinon for indoor use.

The prohibition of DDT and other useful chemicals is mostly attributed to cultural hysteria that resulted from the 1962 book “Silent Spring,” in which author Rachel Carson warned of a world in which no birds would be alive to sing and one in four people would die from cancer caused by chemicals. She assailed DDT in a chapter called “Elixirs of Death,” even though humans who’ve had long-term and massive exposure to DDT show no signs of harm. Nearly four decades after its release, the book is broadly criticized as hyperbole. In his 2005 essay “The Harm that Pressure Groups Can Do,” British scholar and politician Dick Taverne blamed “Silent Spring” for killing more people than some of history’s worst despots, because it led countries to ban DDT that had controlled the transmission of malaria. The website RachelWasWrong.org features photos, names and stories of children killed by malaria as a result of DDT bans that eliminated production of the chemical and caused shortages for underdeveloped countries.

In the United States, chemical bans are mostly a nuisance. Some of the greatest businesses result from entrepreneurs finding ways to eliminate nuisances, and that’s precisely what Morales has done.

(Please vote in poll to the right in red type. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

While most allowable household chemicals won’t kill bedbugs, heat will. So, for $1 per square foot of living space, Eco-Rid will pull up with a 40-kilowatt generator and industrial heaters. They’ll heat every square inch of a home’s interior to at least 135 degrees and the bugs will die.

The EPA isn’t likely to ban heat, and it will take at least 10 years to approve a new chemical. So Eco-Rid’s business model is safe for now. Problem is, a lot of people who host bedbugs cannot afford to spend thousands during a recession. At $1 per square foot, the math is simple. Occupants of a 3,000-square-foot home would spend $3,000 killing bugs.

Most commercial chemical products — up to and including DDT — do more good than harm. We fear them because radical environmentalists have made careers out of frightening us. In the United States, it means we host blood-sucking bedbugs. In parts of Africa and Asia, it means rampant malaria. What’s the cost of that? The World Health Organization says it’s about 1 million lives a year, mostly children. Even some anti-DDT environmentalists have conceded that much of the world needs DDT in order for people to survive.

If you wake up covered in spots, remind yourself that bug infestation isn’t because we lack innovation and affordable solutions. It’s because we fear them, at our peril.

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