Prolonged bedbug issues rob tenants of rest, bring stress

Thomas Stacey ponders the bedbug situation at his home at Robert S. Long Apartments in Plattsburgh. He would like to see the building emptied of tenants then treated completely; Plattsburgh Housing Authority asks residents to have faith in its carefully researched protocol and do their part to help battle the bugs.

PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh Housing Authority is still dealing with bedbugs at its high rise on Oak Street and elsewhere in its system.

"The reality is bedbugs are difficult to get rid of," PHA Executive Director Mark Hamilton said.

And the present situation at Robert J. Long Apartments, he said, is related to an infestation that a tenant didn't report to the Housing Authority for almost a year.

Tenants, he said, "need to be proactive in telling us when they suspect they have an issue and then need to follow the PHA policy and guidance that is provided by the experts."

Some tenants, for their part, are fed up with the business.

At least one is moving out.

Lucille Wilkins's health-care providers, said her son Doug Wilkins on Monday, "don't want her back there because of the stress on her."

The 92-year-old longtime tenant of Robert S. Long has been hospitalized twice since she discovered bedbugs on her sheets — the situation left her sleepless and ill from anxiety.

"It has depressed her," Doug added.

BLAMES CHEMICALS

The bedbugs that invaded Mrs. Wilkins's unit came from an apartment next door, Hamilton said.

"I tried to get rid of them," said that tenant, Thomas Stacey, on Friday.

But the pesticides he bought and applied, he said, didn't do the trick.

At Stacey's apartment, Plattsburgh Housing performed two high-heat treatments with equipment special to the task and also brought in professionals to apply an organic cedar-oil and also a chemical called Temprid.

He, too, ended up in the hospital recently.

His daughter, Emily Stacey, thinks that chemical may have been to blame for that.

"Cultures were inconclusive," she said. "But those chemicals are poisonous to humans."

'PROFESSIONAL APPLICATION'

PHA follows a strict protocol with chemical application, Hamilton said.

First of all, they use products "recommended by pest control professionals and those who work with housing authorities," he said.

"The resident is out of the apartment while they are applied; once the chemical dries, it's safe for them to be around."

And Plattsburgh Housing hires professionals to do that work, Hamilton emphasized.

"We have never had one issue related to health of any resident who has had a treatment."

'GOING OVERBOARD'

"I fully respect what they're trying to do," Mr. Stacey said. 

But he doesn't think it's working.

"A lot of us decided they need to shut the whole building down and spray the whole inside," he said. "I don't care if they have to open the walls.

"Put the (tenants) at hotels or with their children."

He stayed with his daughter for three days during the continuing ordeal, and perhaps some bedbugs came along, for she found a few "of what looked like what my father had in his apartment."

But are they actually bedbugs? Ms. Stacey wondered.

Housing Authority staff maybe misidentified them, she said, and so the treatment doesn't fit the bug.

Or maybe they are a mutation of some kind, she was thinking.

Regardless, Ms. Stacey doesn't want chemicals used in her apartment — she fears how they could affect her daughter, and her dog.

"I feel like it's going overboard," she said of subjecting her home to both the high-heat treatment and chemicals. "Finding two of those things doesn't constitute an infestation.

"I don't know what to do." 

PRAISE FOR PROTOCOL

Hamilton said Housing Authority staff underwent training to identify bedbugs and a variety of other pests.

And inspections aren't just conducted by them but also the third party hired by PHA to perform the chemical treatment — those experts are certified to do that work, he said.

There's no required certification for those who do the heat treatments, he noted. 

"The steps that we take, they're generally well above and beyond what the experts tell us to do."

Plattsburgh Housing developed its bedbug protocol with the help of STOP Pests in Housing at Cornell University.

A letter from that organization to Hamilton dated July 20 praised the approach.

"I have reviewed the Plattsburgh Housing Authority's policy on bedbugs and your treatment protocols and found them to not only follow HUD's ... Guidelines on Bedbug Control and Prevention in Public Housing, but to be an outstanding example of a proactive integrated pest management approach," wrote Susannah Krysko Reese.

"Your use of heat plus sprays and a desiccant dust are the industry best practices I would recommend. Bedbugs are highly resistant to chemical controls, especially in most areas of NYS. This means a chemical-only approach will not be effective because some bedbugs will go on to reproduce and pass on the resistant genes.

"As noted bedbug experts have agreed, heat is the Achilles heel of the bedbug."

Desiccants draw humidity from the air and are a natural product that can kill bedbugs.

TENANTS' RESPONSIBILITY

Hamilton understands the stress and inconvenience bedbug treatment puts on tenants.

"We are doing as much as we possibly can," he said. 

He believes some people are turning to the internet to do their own investigation, with amateur results that can't compare with the carefully researched approach the Housing Authority adopted. 

There's no way PHA can put tenants in temporary units while treatment takes place, the executive director added — by law, he said, "we can't leave (units open) for emergency situations."

Hamilton repeated that they are following best practices, and he again emphasized that tenants must do their part and follow the protocol established by the Housing Authority.

If that doesn't happen, he said, "it only delays our ability to eradicate the problem.

"Unfortunately, if the policy is not followed by a resident it could result in a lease violation and eviction."

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @editorSuzanne 

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