Dispatches from the Bedbug War by Tony Lizza

Guest Contributor Tony Lizza last wrote about his experiences at the Antiques Road Show.

Bedbugs had attacked my apartment. Bedbugs–pests, scourges of Brooklyn, instant transformers of dwellings from Good Deal to Not, had been reported here for months, but in a fit of narcissistic pique I had always assumed I’d be spared. I crafted a series of creaky rationalizations to myself to justify my belief that they would never come my way. “I’m not home often enough to get bedbugs.” “I don’t have much furniture.” “Bedbugs can’t reach the 10th floor.” When I went to bed one night and awoke the next morning with an archipelago of red welts on my chest, I knew I had a problem. Since then, my apartment has been doused with pesticides twice and counting. I have wrapped my possessions in plastic and garbage bags. I know what it is like to bathe in Diatomaceous Earth.

I contacted residential services after I’d been bitten. A building employee stopped by my place, took apart my bed, and found one coffee-ground sized bedbug skulking around in my box spring. He scheduled me for what he blandly called a “treatment.”

Days turned to weeks. Finally, a packet of stapled papers at my door informed me that my apartment was to be sprayed for bedbugs in two days and contained instructions for preparing my apartment, which consisted of disassembling my bed, placing all of my bedding and clothes into plastic bags and removing them from the apartment, and, finally, moving all of my furniture to the middle of the apartment.

I came home to find my entire room had been tossed—ransacked, even. The exterminators had flung the mattress across the room and completely eviscerated my box spring. My desk was turned on its side, its drawers removed and laid on the floor next to it. My bookshelf had been taken apart. I made my bed, wheezing and sneezing and red-faced from the aerosolized poison floating about in my apartment, and laid down on it that night only to awake to fresh bites and a bedbug crawling on my wall that left a massive pocket of blood behind when I smacked it with a shoe. I was going to have to step up my game.

That night, I scored some Diatomaceous Earth at a hardware store. Diatomaceous Earth is an off-white sedimentary rock made of algae that, when viewed under a microscope, looks like the contents of someone’s junk drawer. When pulverized, it makes a powerful insecticide that works by extracting fat from a bug’s exoskeleton, dehydrating it. That sounded like a perfectly torturous death for these vermin. I laid down a small mountain of DE on the legs of my bed frame, sprinkled a thick layer on top of my box spring and drizzled some on top of my mattress cover. Again, I woke up with bites.

Continues after the jump.

Days later, the exterminators returned. This time I decided I’d stick around and talk to them as they went about their business of ridding me of bedbugs Once And For All. The exterminators themselves were a couple of hard-working, dedicated men who were contracted by my building’s management to deal with the infestation. I got a chance to chat with them for a bit. They said that the building, while not completely infested, did have its fair share of cases. They also said a major problem with fighting bedbugs in an apartment building is that residents frequently don’t report infestations.

As with most things, early detection can stop them from spreading. After hearing this, I had to conclude that the building’s management is either incredibly stupid or monumentally cynical. The fact that they don’t aggressively empower residents to contact management at the first sign of a bug bite suggests stupidity. But, I have to assume that they too know the power of early detection and choose not to make a public issue to avoid negative publicity or at least, off-line negative publicity—sites like bedbugregistry.com have featured my building in the past—in which case it smacks of cynicism.

I remain hypervigilant. Every nighttime itch leads me to flick on the lights and examine my sheets. Having bedbugs does something subtle but nasty to your psyche. It’s odd being considered prey, being seen by something as a consistent, almost captive source of food. It’s a vague atavistic sense of being hunted, and although attenuated now
through millennia of civilization, it must be just a hint of what our distant ancestors might have felt whenever they left the cave—namely, a feeling like they have might have ended up as food. I haven’t been bitten now in several days, though, which is a good sign. Now I can finally get to work on the mold problem.

54 Comment

  • At some point in the last 50 years – we did get rid of bedbugs. Why can’t we just do the same thing? Are we too sensitive to the super powerful pesticides we used to use without care? I would probably trade cancer for a bed bug free apartment.

    • Insecticide resistance is a bitch. The stuff we used 50 years ago stopped working 30 years ago. For example, most bedbugs are now DDT resistant.

      No easy answers to this one.

      • The bigger problem is that DDT has been banned as a pesticide for nearly 40 years. That’s a big reason why they’re back.

        • Thank you, Rachel Carson!

        • Or if you read the previous commenter, you’ll actual learn that bedbugs have developed a resistance to DDT. If you want to learn more about bedbugs, or DDT, check out your local library. You may wish to read a book on this–or any other–topic.

          • Thanks @DRPangloss.

            First of all, as SEVERAL commenters have pointed out, bed bugs are DDT resistant– by the time DDT was banned in 1972 many insects had already become resistant to the chemical.

            Second, aNoN, I am glad, for one, that I am not consuming DDT. A single use of DDT on crops will last for weeks or months, and accumulates up the food chain, into the fatty tissues of animals and humans.

            DDT causes genetic disorders and liver, pancreatic and breast cancer. The Rachel Carson-bashing you hear these days is initiated by libertarian think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Enterprise Institute, who support zero chemical regulation, and, surprise, are heavily funded by the pesticide/chemicals industry.

      • Bed bugs have evolved to the point where they are resistant to even the cancer causing pesticides. Put that into your creationist pipe and smoke it.

    • Look up ‘pesticide resistance’ on the ol’ Wikipedia. Basically, some bugs will survive a pesticide application, and those survivors are tough hombres who pass on their genes to their offspring. Those genes eventually become the norm, and more of the population survives.

      But by all means, please, bathe in DDT and whatever else is banned. See where that gets you.

  • Like the writing. Dread the problem.

  • Unfortunately, I had this battle, too. I was one of those who didn’t report the problem early because I wasn’t sure what was going on. I also had a sense of embarrassment about it because it occurred about a year before the problem was being widely reported in the northeast and I had no idea that other residents were experiencing what I was experiencing. It got so bad that I resorted to spraying myself with OFF! bug repellent before going to bed and then finally replacing my couch and my bed (I was only bitten when resting on either). They say that doesn’t normally do the trick but in my case, it did.

    Building managers should take a different view of early reporting and bedbugregistry.com needs to call attention to those apartments that are responsive to their tenants and who deal with the problem quickly and aggressively. But 5 years later, I’m no different than Tony; any odd itch or bite in the night still makes me fear the worst.

  • The NY Times has also reported, if my memory serves me well, a rise in bed bugs up in the Big Apple. Maybe we can blame New Yorkers!

    For apartment dwellers, it takes a whole building, engaged in a coordinated cleansing to get rid of this. I wish you success.

    Apologies if I am repeated what anyone else wrote. Just got in the door, tired.

    ps — We have a moth problem at 4th and Varnum NW, and they seem to love certain articles of clothing. I am not a fan of the more toxic solutions to these things. – Joe

  • Sounds like the Woodner.

  • Hi Joe,

    An older building I lived in a few years ago also had a moth problem. I would find their larvae everywhere after their infestation. It was horrible. They were the case-making ones so I would find those on clothes and things too. They were horrible to get rid of, and I lost many clothes to them.
    I hope you don’t have those same kind!

  • Joe I have found that using a very hot steamer works great at killing the little sob’s. Also I have read that house centipedes eat bed bugs. I know it’s difficult to leave the large and very fast centipedes alone, but I have learned to let them be, and I haven’t noticed a bed bug since!

    • I will feel much better when I see those centipedes in my house! I thought they were a nuisance, but now they are heroes!

      • Yeah, house centipedes are seriously scary-looking bugs, but I try to tolerate them the best I can so they eat all of the other, worse bugs. Though I do chase them away if I ever see them near my bed at night. The thought of one crawling on me makes me want to cry.

        • @dreas

          I woke up one morning to the sensation of something crawling on my leg. I dismissed it as an itch. However, I again felt something crawling on my leg moments later. I jumped out of bed and unravelled the bedspread to discover one of those house centipedes had cuddled up to me. Words cannot describe how sharply I screamed or how much I wanted to vomit. =D

        • Yeah, regular centipedes can be good to have around. Human centipedes, not so much.

  • Does anyone know if we should worry about bed bugs when we stay in hotels?

    • off course.

    • YES. My mother stayed in a hotel for a weekend last year and she came back with her arms were covered in bites.

      Though I don’t know how you’d find that out prior to reserving. It’d be hard getting any hotel to admit they have a problem.

    • wife and i just got them a couple weeks ago from a hotel in Raliegh. We realized quickly that we brought them home with us and were able to get rid of them in a couple days before they got bad. We used a non-toxic spray from bed bath and beyond, dousing our bed and couch, and washing everything we owned in hot water.

      That steamer idea sounds like it would work, too. They die over 130 degrees.

  • A friend of mine moved from her building by 15/U because management was slow to attack the problem and she kept hearing how they were moving closer to her unit. She missed them by an itch!

  • I think bed bugs are linked to under ground work. So I ask the man whom this article was written about: Did you have under ground work being performed near your apartment in the last few weeks?

  • I think bed bugs are linked to under ground work. So I ask the man whom this article was written about: Did you have under ground work being performed near your apartment in the last few weeks? In addition, did you travel, stay in a hotel, or buy used luggage?

  • “The fact that they don’t aggressively empower residents to contact management at the first sign of a bug bite suggests stupidity”

    I sympathize with the OP, but I don’t get this statement. What does it mean to ‘aggressively empower’ someone to pick up the phone and call the manager? Do they have to go into each and every apartment, place the receiver in the tenant’s hands, and dial six of the seven numbers for them? Why not wipe their asses for them at the same time?

    At some point, we have to pick up the reins and take action all on our wittle wonesome. That’s what being an adult is about. It’s not the management’s responsibility until they are actually aware of the problem.

    Now, I do agree that the management’s response is woefully inadequate and no doubt they’re more concerned with their reputation than their tenants’ welfare, but c’mon. Pick up the phone by yourself and demand action.

  • The issue of DDT and pesticide resistance etc, is a complicated one. After the use of DDT stopped, roaches bounced back immediately. It took 30+ years for bedbug infestations to start, so its more complicated. Unfortunately, research on bedbugs has only recently restarted.


  • Eat them before they eat you.

  • I had to deal with the same problem, in the same building this past year. I am on the 11th floor. I totally sympathize with you. It’s miserable to wake up with bites, and not be able to sleep because you are freaked out about getting bitten. I had quite a few paranoid nights where I slept really badly and still woke up with bites. It totally messes with your mind; I ended up sleeping over at someone else’s house a few nights.

    I knew before I moved in that there was talk of bed bugs, but as soon as I received bites I reported it to management and they took care of it relatively quickly, within days, not weeks. Although my apartment wasn’t “ransacked” (that sucks man, sorry to hear it), it took 3 treatments for no more bites. I think that there is a fine line between freaking out prospects by telling them that bedbugs exist, but also feel that management should aggressively encourage residents to report any signs as soon as possible.

    Given that bedbugs are now popping up all over the US, and that they make no distinction between newer or older buildings or how much rent you pay I think that people should be more informed about them. No building is totally immune to them and they can be picked up from hotels, other apartments, on luggage etc.

  • We used moth traps with pheromone lures with good results for our pantry moths.

  • I had bedbugs and went through a one week period where I tried DE (diatomaceous earth) and vaseline on my bed legs, etc. My advice to anyone who has the problem – pay the $ (it was 2k) and get the chemicals asap. You will not win against bedbugs without the total fullstop chemical assault. (they stopped crawling up my bed and inastead crawled up the walls on the ceiling and then dropped down like parachuters. How gross is that).

    • So thirsty for our blood that they have figured out that they can just drop on us from the ceiling – Great, now I’m going to have nightmares.

  • A big reason for this are the tipsters sleeping around with random people and spreading the bed bugs from one bed to another.

  • Bed bugs and other parasites are part of the natural and normal state of humans. It’s been this way throughout our history. For a few decades of the 20th century we were free of many of them because of the use of DDT and other powerful organophosphate insecticides. Now that we eschew all things chemical and shun pesticides, we are returning to our natural and normal state of being infested by parasites, and infected by the diseases that some of them transmit. Get used to it. Its the new normal. Or should I say, the new, old normal. Enjoy! http://www.pestcontrolcenter.com/blog

  • What apartment building is this? Is it Park East in Adams Morgan? I used to live there and there were bed bug reports JUST as I was moving.

    • Lola,

      I’ve deliberately left out the name of the apartment building for possible liability concerns. Suffice it to say, the other commenters have correctly fingered the building.

  • I had bedbugs when I lived on the 10th floor of the Woodner 4 years ago. They treated it promptly enough, but I moved out anyway, because treatment is not a long term solution in that building. Bed bugs are mobile enough, and bedbugs are pervasive enough in that building, that unless they treat the whole building at once, staying bed bug free is only a matter of luck there.

  • What are the bedbug laws in DC? Is management required to advise residents when there is a case in the building or if a resident asks about cases within the building? Can it be grounds for getting out of a lease if a resident has a confirmed case of bedbugs within their apartment? Thanks for any help!

    • I’m going through this right now with my apartment, and here’s what I know, legally speaking. Though you should contact your lawyer / the Office of the tenant advocate.

      There is no disclosure law in DC. Though if you ask your landlord directly, about either your unit or another unit, they have to tell you the truth (or be liable for fraud).

      The DC housing code states that the landlord is responsible for extermination if:
      1) It’s his fault (hard to show)
      2) More than one unit in the building is infested (much easier to show).
      DC Code 14-802

      It can be grounds for voiding your lease under the following conditions:

      1) If the condition existed at the inception of your lease, it is void from the get go. DC Code 14-302.1.
      2) If the condition started after your lease, you can void the lease if:
      a) The condition is not your fault AND
      b) The landlord doesn’t correct it within a reasonable time.

      For any of these options, you should probably get an inspector, and you should DEFINITELY contact the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate.


      I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice. 🙂 Good luck!

  • 16th and 14th street around that area are bedbug central. It’s all the folks packed in such a small area.

  • Bed bugs will soon be replaced in importance by an exotic import, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. This creature threatens US crops from coast to coast: http://www.wildworldofpests.com/?p=620

  • What?
    I’ve moved from one place with B.B.’s and 5 years later I have them again.
    It’s a problem you have to deal with!
    Is all you have to do is talk about your bad bed-bug experiences.
    My, you must be very lonely or have a lot of time on your hands.
    If you don’t have the answer go to B.A.(Bugs Anonymous.)
    I’ll check back in 2 months and see if you might possibly acquire some insight on bed-bug eradication.
    Get a life.

  • Dispatches from the Bedbug War by Tony Lizza….is very interesting post…..really very much needed for all who wants to destroy the Bedbugs…..bedbugs creates many problems these days……..

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