Follow the Rules

One of the major problems of pesticide regulation (or any regulation) is compliance. Why should people follow the rules? Fines or criminal penalties can provide negative incentives and punish wrongdoing. However, if the chances of being caught are low and the potential rewards of breaking the rules are high, compliance may become an issue. Good regulations will consider compliance and try to provide appropriate incentives.

Pesticide treatments of homes and urban structures are the most problematic area of pesticide non-compliance. Some pesticides that can be used safely outdoors, can poison people who are continuously exposed to the pesticide indoors. At the same time, these pesticides are very effective at killing indoor pests. Thus, there is a temptation for unscrupulous people to use them indoors. However, they legally cannot and (for health reasons) should not be used indoors because of health risks. EPA recognized that a whole class of insecticides, cholinesterase inhibitors, were a health risk if used indoors. Indoor use of all cholinesterase inhibitors was banned in 2002.

The recent bed bug explosion has created many people who are desperate to get rid of their bed bug infestations at any price. Thus, it is not surprising to find problems arising with misuse of pesticides to control bed bugs. (US grapples with bedbugs, misuse of pesticides) We read that in Cincinnati, residents were sickened and hospitalized after exposure to illegal pesticide treatments. Authorities are pursuing criminal charges, but that is cold comfort to people who were poisoned. The incentives against using illegal pesticides are breaking down. What are desperately needed are new bed bug treatments that do not have the health risks of the banned pesticides. If applicators have legal pesticides that are just as effective as the illegal ones, they will use the legal pesticides and comply with the law.

Better methods of detecting and eliminating bed bug infestations are clearly needed. People often complain about spending tax dollars on research, but new methods of bed bug control are unlikely to happen without support for experts to study the problem and test new products and methods. Research that leads to better control of bed bugs would be money well spent. The public needs to be educated about bed bugs and steps they can take to protect themselves.

Bed bugs are not an easy problem or it would have already been solved. There are tradeoffs between bed bug control and health risks that need close attention, because the incentives against improper use of pesticides are not strong enough.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Bed Bugs, Health, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Follow the Rules

  1. Sally says:

    As mentioned in the above article, bed bugs really are a real life problem that is causing uneasy discomfort to homeowners. Your bed, the place you go to after a long stressful day, should be the number one place you don’t have to worry about tiny insect intruders joining you. I am interested in this article because a close friend of mine was looking into apartments in Cincinnati a few weeks ago and opted out of a certain apartment complex last minutes, solely because of a bad outbreak with bed bugs. Although the apartment complex was dishonest with her and tried to hide the epidemic, there were negative reviews from several different residents in that very complex confirming the unwanted insects sleeping with them in bed.
    I agree with what was said in the article about people dealing with bed bugs needing to be more aware of the proper uses of internal and external pesticide products. There should not be a misunderstanding about product use and the fact that people are being harmed by the misuse of the products is a problem for concern.

  2. Amanda says:

    This article caught my attention because I recently heard a rumor that Shreve Hall–my place of residence–has bed bugs. Now, whether this is factual or not, I do not know. However, my roommate does have bites on her legs. We checked her bed and found nothing, but the thought of bedbugs is still frightening. Someone suggested that we spray the bed with Lysol before going to bed every night, but the odor from that is enough to gag someone. It is amazing to me how much damage can be caused by such a tiny insect. I would disagree with taxpayers who are against the use of tax dollars for research. They have to be oblivious to all of the treatments and developments that have resulted from research supported by tax money—treatments and developments that they use in their everyday lives and take for granted.

  3. jjneallwi says:

    If you think your room might have bed bugs, check on the sheets for little red spots left by the feeding bed bugs. Bed bugs often curl up under the coils at the edge of the mattress. Lysol would have no effect on bed bugs at all, so don’t bother.

  4. Pingback: Living With Insecticides | Living With Insects Blog

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