In a large apartment building, it’s impossible to avoid the neighbors. You can hear the Bruce Springsteen that the tenant in 7B cranks while vacuuming, the kids in 8A directly above tromping around, and if someone decides to paint, the fumes reach everyone on the floor. So when a building supervisor notified owners in a sixty-unit co-op building in Brooklyn that one of the apartments had a bedbug infestation, Eddie Rosenthal feared that it was only a matter of time until the bugs spread to his home.
“There are lots and lots of cracks in the walls,” said Rosenthal, a 30-year resident of the nearly century-old building. “There are so many places for them to hide.”
But it wasn't just the tiny, biting bugs that gave Rosenthal the creeps. So did the prospect of using pesticides inside his home.
So Rosenthal decided to try a few tricks that might keep his home bug-free without spraying chemicals. He raised his bed off the ground, filled some cracks in walls and applied nontoxic powder to spaces between the walls where many bugs live.
Now research has shown that these “good housekeeping” techniques not only minimize chemical use, but they are even more effective at controlling pests than hiring an exterminator to spray powerful, toxic pesticides. A single use of such techniques in 13 New York City apartment buildings eliminated substantially more cockroaches and mice than repeated professional applications of pesticides in other buildings, according to a new study by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia University and the New York City Housing Authority.
In addition, asthma-triggering allergens related to cockroaches were between 40 and 70 percent lower in the residences using preventive techniques than those using standard insecticides, according to the study.
To pest control professionals, these techniques have a name—integrated pest management, or IPM. The idea is simple: make the home an unattractive place for pests by fixing leaky pipes, filling cracks in walls and gaps under baseboards and thoroughly cleaning pest hotspots such as kitchens and bathrooms.
“If you have food, water and you have access, you will have pests,” said Daniel Kass, the study’s lead author and director of environmental surveillance and policy at the New York health department.
This is not the first research demonstrating that IPM is effective, but it is the most extensive study yet showing the benefits of a single treatment.
“What is surprising about this study,” said Kass, “is that a single intervention in kitchens and bathrooms can have lasting effects.”
For the study, an IPM treatment was conducted a single time in 169 apartments in 13 public housing apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Teams trained in integrated pest management inspected the kitchen and bathrooms, filled any holes or cracks in walls and baseboards and thoroughly cleaned problem areas.