For the first time since it opened in 1975, Bed bugs were found this summer in three apartment units at the Elms senior housing building. The Elms, at 777 Fifth St., is a six story 100-unit complex operated by the Secaucus Housing Authority.
Bed bugs were first reported at the end of June in a second floor unit in the south wing of the building. Then in July bed bugs infested two additional apartments located on the same floor near the first unit where they were spotted.
The authority has since taken several measures to confront the problem. The agency held an information session attended by 70 residents, trained staff in bed bug identification, sent out letters on the matter, and had Alliance Pest Control check every unit and treat the three infested units with chemicals.
Residents have expressed confidence in the measures taken.
June bug battle
When the authority received their first report of bed bugs, they called in Alliance Pest Control and the company treated the first apartment unit with chemicals.
“The person that lived in the apartment got rid of his bed and his couch,” said Christopher Marra, executive director. The pest control company returned 10 days later and did not find re-infestation. “There was no sign of bed bugs.”
However, when bed bugs were reported in July in two apartments near the first unit, the company broadened its efforts.
“The only way we are ever going to identify bed bugs is if a resident calls us.” – Chris Marra
The residents with infestations were also instructed to wash and dry all of their clothing in high heat before the pest control company treated the apartment with chemicals.
Despite the initial measures, residents of one of the apartments called back in two weeks and reported that they still had bed bugs. Marra said that he then called in the pest control company to physically inspect all 100 units in the building.
“At the conclusion of that the same two rooms still had evidence of bed bugs,” said Marra. “No other apartment had evidence of bed bugs.”
The authority took further action to teach maintenance and custodial staff how to identify the pests. They also held an information session on Aug. 10, which was attended by 70 out of 120 residents, and distributed information about bed bugs in both English and Spanish.
Bed bugs, or cimicidae, are difficult to eliminate because they move quickly, spread easily, and are resistant to most pesticides. They bite people and feed off of blood, and females can survive up to a year without feeding. They can reproduce 500 times in a lifetime and can remain dormant for up to 18 months.
“The only way we are ever going to identify bed bugs is if a resident calls us,” stressed Marra. “Dirtiness doesn’t have anything to do with bed bugs…For the most part these apartments were clean and very orderly.”
Bed bugs have often sprung up in mattresses throughout Hudson County over the past decade. Most recently, bed bugs were found in a senior building in Hoboken in the spring and at Clarendon Elementary School in February. Two years ago North Bergen dealt with a serious bed bug problem in their senior housing buildings.
The resurgence of bed bugs in the US began in the mid-1990s in places that varied from movie theaters to schools to upscale hotels, which has led to studies on where the bed bugs came from and how to control the infestation. Bed bugs can be found anywhere and travel on backpacks, suitcases, luggage, and clothing.
“I think they did the best they could,” said Mary Anne Pisa, a resident of the Elms who lives on a higher floor. She was surprised to hear the building had bed bugs but felt that she was adequately informed by the Housing Authority. She said that she was not worried.
“We were kind of stunned. It was a little discouraging,” said Elms resident Marie Trobiano. “But I don’t blame the building…the building is kept very, very clean.” She has lived in the Elms Towers the past six years. “I never had any [bug] problems…not even an ant.”
Trobiano said that the Housing Authority was doing a wonderful job in taking care of the matter. She added that she wasn’t nervous about getting bed bugs because they checked her apartment for the bugs and the exterminator also comes every month for a routine visit.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.