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Bed Bug Siege Underway at ARHA High-Rise

Inspection has been completed — extermination initiated.

An old children's adage "Sleep tight — Don't let the bed bugs bite" is no laughing matter at Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority's (ARHA) Ladrey High-Rise building, 300 Wythe St. That was obvious by the attendance at last Friday's meeting of Authority and City officials to address the infestation that has sent two residents to Inova Alexandria Hospital for treatment of severe bites.

Called by ARHA's Board of Commissioners to get a full briefing on how to solve the escalating problem, attendees received a powerpoint presentation on the proposed "Bed Bug Infestation Control Program" and a plan of action by AB&B Termite and Pest Control, Stevensville, Md., to correct the problem. The latter made the point it will not be painless or cheap.

A firm estimate of the total cost of the extermination cannot be made at this time due to an array of variables which may or may not be needed to correct the situation, according to Roy Priest, interim executive director, ARHA. "There will be the cost of the extermination and fumigation plus the cost of covering all the bed springs and mattresses with a vinyl covering," he said.

"But, this is only part of the cost. We were told that residents will need to get rid of all cardboard storage containers and have them replaced with plastic ones. There are also possible moving and furniture replacement costs. We actually won't know until the project is complete," he said.

This will also not be an overnight operation. In fact, the group attending last Friday's meeting agreed that there would be meetings every two weeks over the next 90 days to assess the progress.

"We hope to have the problem pretty well solved in the next 45 days. It seems to be isolated to one wing of the building rather than throughout. The contractor hopes he can build a bug toxic barrier so that they won't spread any further," Priest said.

That optimism was not necessarily shared by ARHA Commissioner Carter Flemming who attended last Friday's briefing and reported, during the regular ARHA Board meeting July 23, on resident's needing hospital treatment for bites. Such treatment is usually needed due to an allergic reaction rather than any disease being transmitted by the bugs, according to Daniel Potter, AB&B.

"The residents at Ladrey are quite concerned. This has to be a building wide treatment. Everybody needs to be absolutely assured this problem is being solved," Flemming said. "I'm not confident that doing a limited extermination will solve the problem. These bugs are traveling through the walls and along the electrical conduits according to the contractor."

"Even though they intend to put toxic material in the walls, bugs will migrate to other areas in order to escape. They will not be using toxic material in areas where residents will come in contact with it," Flemming said.

"But, primarily I'm glad that ARHA is finally treating this as a serious problem that needs professional attention. ARHA staff is also trying to be very sensitive to the impact this extermination process could have on Ladrey residents," she said.

"As the contractor explained in the meeting, people think that bed bugs are primarily a nocturnal problem. That is not true. People think that because most people only incur them at night — they are out most of the day at work or elsewhere," Flemming said.

"The bugs are always there and in Ladrey many of the 170 units are occupied by elderly and disabled who never leave their units. Therefore, they can suffer bites at all times," she said.

However, Flemming was encouraged by representatives of so many City agencies attending the meeting. "It was a good meeting with a lot of cooperation shown by a variety of City agencies," she said. Included in that group, in addition to ARHA, were departmental representatives from health, housing, and human services.

<b>OVERALL, AB&B</b> has identified 40 units with readily identifiable infestations. Eight of those are severe, with two tiers of the building being involved, according to their inspection.

That initial inspection confirmed that common areas, such as hallways, meeting room, laundry and others are free of infestation. However, the bugs have gotten into the walls and conduits, which makes them potentially more mobile throughout the building.

"Treatment of units shall consist of treating all furniture, mattresses, cracks and crevices. Wall void treatments shall be used for long-term control and elimination. Cable lines and outlets shall also be treated in hallways and in all units. Laundry rooms should also be pretreated," Potter advised in a letter to Chaba Josa, ARHA facilities manager.

"Travel of the bedbugs from unit to unit indicates to be through the walls and along cable line covers in the hallways. Once treatment has been performed then all surrounding units will be treated for the elimination and control," Potter stated.

"AB&B's approach to the treatment ... will be to offer knowledge ... and preventive measures to ensure no further infestations will occur," Potter explained.

Part of the long-term solution calls for residents in the severest infestation units to sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" with ARHA to not only allow ARHA move them to new units but also to clarify what will be required of them to prevent a repeat of the infestation. Those requirements, according to the MOU, include:

* Discarding all items that are bed bug infested;

* Bagging all clothing in black trash bags and washing them in hot water if those clothing items are to be kept;

* Always be prepared for exterminators whenever they arrive to perform a treatment; and

* Cooperate with the move to a new unit.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding, those residents who do not abide by its terms will be deemed "in violation" of their lease and subject to eviction.

As noted in the powerpoint presentation, the ultimate success or failure of the extermination rests with the residents and their visitors. "The sole treatment with chemicals may not be sufficient to achieve total control and eradication without the active participation of the building residents and relatives who may be visiting those units that have been identified with bed bug infestation," according to the presentation's introduction.