The bedbug can breathe easy in Ohio; Feds won't OK bedbug killer

The bedbug might be dodging a bullet. The federal government has denied a request to use industrial pesticides to kill bedbugs.

Bedbug provided by Terminix crawls across a dime.
Bedbugs caught in a jar from a home.

State officials want permission to use an industrial pesticide to fight bloodthirsty bedbugs plaguing Ohio homes, but the federal government has said no, at least for now.

In a letter earlier this month to Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote that the pesticide Propoxur could pose health risks for children, harming their nervous systems.

The state asked the EPA in November for an exemption to allow Propoxur, currently used in commercial buildings, on crops and in pet collars, to be applied in bedbug-ridden homes. Though the government's response stops short of an official denial, it's disappointing, said Kaleigh Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

"We will remain in constant communication with U.S. EPA as well as our local partners ... to see if there is anything we can do at the department to help move this request along," Frazier said Tuesday.

While the tiny insects are not known to carry any diseases, bedbug bites leave behind itchy red bumps. A report issued in May by the Ohio Bed Bug Workgroup, a 40-member task force of experts assembled by the state Health Department, said problems with the pests have been most widely reported in homes, apartments, hotels and nursing homes. Recent reports have had bedbugs spreading to movie theaters and taxi cabs, Frazier said.

A local movie theater owner, David Nedrow, said that crevices of upholstered seats would be a prime target for bedbugs, although he added that his venue hadn't had any problems with the six-legged bloodsuckers.

Bedbugs are resistant to most of the pesticides currently available, so not having Propoxur as a weapon is a setback, said Susan Jones, an Ohio State University entomologist and a member of the workgroup.

"It is very much a blow, because we don't really have products that are knocking down the bedbugs very well," Jones said.

Propoxur, which can cause nausea and vomiting if swallowed, was removed from home use in the 1990s. But Jones said the EPA likely overestimated the risk of exposure to children and said an effort was under way to provide the agency with information about how much of the pesticide would become airborne if applied in homes.

In a statement Tuesday, the EPA said its conclusions about Propoxur are based on the best available science. If Ohio can provide new information, the EPA would consider it, the statement said.

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