On Labor Day 2017, the Washington Post released an article titled “EPA now requires political aide’s sign-off for agency awards, grant applications.” The article mentions that the Environmental Protection Agency revoked a $20,000 grant to the Midwest Pesticide Action Center to train low-income and vulnerable Flint, MI residents in the identification, monitoring, and control of bedbugs due to political priorities.
The article quotes EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman, “Let’s be clear, we are talking about $20,000 for a one-day workshop on bedbugs.”
I felt compelled to respond to Ms. Bowman’s comments, because I believe this is a gross misinterpretation of the workshop we planned for Flint, MPAC’s other work, and the critical work that our peer non-profits conduct day-in and day-out.
Pest control company costs for managing bed bugs can range from $500 to $1,500 depending on the extent of infestation, property, and location. Many low-income residents take the responsibility of pest control into their own hands due to these high costs, a lack of education regarding options for control, and fear of eviction when reporting bed bug infestations.
Bed bug control by non-professionals can result in ineffective and sometimes disastrous results. A New York City Department of Health and Hygiene survey found that low-income households were twice as likely to use broadcast pesticides (sprays, bombs, or foggers) as wealthier households. Many broadcast pesticides do not work on bed bugs, especially those found on store shelves, which can cause repeated use by uneducated residents and households. This repeated use incurs a myriad of economic, health, and well-being costs for low-income residents that aggregates into thousands and, possibly millions, of dollars for any one community, neighborhood, or city.
As the US continues to urbanize, MPAC does not predict bed bug populations will decrease without providing the needed in-depth education. According to the 2015 NPMA/University of Kentucky Bed Bug Survey: Executive Summary, 64% of pest management professionals predict bed bug infestations will continue to spread in places as diverse as shelters, college dorms, day-care centers, health care facilities, stores, libraries, and movie theaters. We hear these stories every day at MPAC and how desperate folks are to find relief.
Unfortunately, many Midwest communities and cities do not have the City of Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance (spearheaded by MPAC) to streamline bed bug control practices and protocols by facility and housing population type, causing inefficiencies and uncertainties in managing rising bed bug infestations. Thus, bed bug control training provides the best and only line of defense for these cities, like Flint.
MPAC’s one of the few organizations in the Midwest that provides comprehensive bed bug training for residents, landlords, and other facility managers by teaching the Integrated Pest Management approach; a proven method of pest control that emphasizes simple, inexpensive prevention practices that causes the least harm to people and the environment. These workshops bring in hundreds of attendees and tailor information to five facility types most affected by bed bugs—schools/childcares, multi-unit housing, senior housing, shelters/transitional housing, and client/social service providers. The presentations and resources draw from the expertise of local pesticide applicator and extension educators, pest control professionals, maintenance staff seasoned in bed bug management and IPM, and legal professionals.
To put it bluntly, however, this training will not happen without the $20,000 EPA grant. Coordinating this effort, contrary to how spokeswoman Bowman frames it, takes months of staff planning for setting up the venue, gathering the needed presenters, and marketing to those serving low income and at risk communities that need this training the most. This full-day event is designed to create a raft of well-informed graduates who can go on to train others.
According to the Washington Post, this EPA grant was the smallest revoked. Ms. Bowman inferred that these funds were a government waste, which I hope after this explanation you will not think the same. Our standing-room only audiences at three previous events certainly did not think so.
Over the past few years, we’ve kept our staff to two full time and one part time to reduce administrative and operational costs and focus more on programs such as this Flint workshop that benefit at-risk populations to pesticide exposures. But, many of our programs are critically underfunded to address all the toxic issues we witness in urban and residential areas of the Midwest.
Without this EPA grant, Flint residents will continue to use pesticides unsafely to manage the bed bug epidemic that will never go away, because bed bugs are so difficult control. Without additional fund for our outdoor Midwest Grows Green work in Urbana, Madison, Milwaukee, and Greater Chicago, MPAC will need to scale down its lawn outreach in urban and residential households that outpace the agricultural sector in pesticide use by three times per acre.
We don’t want to scale down any of our work, and, most importantly, we don’t want to leave regions and communities where MPAC is the only source for mitigating the environmental and health risks of pesticide use.
If you feel compelled to help us bring bed bug training to Flint or contribute to our other programs that need critical support, I invite you to attend our Gardens & Grapes Fundraiser on October 19th at Tannins Wine Bar & Boutique in Elmhurst. If you can’t attend or prefer to help in another way, you can make a tax deductible donation on our website or through Public Good.
Every dollar helps us create healthier and safer indoor and outdoor spaces for children, pets, and wildlife to live, learn, and play.
Midwest Pesticide Action Center