A pestilence has hit the Danforth and other neighbourhoods in the city of Toronto. It shows no discrimination — it plagues all classes, genders and races; and its only concern is finding a warm, secluded spot to feed, breed, and hide.
Last year, about 150 bedbug infestations were reported in Toronto. In the past eight months, reports have multiplied tenfold to a staggering 1,500 with affected locations ranging from high-end hotels to subsidized housing. This exponential increase concerned citizens and politicians alike, which led to the creation of The Toronto Bedbug Project.
The Toronto Bedbug Project
The Toronto Bedbug Project consists of several workgroups staffed by city officials, community agencies, landlords, and pest control workers. It was developed by Toronto Public Health to help tenants and property owners combat and prevent infestations. Information for both property owners and the general public is provided in online fact sheets.
The project also attempts to dispel the many myths about bedbugs — for example, dirty buildings and low-income houses are not the only locations that get infested. What is true is that bedbugs can live anywhere, but they tend to stay in secluded areas like the folds of bed mattresses, floorboards, and even in electrical sockets. Like cockroaches, they avoid light and only come out of hiding just before dawn to feed. It is also untrue that bedbugs can jump or fly — they often travel by tucking themselves into bags, jackets, and other transportable items. In apartment buildings, bedbugs can move from unit to unit through various openings, like cracks in walls.
Colonization and DDT
It is believed that bedbugs arrived in the Americas on early colonialist ships. Certain 18th-century documents mention infestations in English colonies but none in any pre-established First Nation villages. Bedbugs, like those who had ferried them, then colonized their new territory. Their infestations hit an apex in the early 20th century, when they were ranked in the top three pests that plagued North American cities.
The pesticide DDT was the most effective in eliminating bed bugs; however, time and research proved its effects to be carcinogenic and detrimental to the environment. Its use was outlawed in 1991 under the Pest Control Products Act, after which point bedbug infestations began to rise, rivaling figures documented earlier in the century. Other pesticides have been ineffective in eliminating bedbugs and simply encourage them to relocate.
World travel and shabby-chic
There are several theories that attempt to explain the increased presence of bedbugs in Toronto. Proponents of one of the most popular, world travel, claim that with more Canadians travelling abroad and more foreigners visiting Canada, bedbugs may be arriving via luggage. Since adult bedbugs can survive from three to six months without feeding, it’s no surprise that they can live long enough to be transported across large distances.
Bedbugs have also been travelling throughout many of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. The shabby-chic trends in clothing and furniture have sent more people into thrift shops, flea markets (no pun intended), and garage sales, where they purchase second-hand items that may be infested.
No simple solution
Toronto has responded quickly to the bedbug issue largely because of the actions of city councillors. When Paula Fletcher noticed that her ward (Toronto-Danforth) was most affected by bedbug infestations, she used her position on the Toronto Board of Health to raise awareness and encourage action.
A report issued on February 14, 2008, by Medical Health Officer Dr. David McKeown, explained the issue and notified all wards. The report also stated that $75,000 would be added to the 2009 operating budget to assist those affected who do not qualify for Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.
For now, the Danforth can only wait to see what happens, but actions are being taken and only time will tell if they’ve been effective. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to getting rid of bedbugs — only through education and community involvement will their infestations be reduced.
To research reported infestations in your neighbourhood, check out the The Bedbug Registry.