“Sleep tight—don’t let the bedbugs bite" used to be an innocuous children’s rhyme but these days, it's a nightmarish refrain for a growing number of co-op and condo owners and their building administrators. Virtually unheard of for decades, bedbugs are now making a fierce comeback around the country—and New Jersey is feeling the bite as well.
"Bedbugs have always been around, but they were pretty much eradicated from the United States in the 1940s and '50s” thanks to the widescale use of serious pesticides like Malathion and DDT, says Bill Cowley of Cowley's Pest Control in Neptune City. "But they were very common in all 50 states up until then. People from the WWII generation know what bedbugs are because when they were kids, finding bedbugs in their homes was a common occurrence. That's where that 'Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite' expression comes from."
Just the possibility of a bedbug infestation has the power to spook residents and boards alike, who are not just grossed out, but worried about plummeting property values if prospective buyers get wind of the problem. Some pest control companies are even painting their bedbug service vehicles a generic white because of customer concerns.
According to Cowley, bedbugs re-emerged in the U.S. in the late 1990s, and have been multiplying ever since. "I think we incorporated in 1991," he says, "and we didn't have a bedbug call until about 2004, 2005. So we'd been in the business for almost 15 years before we had client with that particular problem."
And as to why the little blighters have become so widespread in recent years, the pest professionals cite a pair of likely culprits: cheap airfare and stricter pesticide laws. In the late 1990s, international travel became a lot less expensive, so Americans began to travel much more frequently—giving pests a lift home in their luggage and clothing. In previous years, hotel guest rooms were typically treated on a regular basis with powerful residual pesticides—pesticides which aren’t used anymore because they were determined to be a risk to human health.