Bedbugs plague apartments, tenants

LEWISTON — Ron LeBlanc has been dealing with bedbugs for three years. 

Bedbugs
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ron LeBlanc, right, speaks with his son, Tony, outside an apartment on Oxford Street in Lewiston as they use a portable propane furnace to eradicate the unoccupied space of bedbugs on Wednesday. "The Oven," as they call the device, heats a space to almost 160 degrees for most of a day to kills the pests and their eggs.

Bedbugs
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ron and Tony LeBlanc monitor the temperature from probes inside the walls of an apartment on Oxford Street in Lewiston as they eradicate bedbugs and their eggs.

Bedbugs
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ron LeBlanc adjusts a fan inside an apartment on Oxford Street in Lewiston as he and his son, Tony, use a portable propane furnace to eradicate the unoccupied space of bedbugs Wednesday. "The Oven," as they call the device, heats a space to almost 160 degrees for most of a day to kill the pests and their eggs.

For the web
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ron and Tony LeBlanc monitor the temperature from probes inside an apartment on Oxford Street in Lewiston as they eradicate bedbugs and their eggs with heat.

For the web
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

The LeBlancs' portable furnace houses a 1.2 million BTU propane furnace that can heat a building upward of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the web
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ron LeBlanc checks a thermostat inside an Oxford Street apartment in Lewiston that reads 144 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a Lewiston landlord, he's seen the tiny bloodsuckers invade single bedrooms, entire apartments and whole buildings. The bugs bit tenants and made their lives miserable. LeBlanc spent thousands on exterminators to spray his units with poison. But bedbugs are notoriously hard to kill.

Sometimes, the spray worked. Other times, it didn't.

The problem has gotten worse.

"I'd say 80 percent of Lewiston is infested," LeBlanc said.

The bedbug situation has become so bad that LeBlanc and business partner Rick LaChapelle recently traveled across the country and spent $65,000 on a machine designed to superheat infested homes and kill the bedbugs inside. Since the pair got the machine a month ago, they've superheated about 20 homes — both their own apartment buildings and those owned by others.

So far, superheating seems to have worked where spraying failed. At least the men, their clients and their tenants hope so.

Bedbugs are in Maine and the desperation to get rid of them is growing.

"In the past two or three months, bedbugs have totally exploded," LeBlanc said. "It's gone crazy."

Bedbugs are apple-seed-sized insets that feed on human blood. They tend to infest beds and bedrooms, but they also hide in walls, under floorboards, in piles of clothes and inside couches. Because bedbugs are so tiny, it can be difficult to see them. Some people don't realize their homes are infested until they find themselves covered in itchy red welts or discover that their bare mattresses look like they've been sprinkled with pepper — dried blood-waste left behind from the bedbugs' previous meals. Although bedbugs don't spread disease, they can make sleeping nearly impossible and their bites can cause itching.  

Nationally, bedbug infestations have been on the rise. The insects have increasingly been found in hotels and department stores, as well as homes and apartment buildings. The problem has become so common that the website BedBugRegistry.com has popped as people tell their horror stories and track bedbug infestations in hotels and apartments. 

Bedbugs have been creeping into Maine for the past five years and into Lewiston-Auburn for the past three or four, hitching a ride on clothes, in suitcases and in used furniture. Infestations have nothing to do with cleanliness.

"We did one old guy and his apartment was spotless," LeBlanc said. "It was the worst infestation I've seen."

Housing officials in Lewiston and Auburn have seen a rise in bedbug complaints in recent years. Jim Dowling, executive director of the Lewiston Housing Authority, estimated that his agency spends in the low tens of thousands each year trying to kill the bugs with chemicals.

"Our experience in dealing with various pest-control companies and in attending educational workshops on how to deal with bedbugs, it does seem like this is an expanding problem and the best way to eradicate bedbugs is still developing," Dowling said. "In other words, there's no magic bullet. No one knows what works best, exactly how to do it." 

But landlords must try to deal with the problem. A new Maine law, effective this month, requires landlords to inspect a building within five days of tenants reporting bedbugs. If bedbugs are found, the landlord has 10 days to contact a pest control agent to treat the problem.  Before renting a unit, landlords must tell a prospective tenant if any adjacent units are infested or are being treated for an infestation. And if a prospective tenant asks, the landlord must tell when the unit was last inspected for bedbugs. Landlords are prohibited from renting apartments they know or suspect have bedbugs. 

Bedbugs can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to eradicate from a single apartment unit. Chemical sprays are among the most common ways to get rid of them, but sprays have strict preparation guidelines, including washing, drying and sealing away some belongings, and residents don't always follow those guidelines. Even when they do, the spray can take several applications. And it may not kill every bug. 

Atlantic Pest Solutions, which has offices in Brunswick and Arundel, likes other methods, including using dogs to sniff the precise location of the bugs. If the company finds bedbugs have infested a piece of furniture, it has a mobile heat truck that can superheat that piece of furniture. Bedbugs are attracted to heat — such as the heat of the human body — but they die in temperatures higher than 113 degrees.

For more widespread infestations, Atlantic Pest Solutions superheats whole homes. But superheating takes some preparation and has its own challenges. 

"It's not as easy as rolling in heaters and cranking up the temperatures," said owner Ted St. Amand.

Although residents don't have to seal away any belongings, they do have to remove medications, aerosol cans, paintings, cosmetics and other items that could be harmed by the heat. They and their pets must stay away for much of the day, then deal with an overly-warm home as the place cools down. And superheating can be slightly more expensive than spraying — $1,200 for a single apartment unit compared to $1,000 to spray two.

But while there are some challenges with superheating, and its full effectiveness is still being judged, it seems to do in one application what chemical spraying can't guarantee in several — kill bedbugs.

"I would tell you, if it was my house and I had bedbugs, I would definitely go with the heat. No doubt about it," St. Amand said.   

LeBlanc and LaChapelle went with heat for their buildings. After spending thousands on spraying, they did some research and decided to give superheating a try.

With a 1.2 million BTU propane heater dubbed "The Oven," the men can heat rooms, apartments or whole buildings to 140 degrees or more. They pump the superheated air into the building through vents attached to the windows. The building is pressurized to ensure the heat seeps into walls, floorboards and other cracks and crevasses. And to make certain the building gets hot enough without getting too hot, workers constantly monitor temperatures using wireless sensors and computers. 

It can take a furnished apartment three to five hours to get up to temperature. Workers keep it there for another three to five hours to ensure all bugs are dead. It then takes about 30 minutes to cool the building  enough to re-enter.

LeBlanc recommends people launder fabrics and vacuum to get rid of the dead bugs. He also tells them to be careful about returning items to the apartment, since a backpack, for example, can harbor the bugs and reintroduce them into the space. But aside from that, he said, there's little else residents need to do. 

He has so far been impressed by the heating. It's done what he hasn't been able to do for three years.

"It feels so good," he said. "Right now, we're bedbug-free."

ltice@sunjournal.com

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

ELAINE LAWRENCE's picture

Non Toxic Relief

In reply to your article on bed bugs in Lewiston, I am surprised that someone didn’t research
Diatomaceous Earth. It works great on ant control, and is non toxic to warm blooded animals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth

http://www.earthworkshealth.com/get-rid-of-bed-bugs.php

http://www.ghorganics.com/DiatomaceousEarth.html

ELAINE LAWRENCE's picture

Non Toxic Relief

In reply to your article on bed bugs in Lewiston, I am surprised that someone didn’t research
Diatomaceous Earth. It works great on ant control, and is non toxic to warm blooded animals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth

http://www.earthworkshealth.com/get-rid-of-bed-bugs.php

http://www.ghorganics.com/DiatomaceousEarth.html

 's picture

Non Toxic Relief

In reply to your article on bed bugs in Lewiston, I am surprised that someone didn’t research
Diatomaceous Earth. It works great on ant control, and is non toxic to warm blooded animals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth

http://www.earthworkshealth.com/get-rid-of-bed-bugs.php

http://www.ghorganics.com/DiatomaceousEarth.html

 's picture

Lewiston's Bed Bugs

Let's get real, folks.....there's no way that 80% of Lewiston is infested with bed bugs. As the only B&B in town, it disturbs me that, in choosing front page above the fold for this ridiculously slanted article, that once again Lewiston gets a bad wrap with its own residents as well as everyone within reach of the long arm of the media. 80% of downtown tenements perhaps, but to include ALL of Lewiston is not good reporting. We're trying to improve our image here.....work with us Sun-Journal!!!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Niight, Night....don't let

Niight, Night....don't let the bedbugs bite.

 's picture

The quote was taken wrong.

The quote was taken wrong. What he meant was, "we are a clueless company trying to make a buck or two by instilling fear into our neighbors dere. Sacrey Bluey!"

 's picture

Bedbugs

I am totally disgusted with the Sun Journal for putting such a terrible headline for all to see ....EVERYWHERE...
I would think that the city of Lewiston wanting more business's and more people to move here, would be disgusted as well....
I think it is a way to get more business by these individuals that are claiming this.

 's picture

Yuck

It's true you can get an infestation and be a very clean person.
I have to agree - don't be buying used furniture.... if you do..... Make sure it's clean before you bring it in the house
I need a shower.........

 's picture

image of 80%

How could sunjournal post a comment like that?! people living in this area should be outraged at this statement.... Leblance is an idiot to say that...maybe 80% of his rents are infested....slumlord

Bedbugs and dirty living...

these apartments that these men own and have infestation problems in are probably furnished with beds and couches..who knows how long these pieces of furniture have been there..and who are they renting to..teens , slobs, just dirty people ...been alive for 58 years and I couldn't tell you what a bedbug looks like ..and I lived in Lewiston for the best part of my life....funny how the bedbugs stay in a certain area and in cetain buildings...and dirty hotel rooms that are rented to 1 hour tenants...not saying the people are dirty, but they probably don't clean very often.....

 's picture

bedbugs and Somalies

Be real. Such an ignorant statement.

Ron Hubbard's picture

Bedbugs

[This comment has been removed by the administrator]

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...