Summer in the city means lots of things: outdoor concerts, street fairs, green market goodness! It also means, unfortunately, that bed bugs are back with a vengeance. As high season drew near, we tagged along recently with the technicians at M & M Environmental, a Lower East Side company on the front lines of New York’s epic bed bug battle. As you can see in the photo above, these guys are not messing around!
Most recently, M & M was featured in a Discovery Channel/BBC segment about the hunt for rats in Chinatown. But over the past couple of years, the company has been a go-to resource for national and local newspapers and television programs covering the bed bug problem sweeping the city. No neighborhood has been left untouched by the bed bug epidemic.
As you can see in this graphic (from the Bed Bug Registry), there are plenty of bed bug complaints on the Lower East Side. M & M Environmental does jobs all over the city, as well as in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Timothy Wong, technical director, told me the biggest problem in this neighborhood is that most old buildings (tenements as well as larger complexes) are poorly insulated, offering lots of opportunities for bed bugs to crawl from apartment to apartment.
This phenomenon was apparent during the bed bug-busting call I witnessed a few weeks ago. The apartment was located in a 100-year old walk-up building in Chinatown. The residents had already thrown out many of their possessions; what remained was pushed to the center of the living area. The guys went to work, sealing holes along the baseboards and patching tiny gaps in the floor.
Beginning in 2001 (when they moved to Orchard Street), M & M Environmental started developing “eco-friendly” techniques. This means pesticides and other harsh chemicals are used only as a last resort. They have a lot of different technologies in their arsenal, including cryonics and applying extreme heat (in excess of 140 degrees). That’s right, M & M has special equipment that freezes bed bugs, as well as their eggs.
The residents in the apartment I visited thought they had bed bugs. But a bedbug sniffing dog (used by a different company) found no evidence of them during a site inspection. The bites continued, however, making life miserable for the tenants. M & M was called in, and special detection devices discovered the presence of bed bugs. The house call lasted about three hours; it takes about two weeks to determine if the critters are gone.
Wong said it’s a misnomer that bed bugs strike unsanitary places (some of the fanciest hotels in town have been struck). Instead, they are prevalent in urban areas with lots of residents who travel frequently and move from apartment-to-apartment on a fairly routine basis. This is why the summer is high season for the epidemic.
In the past few weeks, landlords have been sending tenants letters advising them of a new city law requiring anyone throwing out a mattress to wrap it in plastic coverings (EV Grieve posted one of these letters recently). When the law was first proposed, we were told by City Council staffers that M & M was one of the few businesses in the city stocking special mattress covers that met the law’s requirements. In the past few months, the covers have become a hot commodity and are being more widely sold. But the items have obviously been popular in M & M’s online store.
Wong said the company has always done a big business in self-monitoring equipment. In a predominantly low income community, many customers have preferred cost-effective solutions. But as the neighborhood changes, there’s more demand for on-site services and, especially, eco-friendly approaches to extermination.
One thing’s for certain: it’s bound to be another hectic summer for the Lower East Side’s bed bug hunters. If you’d like more information about M & M Environmental, check out their web site and blog. Their New York office is located at 32 Orchard Street.