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Box the Bed Bugs

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Who can say when the nightmare began? For Paul Brensilber, president of the management company Jordan Cooper, it started with a phone call saying that bed bugs had been found in the apartment of one of his Manhattan cooperatives. On further examination, it was discovered that two more units were hosting the creatures. “It was a really extensive problem,” he says. Indeed: bed bugs are hard to catch and even harder to kill. Experts report that 60 to 75 percent of them are inside mattresses, sofas, rugs, and clothing, while the rest are hiding in walls, cracks, and crevices.

At Brensilber’s building, fumigation was needed, and the mangement executive felt that such an extensive problem required an unusual solution: the Fume Cube.

It’s not something out of Star Wars or Star Trek. It is actually a large box made from insulated panels that can be constructed into a variety of sizes. This cube is then placed outside, either on a roof or in a courtyard, and all the items from a bed bug-infested apartment are placed inside the box and sulfuryl fluoride gas is pumped in. That gas consumes the oxygen, and the bugs die.

The Fume Cube, developed by a Florida-based pest control company owner to deal with all sorts of insect infestations, has been used about a dozen times in the Big Apple since 2009. But it is currently being pushed as a very effective way to kill bed bugs living in mattresses, sofas, and other household items.

How It Works

How does it work? According to Tyler LeCompte, national sales and marketing executive for Bed Bug Fumigation Specialists (www.bedbugfumigators.com), the company will come in and set up the Fume Cube, either on a roof or in a courtyard, and then all the items from a bed bug-infested apartment are placed inside the box and the sulfuryl fluoride gas is pumped in. The company monitors the amount of gas to ensure that it remains at bug-killing levels. “The gas is 100 percent effective against all stages of bed bug life,” he says.

After a set period of time, usually about 18 hours, the box is opened, the outside air is let back in, and the gas dissipates. The items must then be aired out for another six hours or so.

LeCompte says that in other parts of the country, sulfuryl fluoride gas can be used to treat pest infestations in single-family homes. That doesn’t work in New York City apartment buildings because in order for the gas to be effective and safe, an air-tight seal must be created, a veritable impossibility when buildings are connected to each other and there are substructures and basements.

Another option is for owners to have their belongings gassed off-site. One, by hiring a company that is specially trained to pack and move your infested belongings into a moving truck. The second option is for you or your super to pack and move the items into a truck you’ve rented. Using the Fume Cube on your building’s roof or in the courtyard costs about $1,000 per fumigation. LeCompte says an 8-foot-by-12-foot cube can handle the items from a one-bedroom or a small two-bedroom apartment. If Bed Bug Fumigation Specialists is fumigating a rental truck that you’ve packed or a truck packed by the moving truck company, the costs range from about $500 to $1,500, depending on the size of the truck.

There are additional costs associated with the process. Licensed pest control movers must be familiar with how to pack up items and transport them to the cube. Additionally, a pest control company must come in to treat the empty apartment, usually with a combination of vapor steam heat, caulking and sealing, and chemical pesticides.

LeCompte says the costs associated with that work range widely depending on the amount of items and the building’s characteristics (walk-up vs. elevator, for example), but they can start at around $2,500 and go to $6,000.

Concerns Answered

Tim Wong, director of M&M Pest Control, says standard bed bug extermination of an apartment costs between $700 and $2,500. He says Fume Cube-style fumigation could be appropriate with very extensive infestations or when the infested objects include things very difficult to treat, either with heat or chemicals, such as paintings or electronics.

But Wong says that if the cube is placed on a roof, he would be concerned about a possible leak and whether the gas could make its way into a neighboring apartment. “It’s not something that I would recommend for my clients because I can’t be assured it would be safe,” he says.

LeCompte is quick to respond to such claims, saying that the company monitors the gas to ensure the cube is air-tight for safety and for efficacy and that none of the cubes used so far have leaked. He notes that the company is a licensed fumigator in both New York and New Jersey and also reports that the gas naturally dissipates in the outside air, so that it becomes “almost untraceable within minutes.” He reports that the company does not place the cubes near intake vents and that the cube itself is on a raised platform so that it is not directly on the surface of the roof.

According to Dow AgroSciences, the company that makes Vikane, one of the brands of sulfuryl fluoride, the chemical has been used for more than 40 years to treat termite and beetle infestations, mostly in states like Florida and California, and about 100,000 structures are treated annually with the gas.

LeCompte says another option beyond using the Fume Cube for an active infestation is for condo and co-ops to purchase it as part of a general pest-management plan. Anything that is brought into the building – from a new tenant’s belongings to a furniture delivery – would have to go into the Fume Cube before it can enter the building. “The big part of the bed bug problem is not so much a bug inside, it’s the bugs that are on their way in,” he says. “The pandemic is because of the ease of travel and the way that people and our stuff move around.”

The company is also working to integrate a heating element into the Fume Cube. Heat is another way to kill bed bugs, and if the heat is used instead of the sulfuryl fluoride gas, the cube could be set up in an inside space, such as in a basement. Maintaining a temperature of 122 degrees for at least an hour can kill bugs and eggs. “The idea would be that nothing would come into the building before it was treated with four hours of heat,” he says.

Purchasing a Fume Cube would cost between $7,500 and $15,000 depending on the size and model chosen, but those costs can seem less onerous when compared with repeated visits by exterminators to get lingering bugs. A Fume Cube-treated building also gets a discount of between 25 and 40 percent off fumigation costs every time the cube must be gassed.

But, in the end, choosing a fumigation method is ultimately not a board’s greatest challenge, say experts. “The biggest part of the bed bug problem is resident denial,” Brensilber, the manager, observes. “If the tenant or shareholder would contact the managing company or the super at an early stage, it can be dealt with. The problem is when you have people who don’t want to admit they have issues and then it gets out of control. Most bed bug problems can be solved. It just depends on resident cooperation.”

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