Province spends nearly $200K fighting bedbugs in public housing

Those tiny tormenters known as bedbugs produced a large bill for taxpayers last year.

Second-hand furniture may be part of problem

A bed bug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Wednesday, March 30, 2011. It's that time of year when the bugs emerge to bug us. Some can pose real threats _ Lyme disease from tiny ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitoes, or life-threatening allergic reactions to bee stings. But most bug bites in this country are an itchy nuisance. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Those tiny tormenters known as bedbugs produced a large bill for taxpayers last year.

The Department of Social Development spent $191,436.71 on bedbug treatments and bedbug removal in its public housing units in 2015. 

A huge portion of that bill, $115,079.21, was spent in Saint John. 

The department has devoted a web page to bedbug information, which also has links to the office of the chief medical officer of health.

"Any home can be a haven for bedbugs," says the online text. "No need to be ashamed if these bugs end up moving in with you.

"The important thing is to act fast. As soon as you see these bugs in your New Brunswick public housing unit, immediately call your local office of the Department of Social Development."

Long-time pest control expert Greg Flynn, who has 20 years experience in the industry, says the bugs started showing up in numbers in the Maritimes about ten years ago.

Buying second-hand a problem

He says the problem isn't waning. 

As the service centre manager for Rentokil Steritech, he says he has dedicated one full-time worker to the bedbug problem in Saint John. 

He says the big obstacle is preventing re-infestation, especially where people shop second-hand.

"A lot of times people don't have the wherewithal to buy brand new furniture and they take people's word for it, that they don't have bedbugs," said Flynn.

"They pick up a second hand couch or chair or something and voila, you have bedbugs again," he said. 

Social Development paid $55,386 to treat units for bedbugs in Fredericton, $9,633.25 in Bathurst, $6,570 in Moncton and $3,983.25 in Miramichi.

According to the Auditor General's 2012 report, there were 13,157 social housing units throughout the province in 2010. 
CBC News was unable to obtain a breakdown by city at the time this story was posted. 

The overall housing budget was $83.7 million in the year ending 2010.

About the Author

Rachel Cave

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.