Bedbugs are really tough. Just ask people working at the Erie County Rath Building.
After spending nearly $4,000 as of August on pest control to battle bedbugs in the building with limited success, administrators escalated their war against the tiny and persistent parasites.
Bedbug-sniffing dogs are expected to begin roaming the building. And a new policy requires all employees to take home clothing and other personal items that might be cluttering work spaces and floors. Employees who leave such things behind after this week risk having them thrown away.
"The county wants to take every step possible to protect employees and clients who come into the building," county spokesman Peter Anderson said.
Those who persistently crowd their work space and floor space with personal items and clutter could face discipline.
Thousands of employees and members of the public walk in and out of the county's main administration building every work day. County officials contend that many of these small brown bloodsuckers are hitching rides into the building. They've shown up at entry checkpoints and in both public and private employees areas. The Department of Social Services was one of the first departments to find them late last year.
Since then, 10 floors in the Rath Building have been sprayed for bedbugs, as well as all the building elevators. Two floors were sprayed or resprayed on Thursday. Meanwhile, supervisors and employees have attended educational awareness and health information sessions about how to deal with the creatures.
"While there is no way of knowing the origin of the bedbugs or the extent of their infiltration, such incidents are an unfortunately common nuisance in urban areas," the county administration said in a statement. "Erie County continues to take this issue seriously and will continue to do what is necessary, as necessary, to eliminate it.”
Officials said they have tried to be proactive in dealing with the pests and respond promptly to employee complaints. But they found they need to take more aggressive steps in light on ongoing complaints and bug sightings.
Hence the new policy.
"Employees shall limit the number of items brought into the building from home," the new policy states. "Your work space is not your personal space and should not be used as a personal storage area."
Aside from requiring employees to take home coats, sweaters, gym clothes and other extra clothing each day, the new policy forbids employees from placing personal items on the floor near or under their desks.
The county will contract with an agency for periodic inspections of the work site. That likely includes bringing in special bedbug detection dogs that are capable of sniffing out small numbers of bedbugs. County administrators said they are collecting information and proposals from companies that offer this service.
"If getting a dog to sniff out bugs is an effective way to get rid of them, then we'll do that," Anderson said.
The good news is that on the broader parasite scale, bedbugs are considered a paltry threat. They transmit no viruses or diseases. They don't fly or jump. They are also incapable of climbing slick surfaces. Bedbugs on clothes or linens can also be killed when subjected to high heat, like in a clothes dryer.
The bad news is that they're blood-feeding parasites. They normally survive months between meals. They typically hide during the day. Immature bedbugs are tiny, off-white creatures that can mature into brown insects up to a quarter-inch long. Bedbug bites are not distinguishable from other types of bug bites, which lead to a raised red bump and itchiness.
Anderson said that while the new policy may represent an inconvenience to employees, he hopes everyone appreciates the need for a safe and healthy work environment and consider the county's latest actions to be part of a broader "team effort" to get bedbugs under control.
"We hope employees see it as a proactive step to keep everyone protected," he said.