GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Public Library is stepping up its fight against bedbugs at all branches by “cooking” all books patrons return.
Library workers have been visually inspecting and heat-treating books that contained bedbugs for a while, GRPL spokeswoman Kristen Corrado said.
“I would say this is pretty much protocol in most urban libraries just because we’re all dealing with the same thing,” said Corrado.
But GRPL recently took it a step further, heat-treating all returned books after a Madison Square branch patron returned material infested with bedbugs in early October.
“When this patron came in, we just wanted to make sure,” she added.
Corrado said any visitor with buggy books also won’t be allowed into the library until they can prove their home has been properly cleaned.
Corrado was clear that the library has never had a bedbug infestation — the insects have been isolated to a book or two each time. She said that of the 800,000 items among eight branches, only 14 books have shown evidence of bedbugs so far and workers have only found two live bedbugs.
“They are not a big problem in the library. Any kind of infestation or bug, you’re going to find in any public building,” Corrado said. “The library has a very strong pest management program in place to make sure we don’t face an infestation.”
COOKING THE BOOKS
Now every book that hits the return pile at any GRPL branch is inspected by library workers and heat-treated.
“We’re… usually getting in at least 6,000 to 8,000 items at all our drops at our location,” said Jen Vander Heide, supervisor of library circulation services. “But that (visual inspection) is a process that staff have been trained in and are very quick at.”
Workers put all returned material on carts that are rolled into a large bedbug heat-treating tent. The books remain in the tent for hours overnight until their core temperature exceeds 122 degrees — the threshold for killing bedbugs and their eggs.
“You can easily fit six carts in,” Vander Heide said of the tent at the main library. “Depending on the amount of time we have to heat, might dictate the number that are put in the tent because we have to ensure that the core temperature hits 122 (degrees). So obviously if we have a larger number of carts, we’re going to run it longer. If we have a smaller number of carts we might run it for a shorter amount of time.”
Library workers say the books are allowed to gradually cool down before they are inspected again. Clean books are reshelved. Any that contain dead bedbugs are thrown out and replaced by the library.
The library also heat-treats furniture and other items flagged by staff, but typically uses cleaning solutions that kill bedbugs on furniture and surfaces to prevent any possible spread of the pest.
“We want to be proactive instead of reactive,” said Corrado. “Our priority is making sure that our libraries are safe and clean for our patrons and we are good stewards and that is why we are doing this.”
Corrado said replacement books and pest management services are covered under the library’s regular materials and facility maintenance budgets.
She says a $9,000 grant from Friends of the Library helped pay for additional heating tents this year. Now the library has eight heating tents of different sizes.
‘POINTING’ TO THE PEST
A few times a year, GRPL brings in some four-legged reinforcements in its battle against bedbugs.
Corrado said all eight library branches are visited quarterly by a specially trained dog that senses the pheromones of bedbugs and “points” to the pest. Anything flagged by the dog is heat-treated and thrown out.
Michigan health officials recommend people not rely solely on a detection dog to sniff out bedbugs. The state also advises customers to make sure any detection dog that’s used is certified by a reputable organization such as the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.
The resurgence of bedbugs in Michigan happened relatively recently, according to a 2010 report by the then-Michigan Department of Community Health.
The agency said for several decades, the Great Lakes State and most of North America were “virtually bed bug free,” but made a comeback because they’ve become resistant to many widely used pesticides.
That, paired with an uptick in travelers, has created the perfect recipe for the rapid spread of infestations, according to the health department.
This year, Detroit ranked eighth on Orkin’s list of cities with the most bedbug complaints. Grand Rapids moved up three spots to No. 20 on the list, and Lansing graced the list for the first time, coming in at 32. Flint also made the cut at No. 47.
Baltimore remained in the top spot for most bedbug reports to Orkin, followed by Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Since bedbugs are hitchhikers, hotels, airports and popular places for travelers are havens for the pest. Those concerned about bedbugs can check visitor reports on The Bedbug Registry.
TACKLING AN INFESTATION
True to their name, the majority of bedbug infestations happen on or near beds, according to an informal study referenced in the state report. That’s why state health officials recommend people start their search within 15 to 20 feet of a sleeping area and inspect mattresses, bed frames, nightstands and upholstered furniture.
The state health department warns against using “bug bombs” to treat bedbugs because they spread insecticides over all surfaces but it doesn’t fall into the cracks and crevices where bedbugs live, putting people and pets at risk without killing the pest. State officials say only EPA-approved pesticides should be used and should be applied by a licensed and trained pest management professional.
The health department says in some cases, people who purchase bedbug-infested items may also be able to recover the cost of damages through the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Property sellers who withhold any knowledge about a bedbug infestation could also be sued for violating the Seller Disclosure Act.