DDT for bed bugs?
October 15, 2007 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Using DDT for bed bugs?

I recently found out that I have bed bugs in my new apartment. Obviously, this is extremely upsetting to me, as I’m a college student and work a lot so I don’t have the seemingly endless amount of time or money needed to get rid of them. I have contacted my landlord about the bed bugs but they are not being very forthcoming about helping me. They say they will only pay for what seems to me to be a crappy exterminator. I’m afraid that this will only make the problem worse.

My parents are seriously upset about this. They want me to move out right away. I keep telling them that that won’t solve anything; it will just spread the problem. They live outside the US, and my mom is coming to visit in a week (she’s not staying with me). She excitedly called me this morning to inform me that she bought DDT which she is planning to smuggle into the states in a shampoo bottle. I’m on the fence about using this… I’ve heard conflicting reports about how bad it really is. I’m mostly worried about the fact that it may cause breast cancer, and that bed bugs may be resistant to it. On the other hand, my first reaction is that I should spray it EVERYWHERE. How bad is it if used responsibly? How do I use it responsibly? I know that I have to dilute it, but how much?

So far, I have built up supplies to treat the problem on my own (caulking material, mattress cover, diatomaceous earth, and bed bug spray that kills on contact) but I’m not sure where I should start, or if I should event attempt to do it on my own. I’ve read bedbugger, but I don’t really have a set plan. I want to use DDT because it has a slow half-life and I’m sure other apartments in my building are infested. If I use it smartly, along with caulking every crack that I can find, I can lower my risk of being reinfested, right? Am I being really irresponsible by doing this?

I’m not sure how bad my bed bug problem is right now, I’ve seen three bugs, and I’ve gotten around 10 bites that I know of. I also can’t isolate my bed as it’s a loft bed.

I know this is long but I just have one more thing to add: I also have a mouse problem. I think there’s only one, but I know that they can act as an auxiliary food source for bed bugs. I want to get rid of it before I start treating, and then caulk up the hole that I think it has been coming from, but my traps weren’t working so I got sticky traps. Again, my landlord was supposed to come but he didn’t (three days and counting). If a mouse gets caught on the trap how do I get rid of it? I’m terrified…

I read the on bed bugs but I want to know if using DDT would even be worth the health risks. I’m afraid I’m being really shortsighted but this is my first apartment ever and I haven’t been able to sleep or eat very well for the past week (midterms+stressful work+ bed bugs+mice=HELL). I feel like I need a set plan so that I can feel like I’m actually doing something to control it, I’ve been avoiding dealing with it for far too long.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
You haven't tried anything yet, and you're thinking of going straight for DDT? That seems extremely rash. We aren't talking about malaria-carrying mosquitoes here, and DDT is pretty nasty stuff.
Spray some raid. Spread some diatomaceous earth. Harass your landlord until he sends over an exterminator. DDT, if it should ever be used, should be a LAST RESORT, if for no other reason than you have no idea who is going to get exposed to it after you spray it (future tenants? guests in your apartment? pets?). Bedbugs are treatable without resorting to DDT, and it doesn't necessarily take unlimited time and money.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:16 PM on October 15, 2007

During WWII they used to dust DDT all over soldiers' bodies to kill lice and fleas. In Africa they've been spraying it on the inside walls of houses to fight against malarial mosquitos. It isn't really very dangerous to humans; that's one of the reasons it was used so heavily before Rachel Carson.

According to the DDT MSDS, here are the toxicity numbers:

ORL-RAT LD50 87 mg kg-1
SKN-RAT LD50 1931 mg kg-1
ORL-HMN LDLO 500 mg kg-1
SCU-RAT LD50 1500 mg kg-1
ORL-MUS LD50 135 mg kg-1
ORL-RBT LD50 250 mg kg-1

"ORL" means swallowed. "SKN" means skin contact. "SCU" means "subcutaneous", i.e. injected beneath the skin. "MUS" means "mouse". "RBT" means "rabbit". "LDLO" means "lowest published lethal dose".

By the standards of toxic chemicals, these numbers are quite high, especially the SKN numbers (which is what you're mostly concerned with). It means the stuff is not very dangerous.

The real question for me is whether it would help. Would it actually kill your bedbugs? I'm also a little worried about that "smuggling" business. NOT really a very good plan. (Especially since no one is permitted to take bottles of pretty much anything onto jets any longer IIRC.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:20 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

There are many reasons why DDT is banned in many countries. I don't think it is worth the possibility of poisoning yourself, giving yourself cancer or jeopardizing your chance to have kids. Or the danger you may be putting other people in.

Remember DDT is fat soluble, you have a very long time to build up a toxic dose (this also means that you can absorb more that than lethal dose and be fine, but still ... ).
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2007

There's been a lot of hysteria about the danger of DDT. It's true that there are many reasons why DDT is banned in many countries, but a lot of those have turned out to be pseudo-science. That's why there's increasing backlash against the ban, and why a lot of countries have re-legalized DDT.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:43 PM on October 15, 2007

I don't think it is worth the possibility of poisoning yourself, giving yourself cancer or jeopardizing your chance to have kids. Or the danger you may be putting other people in.

That isn't entirely much different from the chemicals this exterminator is bringing in. My only concern is that the poster seems woefully underprepared and appears to be researching this largely through word of mouth, and I am doubtful anyone will know the exact concentration of DDT that is in the bottle so dosing is going to be an enormous crapshoot. Yes, from what I've read this is about the only thing that will kill the bedbugs besides a herculean effort to move, but I think it can only work safely and effectively in the hands of someone who's had some rudimentary chemistry or pest control experience.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:54 PM on October 15, 2007

DDT is hazardous to the food chain and causes bald eagles to lay eggs with such thin shells that their babies die, and this happens when the chemical is everywhere. My mom remembers crop dusters spraying DDT through neighborhoods in Maryland to keep down mosquitos when she was a kid.

It's not gonna kill you, and in your contained environment it probably won't kill any bald eagles, either. It's when everyone uses it that it becomes a problem.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:10 PM on October 15, 2007

DDT was sprayed in my neighbourhood when I was a kid. A local doctor blamed it for the fact her baby was born without a head. Are you pregnant or likely to be?
posted by b33j at 9:14 PM on October 15, 2007

DDT is illegal in the USA, and your local pet store sells plenty of powerful insecticides for killing the nasties that the dog brought home.

(that said, DDT is safe for humans. You can even eat it as long as you don't eat very much.)
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 9:27 PM on October 15, 2007

Ah, I didn't define one of the term from the MSDS: "LD50" means "lethal dose 50%", the dose such that half the animals died from it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:40 PM on October 15, 2007

You've posted a scheme to smuggle a much-feared and illegal chemical into the country and spray it inside an apartment building without notifying the landlord or the other tenants on a much-trafficked website under your regualr screen name? Good luck to your Mom getting through customs and to yourself renewing your visa. And have fun being evicted.

Let the exterminator come and do their job and don't be an idiot.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Especially since no one is permitted to take bottles of pretty much anything onto jets any longer IIRC.)

There's no problem with bottles in checked luggage.

I say you should get it on hand, make sure you know EXACTLY what it is (have your mom copy all the text off the original container, for example), and then see how you feel about it.
posted by trevyn at 9:50 PM on October 15, 2007

As ch1x0r pointed out, you really need to be talking to your landlord about the mouse and bedbug problem.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:30 PM on October 15, 2007

Please don't use Sticky traps. They're horribly inhumane. Stick with snap traps, or if you're a kind soul, live traps and drive it away from human habitation and release. If you do catch one in a sticky trap, read up on releasing them with vegetable oil. Don't let them die a slow, agonizing death on the trap.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:34 PM on October 15, 2007

Many residents resist spraying of DDT for various reasons. For instance, the smell lingers,[75] and DDT leaves a stain on the walls.

As the chemical dries, it leaves a white deposit on the hut walls, and it has been found to make bedbugs more active.

Bedbugs are resistant to DDT, but are irritated by it, making them more active. This is unpopular with residents of DDT sprayed houses, and so health departments may need to use alternative insecticides to control the bed bugs;

You need to dissuade your mother from bringing an illegal substance into the country, especially when it is certainly a health risk (you can decide how major or minor) to you and anyone who may come into contact with it- and it may not have the desired effect anyway. Is it really worth her possibly getting arrested?
posted by oneirodynia at 11:51 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Especially since no one is permitted to take bottles of pretty much anything onto jets any longer IIRC.)

You can take up to 3 ounces of liquid in a normal bottle, and as much as you want in a bottle marked "saline"
posted by delmoi at 11:51 PM on October 15, 2007

I think you should reconsider moving. You're a college student, so you shouldn't have that much stuff to worry about. Just throw everything away that you can, wash everything remaining, and move into a furnished bedroom or apartment somewhere else. Maybe into your school dorms just to finish out the semester? From how you describe your apartment, I suspect there's a longstanding infestation that's going to be hard for you to get rid of without your landlord's support.
posted by footnote at 4:39 AM on October 16, 2007

Moving won't help. They're everywhere these days.

To get rid of them:
1. If there's a piece of furniture you know is infested, it's probably best just to chuck it.
2. Wash all your bedsheets and all your clothes in hot water.
3. Diatomaceous earth in every nook and cranny of the room, around the legs of your bed, in the seams of your mattress, etc.
4. Be patient.

You're going to be freaked out and paranoid for a little while, but that'll pass. Bedbugs are gross, for sure, but they're also mostly harmless. The worst that can happen to you is a bunch of little red dots. It's not worth killing the last remaining condor just so you can live without little red dots, is it?
posted by Reggie Digest at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2007

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