13-year-old trying to kill bed bug sets blaze that displaces 8, causes $300k damage

By Jennifer Baker
MOUNT AIRY, OH (FOX19) –A 13-year-old boy trying to kill a bed bug is responsible for setting an apartment fire that displaced eight people and caused $300,000 in damage, Cincinnati fire officials said.

Flames broke out in the 4000 block of Hawaiian Terrace about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The fire spread to six units before crews contained it.

Three adults and five children are displaced.

A child trying to kill a bed bug with alcohol and a match sparked the blaze, fire officials said.

“This was accidental. He wasn’t in there just playing with matches. It wasn’t the smartest thing, obviously, but he was trying to get rid of a bed bug,” said District 3 Chief Marc Monahan.

The American Red Cross is assisting the displaced residents.

Fire breaks out at Mt Airy apartment after a child tries to kill a bed bug with alcohol and a match. 8 people displaced. $300k worth of damage @FOX19

Sweetland being treated for bed bugs

By:Kelly Regan, Staff Writer

With the recent report of bed bugs in Sweetland, students may be wondering how serious of a problem this is. Scott Crowell, Associate VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, assures students that bed bugs are not a serious health problem and are a common annoyance on campuses across the globe.

SMSU does not use chemicals to treat bed bugs, as they can be harmful to the residents. SMSU’s policy is to call in professionals to perform what is known as heat treatment. The infected room is heated to 170 degrees for 90 minutes. One treatment kills any bed bugs in the room and the room is safe for the student in less than a day. Crowell stated that they have treated roughly six rooms per year for bed bugs. No bed bugs have ever been found anywhere on campus except for the residence halls.

Crowell also stated that bed bugs are not an indication of poor hygiene. Bed bugs are often brought in when a student travels and are commonly found in hotels and resorts across the globe.

They do not pose a serious health threat to residents on campus. While bed bugs can cause itching and small bite marks, according to the CDC, bed bugs are not known to spread diseases. Some people may experience a serious allergic reaction, but they are not considered dangerous.

Laundering clothing and bedding regularly and keeping floors clean can help prevent bed bugs. Since bed bugs can also be found in backpacks, students should inspect their bags in addition to their rooms regularly. Students should always be aware of the possibility of a bed bug infestation and should report any signs of bed bugs they observe. Students should never try to treat bed bugs on their own or ignore a bed bug infestation.  Bed bugs will need to be professionally treated.

Scott Crowell and Residence Life hope students understand that bed bugs aren’t a serious problem and are not an indicator of a person’s hygiene.

Bed bugs love your stinky laundry. Here’s how to keep them away

By David Shultz 

On the surface, bed bugs seem ill-equipped for world domination: They can’t fly, jump, or swim; they can survive only on blood; and the world’s foremost apex predators—humans—want them all dead. Yet the parasitic arthropods have recently undergone what scientists are calling a “rapid global expansion,” taking over new territories and growing in number and range. And according to a new study, their globetrotting is made possible in part by an unusual form of transportation: our stinky laundry.

“It’s a good study,” says Richard Cooper, an entomologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who was not involved with the work. He says it makes sense that the bugs are attracted to human odors, even on clothing.

Though they aren’t known to transmit disease, bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) can leave behind itchy bites and cause allergic reactions. In the middle of the 20th century, the pests had been largely eradicated from large parts of the developed world, but bans on effective pesticides in the 1990s, along with cheap air travel, have allowed the bugs to come creeping back.

Unlike ticks or lice, the apple seed–sized bed bugs aren’t travelers: They don’t stay on their hosts for long, and they rarely leave the beds and couches where they feast. So how were they getting onto planes?

“To me, hitchhiking seemed like the best explanation,” says William Hentley, an entomologist at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. “That then led me to this question of whether they’re attracted to our clothes and the smell of humans.”

To figure out whether the bugs were indeed stowing away in our laundry and luggage, Hentley and his colleagues tested whether the insects were attracted to soiled clothing. They set a cage full of bed bugs in the middle of a room and placed two cotton bags at equal distances—one filled with clean clothes and the other filled with dirty socks and T-shirts collected from volunteers. The researchers released the bed bugs from the cage and let them wander freely for 96 hours.

At the end of the experiment, about twice as many bugs were attracted to the dirty clothes as to clean ones, the team reports today in Scientific Reports. That jives with prior experiments that have shown that bed bugs can smell more than 100 compounds produced by human skin—many of which could easily linger on clothes for multiple days, the researchers say.

They also tested whether increases in carbon dioxide—long thought to signal a nearby meal—made the bugs more or less likely to go for the smelly clothes. When added to room, the gas seemed to trigger foraging behavior, but the bugs weren’t any more likely to go for the dirty clothes than they were initially. That suggests that carbon dioxide prompts the bugs to forage, but it doesn’t help them home in on the smelly laundry, the team concludes.

So what can you do to keep the six-legged parasites out of your suitcase when you travel? Hentley is careful to point out that he hasn’t studied these techniques scientifically, but he recommends simply putting your bags up on the metal luggage racks in a hotel room, because the bugs can’t climb up smooth surfaces. If no such rack is to be found, keeping your soiled garments in an airtight bag should help mask the smell. But bear in mind that if you’ve previously put dirty clothes in your luggage, you might need to wrap up your whole suitcase, he says.

Cooper agrees that plastic bags might work, but he doesn’t use them himself. “The biggest thing is not keeping your luggage on the bed,” he says. Another option: putting your bags into a portable heating chamber whenever you get home and washing and drying your clothes on high heat. “Heat is the Achilles heel of the bed bug,” Cooper says.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Ahhh there’s nothing

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Ahhh there’s nothing quite like the smell of a real Christmas tree. But did you realize that beautiful tree you just brought into your home could be swarming with thousands of bugs?

Pest control company Safer Brand says as many as 25,000 bugs can live in one tree. The company says most of the bugs aren’t dangerous and will eventually die. But aphids, spiders, mites, adelgids, praying mantises, bark beetles and sawflies are among the list of bugs that can survive in your home.

Safer Brand says it’s important to examine your tree for bug nests before buying it and bringing it into your home. They also recommend leaving the tree in your garage for a few days and shaking it out to dislodge any bugs.

MEDICAL RESEARCH LINKS BED BUG BITES TO HEPATITIS B, CHAGAS DISEASE

Medical Research Links Bed Bug Bites to Hepatitis B, Chagas Disease

Bed bugs feed on only one food: blood.  Juveniles must feed at least once during each of their five nymphal stages, while adults can feed anywhere from one to three times per week.  That can add up to well over 100 feeding sessions over the average bed bug lifespan of about one year — per individual specimen.  The sheer frequency of their feeding makes bed bugs a serious threat as disease vectors, with studies linking bed bugs to transmitting fatal illnesses like Chagas Disease and hepatitis B.  If your hotel room or apartment is infested with bed bugs, you could be at risk of these diseases.

WHERE DO BED BUGS HIDE?

True to their name, bed bugs often make their homes in mattresses and bedding materials, or in other locations that are close to where their victims are.  As a result, most bites occur while the victims sleep.

The bed bug attorneys at Whitney, LLP have learned of bed bugs being present not only in infested mattresses and bedding, but also:

  • In box springs.
  • In clock radios.
  • In or on electronic devices.
  • Behind pictures on the wall.
  • Inside curtain rods.
  • On curtains and drapes.
  • On ceilings.
  • In walls.
  • In electrical outlets.
  • In cabinets.
  • In headboards

The above list is not exhaustive.  In significantly infested apartments and hotel rooms, bed bugs can be everywhere, as they disperse when looking for more food sources and as their population grows.

WHAT DO BITES LOOK LIKE? WHAT REACTIONS SHOULD I WATCH FOR?

If the victim is conscious during the bite, he or she may experience a slight tingling sensation as the bed bug hooks the claws on its forelegs into the skin to probe and gain leverage.  Once latched firmly into place, the bed bug uses its elongated beak to draw blood, sucking fluids into its mouth as if using a straw.

Reactions to proteins in the bed bug’s saliva, which is injected into the bloodstream during the bite, can vary from person to person depending on the duration, intensity, and frequency of biting.  Some people have no reaction at all and may hardly notice they’ve been bitten, while others suffer a severe allergic reaction.  In some cases, these reactions are serious enough to require hospitalization for anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis.

Visible bites can present as an itchy welt, appearing as a slightly reddish lump or swelling, often more than 3/8-inch across.  Generalized urticaria, commonly known as hives, is not unusual.  People who are bitten repeatedly often exhibit a progressive sensitivity to bites, typical of repeated exposure to allergens.  Visible bites can also form a blister.

Some people also experience secondary bacterial infection of the bite area, which is caused by excessive scratching.  This condition, known as impetigo, results in pus production, swelling, inflammation, and pain. Secondary infection may also result in:

  • Folliculitis — Inflammation of the hair follicles.
  • Cellulitis — A potentially serious bacterial skin infection.
  • Eczematoid Dermatitis — General inflammation of the skin.

Far beyond simply being itchy or annoying, these conditions can lead to permanent and disfiguring scars and hyperpigmentation.

Furthermore, in addition to unpleasant and potentially dangerous physical symptoms, bites often produce damaging psychological effects.  In infested apartments, the captive tenants are often scared to sleep and get little to no rest.  This lack of sleep translates into decreased ability at work and arguments with significant others, family members and co-workers, causing stress levels to skyrocket.

Children who are bitten often develop severe fears of bugs, have nightmares, and suffer from teasing at school when their bed bug bites are visible to classmates.  Adults who are bitten often find themselves unwilling to become intimate while the bites and/or scars are visible on their skin, leading to feelings of alienation and depression.  People whose skin bears permanent bite marks are often unwilling to wear revealing clothes, and may have less social interaction due to the embarrassment they feel.  The social stigma that only unclean people get bed bugs is inaccurate, but is still very much present in our society.

Bed bugs can be easily transferred among people, creating great social, emotional and financial stress for sufferers.  It is common for victims to develop intense anxiety and fear of continuing to be bit.  People who are repeatedly bitten may develop:

  • Nervous Behavior
  • Agitation
  • Sleeplessness (Insomnia)
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Paranoia

 

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH SHOWS BED BUGS MAY INCREASE RISK OF HEPATITIS B, CHAGAS DISEASE

Female bed bugs lay an average of eight eggs per day, but can produce as many as 18 eggs in a single 24-hour period.  Because eggs hatch in just seven to 10 days, populations can rapidly explode.  It takes only 15 weeks, or about four months, for a population to increase from 1,000 to 100,000.  If your infestation is still in its early stages, it is critical that you contact a professional pest control company immediately. 

It has long been known in the field of property management for apartments and hotels that bed bugs quickly spread from unit to unit and floor to floor within multi-unit dwellings and hotels.  Left untreated, an infestation is sure to flourish.  This is particularly disturbing in light of recent medical research linking bed bug bites to several deadly illnesses.

The bed bug has been found naturally infected with at least 45 human pathogens, and in lab conditions has been infected with pathogens such as:

  • Hepatitis B Virus — This form of the hepatitis virus attacks the liver, causing nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and joint pain.  Most infected individuals make a full recovery within about six months, but in some cases, the virus can leave victims with chronic, lifelong liver damage necessitating a dangerous and costly liver transplant.  Warning signs of hepatitis B include:
    • Fever
    • Dark Urine
    • Abdominal Pain
    • Jaundice
  • Trypanosoma cruzi — Trypanosoma cruzi is a protozoan parasite which is known to cause a fatal condition called Chagas Disease.  Chagas Disease is a slow killer, often remaining hidden for years before leading to sudden death or heart failure.  Its acute phase symptoms include:
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach Pain
    • Swelling and/or Redness at the Skin Infection
    • Swollen Lymph Nodes
    • Fever

The World Health Organization, or WHO, reports that hepatitis B kills approximately 780,000 people every year.  The CDC also estimates that about 300,000 individuals are currently infected with Chagas Disease in the United States.

Some researchers believe it is feasible that bed bugs could mechanically transmit disease through infected feces deposited on abraded (damaged) skin.  Scientific studies have documented the presence of bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B and Trypanosoma cruzi in bed bug excrement.  For instance, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), April 1, 2009, Vol. 301, No. 13:

After feeding on an infectious blood meal, bed bugs excrete hepatitis B surface antigen in their feces and could be a possible source of HBV infection by contamination of skin lesions or mucosal surfaces, or by inhalation of dust.

Id. at p. 1365.

Bed bugs are known to defecate immediately upon drawing its blood meal, a trait known as “reflexive defecation.”  This is significant because bed bug sufferers with secondary infections and raw skin would be exposed to this risk.  Thus, review of the research literature on bed bugs and disease supports the potential for bed bugs to transmit deadly disease in addition to the already known risk of serious systemic allergic reactions, secondary infections, and mental suffering, to say nothing of financial losses stemming from medical treatment and replacement of infested personal property.

The risk of contracting disease from bed bug feces has recently been confirmed in a peer-reviewed journal article in theAmerican Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, published online November 17, 2014, which focused on bed bugs as vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease.  R. Salazar, et al., “Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) as Vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi,” American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, published online November 17, 2014.  The authors of this study concluded that “bed bugs have a high potential for feces-mediated transmission.” Id. at p. 5.

If your apartment has an infestation, or if you were bitten by bed bugs at a hotel, the attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help.  To start discussing your legal options in a free and private case evaluation, call our Baltimore hotel bed bug lawyers at (410) 583-8000 today.

 

Charles Darwin, Chagas’ disease, and the killer kissing bugs of California

John Ross, MD, FIDSA

John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Follow me on Twitter @JohnRossMD

It is possible, although very unusual, to get Chagas’ disease in the United States. The medical journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases recently reported a case of Chagas’ disease acquired in California. A healthy 19-year-old student from the greater Los Angeles area donated blood, and tested positive for Chagas’ disease. (Blood donations in the United States are routinely screened for Chagas’ disease, as it is estimated that 300,000 Latin American immigrants in the United States have been infected with Trypanosoma cruzi.) He had never traveled to Latin America; his infection probably came from a kissing bug bite in his sleep during one of several camping trips in southern California. Tests showed no evidence of heart damage. He had a good response to four months of treatment with the anti-parasitic drug nifurtimox, although this drug gave him temporary side effects of anxiety and depression.

Kissing bugs are found in much of the United States. However, only kissing bugs in the southwest United States are highly likely to carry Trypanosoma cruzi. Kissing bugs in California and Texas may be especially likely to spread Chagas’ disease. In one study, 28% of kissing bugs from southern California and 55% of kissing bugs from northern California were carrying Trypanosoma cruzi. In the borderlands of south Texas, 57% of kissing bugs are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi.

The major reason why the spread of Chagas’ disease is rare in the United States is housing. Housing standards in the United States are generally higher than in affected parts of Latin America, and it is rare for kissing bugs to invade homes here. However, it is possible for kissing bugs to gain entry to American houses that are dilapidated, as happened in one case of human infection in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.  Bed bugs, which can transmit Chagas’ disease in laboratory experiments, are common in some parts in the U.S., but there is little evidence that they are an important real-world source of infection with Chagas’ disease.

Keeping Chagas’ disease at bay

There is an urgent need for more research into the spread and treatment of Chagas’ disease in the United States. The drugs used to treat Chagas’ disease are not well tolerated, and they are not effective in patients who have already developed heart damage. At present, your risk of getting infected with Chagas’ disease in the United States is very low, especially if your house or apartment is in good shape, and you avoid camping outside in the open. However, some scientists are worried that Chagas’ disease may become more common in the future. Increasing development in areas where kissing bugs are found may bring them in contact with humans more often. As well, the kissing bugs that carry Chagas’ disease could spread northward with climate change. As Darwin might observe, it’s an evolving situation.

Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

The debate over whether glyphosate is carcinogenic has pitted scientist against scientist, and European citizens against the Commission (Photo: Felix Kindermann / Campact)

A ban on the herbicide glyphosate, sold commercially by Monsanto as Roundup – along with more transparent scientific evaluations of pesticides and a overall reduction in their use – should be an EU priority, citizens said on Monday (20 November) at the European Parliament.

The petition was part of a initiative signed by over 1.3 million Europeans ahead of the final vote (27 November) by EU member states on a five-year renewal of the glyphosate licence, due to expire on 15 December.

The demands were debated during a public hearing held by the European Parliament’s environment committee, with the participation of the European Commission.

The request to ban glyphosate, citizens say in the petition, is because the herbicide is “a serious threat to human health” and “its negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity are clearly documented”

Carcinogenic or not?

The International Agency for Research for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the product as “probably carcinogenic” to humans, despite other studies, such as those from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and other regulatory bodies, suggesting the opposite.

European legislation and procedures, citizens said, should be in line with the 2009 legislation on pesticides, that “prohibits the use of pesticides when there is sufficient evidence in laboratory animals” that can cause cancer.

There is no scientific proof that glyphosate is carcinogenic, EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said, and dismissed what he called “conspiracy theories” about multinationals’ efforts to influence EU decisions.

“There is a wide consensus” about the cancerogenity of glyphsate, Mika Leandro from the Citizen’s Commitee said during the debate, which is worrying since “it is found literally everywhere”, including in bread and baby food.

If the majority of Europeans took a urine test, they can expect it to be positive for glyphosate, Leandro added.

The toxicity of glyphosate and ‘the domino effect’ it has on the environment makes the herbicide a “killer machine”, said Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy director, speaking at the European Parliament.

However, there are no “scientific…or legal grounds” that justify the ban of glyphosate, the European Commission commented during the debate.

“Glyphosate was evaluated by member states and authorities and the conclusion is always the same,” the Commission added, saying a classification as carcinogenic is “not justified”.

Last week Andriukaitis suggested applying a “common sense approach” towards glyphosate, rather than one to “create fear”.

Lack of transparency

The rest of the petition by European citizens highlights the lack of transparency of EU scientific evaluation procedures for pesticides.

Assessments, Leandro said, should be “objective, transparent and independent”, as required in EU pesticide legislation.

Citizens are not satisfied with the way the EU currently carries out regulatory safety evaluations, the petition states, since they “largely rely on unpublished studies” commissioned and submitted by the pesticide producers themselves, while regulatory studies to support pesticide approvals must be commissioned by public authorities.

The “failure” of the EU approval system, said Helmut Burtscher from the Citizens’ Committee, is demonstrated by the fact that glyphosate should not have obtained authorisation in the first place, he claimed, since in 2011 it was classified as “probably cancerogenic” but this danger and other scientific studies have been “ignored and denied” by the EU authorities.

The EFSA report about carcinogenicity, added Burtscher, is basically “an exercise in copy-paste” and the majority of their studies are not available and cannot be examined by the AIRC.

Securing food supplies

The third and final proposal of the citizens’ initiative concerns an EU-wide mandatory reduction target for the use of pesticides, since more than 480 other pesticide substances are currently authorised for use in the EU, while the relevant legislation states only “that pesticides should only be used when all other methods have failed.”

EU pesticides legislation, the petition adds, also “mandates EU member states to establish concrete measures and objectives to reduce overall pesticide use”, but states are not “sufficiently implementing the directive” and the European Commission “has yet to evaluate its effect.”

The ultimate aim, citizens said, is that the EU should achieve a “pesticide-free future”.

“We have already the strictest targets in the world” countered European People’s Party’s MEP Elisabetta Gardini. “What kind of agriculture are they looking for? They think about an elite agriculture, for rich people” MEP added.

The European Commission agreed on the need for improving implementation of the EU legislation on pesticides, and said that it will “evaluate national plans of action” and continue its monitoring activity during 2018.

“Pesticides won’t ever win a beauty competition”, admitted commissioner Andriukaitis but they have an important role in “guaranteeing adequate food supplies”.

Signatures for the initiative were collected thanks to a coalition of farmers and environment protection associations and NGOs, Citizens’ Committee’s representative said.

The required statement of support (1 million signatures) was achieved in less than five months, which was a “record” never achieved before, Leandro said during the hearing.

Elderly Flemington woman battles troubled landlord over bedbugs

By:  Isaac Avilucea, The Trentonian

 This screenshot from a video shows numerous bedbugs in Caroline Harmon’s Flemington home.This screenshot from a video shows numerous bedbugs in Caroline Harmon’s Flemington home.

FLEMINGTON >> Caroline Harmon had a freakish routine. Every night, when her neighbors were sound asleep, she’d rise, retrieve a broom from her cockroach-infested kitchen and sweep the bedbugs out of her bedroom mattress inside her apartment.

Harmon, a 90-year-old woman who has arthritis in her hands and knees and a curved spine, needs a walker to get along. She can’t work, requires government assistance to pay her rent and couldn’t deal with the problem on her own. She relied on others to help her.

But for the last decade, she has been forced to live in a bed bug-infested apartment while state officials and her landlord turned a blind eye to the problem, her attorney said.

“It’s inexplicable to us why they didn’t do anything,” said attorney Patrick Whalen, who represents Harmon in a lawsuit filed in Hunterdon County Superior Court.

“I find it chilling they would do this to a 90-year-old woman,” Whalen said.

Hunter Hills Apartment owner Nicholas Rizzo didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

Despite the horrendous conditions, Harmon paid her rent on time for the last 10 years.

The owner at the Hunter Hills Apartments, in the past a rich target for torrential crime complaints, has known about an infestation since at least 2010, according to court records. Rather than immediately getting it professionally treated, Rizzo had apartment management spray Raid in a cost-cutting effort.

Harmon shifted apartment units to try to deal with the problem but that didn’t help, either. When exterminators were finally brought in to deal with the infestation, it was too late.

Records and interviews with town officials and those intimately involved in Harmon’s case revealed her sick nightmare.

“We’ve been fighting this, literally, for years,” Whalen said. “It’s horrific.”

After trying to work with Rizzo to fix the issues, Harmon was forced into messy and protracted litigation with Rizzo and Biltmore Realty.

Court records obtained by this newspaper show this isn’t the first time Rizzo has been targeted for substandard conditions at properties he owns and manages. Previously, a Florida advocacy group went after Rizzo and his company in federal court for not following laws protecting the disabled. The discrimination lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, though the group had to ask for a court order to enforce the settlement when Rizzo welshed on terms of the agreement.

HORRIBLY INFESTED

Harmon developed cellulitis — an infection causing pain, swelling and redness which can be life-threatening if left untreated — from repeated bedbug bites. She was forced to live at a rehab facility near Edison after a fall left her injured and helpless. Her apartment unit was condemned when fire officials uncovered the bedbug problem.

“This is the first I’m hearing about any bedbug problem,” Mayor Phil Greiner told The Trentonian in a phone interview. “If someone is having a public health problem, we will look into it.”

In Flemington, New Jersey, a borough in Hunterdon County with roughly 4,600 residents, Rizzo has faced stiff opposition from leaders over concerns of mismanagement at the Hunter Hills Apartments. He’s been pelted over the years by complains of excessive crime and overcrowding. At one point, the complex accounted for more than half the borough’s reported property offenses.

Fed up with the problems, borough officials contemplated forced redevelopment of the 180-unit complex, according to news reports. That was halted when Rizzo agreed to work with the borough to address the issues. Officials told The Trentonian that while they’ve seen a reduction in the number of calls to police from residents, crime remains a problem at the complex.

“It subsided a little bit,” said Jerry Rotella, the chief of police in Flemington who has been on the force for the last two decades. “It’s still one of the areas where we have to a lot of enforcement.”

Bedbugs and cockroaches are culprits police can’t arrest. To try to fix her problem, apartment management moved Harmon to another unit in 2011. Concerned about how she would move units because of her physical limitations, Harmon alerted apartment manager Scott O’Brien.

“I settled myself into a home. I made myself a comfortable house,” she said. “I set up a working office and now you’re talking about disrupting that. I told him I’m alone. I’m not physically able to handle another move. I have no relatives to help me.”

He assured her she wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Just “sit in a chair” while workers moved her belongings to the new unit, he told her. When that didn’t happen, Harmon was left stranded without her clothes or furniture. She was also without air conditioning and heat, and a water leak seeped through from the ceiling in the kitchen.

Worse, her new unit had bedbugs. She’d wake up and sweep the critters out of her bed, sometimes five to six times a night, barely sleeping because of the bites.

“I felt them biting all over my back and arms while I was in bed,” she said.

In July 2012, the landlord sent Harmon an eviction notice and accused her of causing the bedbug problem by not properly preparing her apartments for treatment.

“It’s preposterous,” Whalen said.

Whalen said the elderly woman “never imagined that at this point in her life she would be eating her meals on a folding tray table, sitting on a folding chair, and being surrounded by used, borrowed furniture with almost all of her familiar belongings infested, untreated and stored in another location.”

Roaches had come in through the plumbing and nested in the electrical wiring. The stench of toasted roaches became the queasy and overpoweringly familiar aroma inside the elderly woman’s apartment.

Hundreds invaded the toaster where Harmon prepared some of her meals.

Because of the uncontained infestation, Harmon has pretty much lost everything she owned and accumulated over the year. Cherished photos with sentimental value were thrown out, along with her furniture and clothes, as the bedbugs overtook her apartment. Her car was towed away from the property despite protestations by her attorney, who tried to get a judge to issue an injunction preventing apartment management from getting rid of Harmon’s belongings.

HIDING THE PROBLEM

While The Trentonian did not find evidence of other residents complaining about an infestation, pest experts believe it’s implausible to think the creeper crawlers haven’t spread to other units. It’s more likely people have lived with the problem or complained directly to apartment management without involving borough health inspectors.

Hidden away, the bedbug infestation was discovered only because the fire department responded to Harmon’s unit after she fell.

In Harmon’s apartment alone, the bedbug infestation was so bad the borough issued an unsafe structure notice, which The Trentonian obtained through a records request, mandating the unit be vacated and remain unoccupied until “proof of extermination of infestation and sanitization” was provided to the borough.

When outside experts inspected Harmon’s unit, they found more than 3,000 bed bugs “in different stages” and another 3,000 eggs in Harmon’s apartment.

That happened in April.

Still, Rizzo continued mooching money off the state for the vacant apartment for another two months. Harmon received help from the Department of Community Affairs to pay the $790 rent for her dingy place at Hunter Hills.

A DCA spokesperson, when contacted by The Trentonian for comment, said Harmon stopped receiving assistance in June, when she was terminated from the program. Her apartment had last been inspected by DCA officials in April 2016, the spokesperson said. They apparently didn’t raise a stink about the living conditions. The spokesperson said Harmon cancelled three inspection appointments this year. Her unit was dinged in 2015 because of tension in a window but passed when it was re-inspected.

“They’ve never once told me that she missed appointments or cancelled appointments,” Whalen said. “They are absolutely liars. They know it’s not gonna look good that they paid thousands in taxpayer money for a condemned apartment.”

Whalen said he’s been writing to DCA “for years” asking them to help Harmon. He remembered having a frank conversation with his elderly and infirm client.

“If you stay any longer, you’re gonna die,” he told her.

The spokesperson didn’t address why DCA wasn’t more involved in helping Harmon, one of 11 DCA-funded tenants at Hunter Hills.

Whalen said Harmon was removed from her apartment the day after her birthday, the same day DCA was supposed to inspect the unit.

“‘What a birthday gift.’ That’s exactly what she said,” Whalen said.

While in the hospital recovering, Harmon was notified she was being evicted for not paying her rent. That incensed her attorney.

“To evict her while she’s in the hospital, who does that?” Whalen said.

PAST PROBLEMS

Rizzo, who has had issues managing other properties, may have been good at keeping things under wraps at the New Jersey apartment complex. The Trentonian requested all unsafe notices issued to the complex over the years but was told Harmon’s was the only one on file.

In the thick of his problems with the borough in 2014, Rizzo’s property manager told the Hunterdon County Democrat then-Mayor Erica Edwards raised concerns about crime and overcrowding because she was anti-Latino.

“There’s growing concern that the borough’s real motivation has something to do with the Hispanic population,” said Vincent Scordley, the owner’s son-in-law. “That’s the feedback that we’re starting to get and that we’re starting to feel.”

Edwards shot back that Rizzo was trying to deflect attention from the real issues.

The borough council adopted a resolution directing the planning board to conduct a study to determine whether the complex met state criteria declaring it an “area in need of redevelopment,” the Democrat reported. Officials contended over a 16-month span Hunter Hills accounted for 54 percent of rental property crime even though it had a fraction of the rental properties in the borough.

“The township was ready to close him down,” Whalen said. “Somehow, he dodged that bullet.”

Rizzio implemented more rigorous background checks for prospective tenants to nip at the problem. Rotella said the problem got better.

“Are we there as frequently as we were three or four years ago? No,” he said. “But we’re still responding there.”

Wherever Rizzo has properties, he’s had problems. In 1999, Rizzo was taken to court by Advocates for the Disabled, which sued Biltmore Realty, the same company involved in Harmon’s litigation, on behalf of Ernst Rosenkrantz. The group contended Rizzo violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of a settlement, he was required to make certain accommodations, such as removing barriers, at a shopping center he owned and operated in Hialeah Gardens.

The lawsuit settled out of court, but the group had to go back before a judge to enforce the agreement when Rizzo didn’t comply with a timeline to make the structural alterations.

Isaac Avilucea

Avilucea has covered courts, crime and coaching kerfuffles in New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. He prides himself on covering First Amendment issues and was honored for helping fight against a Connecticut judge’s prior restraint injunction while he worked at the Connecticut Law Tribune. Reach the author at iavilucea@trentonian.com .