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"It's a knockout pesticide, vastly superior to anything else for bedbugs," said Andrew Christman, president of Ohio Exterminating Co., which is on pace to treat about 3,000 bedbug infestations in 2010, up from an average of two in 2006.
Christman said other in-home pesticides aren't as lethal as propoxur, requiring several treatments that can push extermination costs to $500 or $1,500, depending on the size of a home.
Marion Ehrich, a toxicologist at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, said the EPA is showing appropriate caution. She said other scientists who have studied the bedbug problem are not eager to see propoxur released in homes.
"Propoxur is not a silver bullet, and given time, bedbugs would likely become resistant to it, too," said Lyn Garling, an entomologist at Penn State University.
Experts say it is going to take a comprehensive public health campaign -- public-service announcements, travel tips and perhaps even taxpayer-funded extermination programs for public housing -- to reduce the bedbug problem.
People can get bedbugs by visiting infested homes or hotels, where the vermin hide in mattresses, pillows and curtains. The bugs are stealth hitchhikers that climb onto bags, clothing and luggage.
After the bugs were discovered this summer in a Times Square movie theater and some upscale clothing stores, New York City began a $500,000 public awareness campaign.
Last week, the pest control company Terminix listed New York, Philadelphia and Detroit as the three most-infested cities, based on call volume to its 350 service centers. Ohio had three cities in the top 10.
For Delores Stewart, 76, bedbugs have been a nightmare, infesting her Columbus home since last year.
"It's awful, it's disheartening and it's a terrible way to live," Stewart, 76, a retired meat factory worker who discovered the vermin crawling in her bed and her living room recliners.
Her house was treated by a reputable exterminator for the fourth time Wednesday. She has warned neighbors and others about the problem and doesn't blame them for staying away.
"I feel isolated," she said.
Darrell Spegal, a property manager in Columbus who oversees four apartment complexes, said he has spent thousands of dollars to exterminate units.
"We have to try something different," Spegal said. "I mean, look around. The bugs are winning this war."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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