UNITED NATIONS. MASTER PLAN MYSTERY: BED BUGS, DEAD OR ALIVE?!

 

15 NOVEMBER 2010

MASTER PLAN MYSTERY: BEDBUGS, DEAD OR ALIVE?!

Now, that's the symbol of modernizing the U.N. The Capital Master Plan will continue destruction and construction until the last international civil servant vanishes from the face of the U.N. compound and the last office is shuttered. When and whether the new offices will be ready remains an arbitrary right to whomever has the power to decide.

Meanwhile, the mystery of the bedbugs impeded the path of progress around the end of October -- just after high-level delegates left New York -- unaware of the budding problem.

It transpired that the Capital Master Plan offices had bedbugs in its own conference room. There were earlier reports (about bedbugs and similar siblings) since January about other offices, including the Albano building, but were swept under the mattress, so to speak. This time it was at the "command centre"; like, "healer heal thyself."

Sniffing dogs, widely used these days for a multitude of purposes, were brought in to...sniff. Dogs -- in standard practice for this purpose -- were given leeway for a thorough sniffing around. A declared outcome was broken down into two main conclusions:

  1. Sniffing dogs "could not distinguish between bedbugs that were alive and active and those that were dead."
  2. "No staff member or building reported being bitten."

Of course, we should be grateful for such a vague -- though somewhat troubling -- reassurance. Any information is always welcome these days when any question has to await further reference to a higher reference. Now we know, as told, for example, that tests were provided "on call." Because of the city-wide bedbug problem, "the number of sniffing dogs available is small and they are in constant use." Meanwhile, perhaps the following exchange may shed some light on this pressing mystery:

Question: Yesterday afternoon, your Office squawked that they found bedbugs in the CMP (Capital Master Plan) conference room chairs.

Spokesperson: Right.

Question: So I am sure all U.N. staff would like to know what's being done to contain the bedbug situation. Is it just, have these dogs only sniffed this complex or have they sniffed Madison Avenue and DC One and Two and other places, and how are we all going to be sure we're not going home with them?

Spokesperson: A couple of things. As I told you yesterday, the Capital Master Plan office had said that, over the weekend, the dogs detected these bedbugs in the Capital Master Plan conference room chairs -- just there, but not anywhere else in the offices. And those chairs have been replaced. I am sure you want to know what happened to them. I can say that the chairs have been moved to an area where staff do not go, and they are being fumigated. And I can also tell you, in answer to the other part of your question, that we don't have any other incidents of bedbugs to report at this point.

Question: So how often is the U.N. checking? Because someone could pick them up anytime, and we all know they're everywhere. So how often are you checking?

Spokesperson: Well, isn't that the bigger picture? New York City is a very large city. The U.N. compound is a rather small part of a very large city. And I think that you all know that if you live in New York City that there are reports, perhaps not every day, but there are many reports about bedbugs in various locations around the city. That's not to minimize any occurrence that there might be here, but I think one needs to look at it in the bigger context. As I say, we don't have any other incidents of bedbugs to report at this point.

Question: How often are you checking? Weekly checking? We need to know. I am sure nobody wants to take them home with them.

Spokesperson: (handed paper) This is all about bedbugs. I am not going to read all of this out now, but I am going to send it around to you, all right? But the bottom line is that -- and literally the bottom line in this information is that we continue to follow the expert advice of our exterminator specialist, making further tests with the bedbug sniffing dog to more fully assess and manage the problem. So that sounds like the dog is still in action.

Question: All right. Well, could you find out, though, how often they're checking?

Spokesperson: Of course.

Question: Are they checking on a regular basis, or was this the first time they ever checked?

Spokesperson: It says here that, and I just mentioned, infestations have been found in many public and commercial buildings throughout New York City, and that indicates a kind of worsening problem. And I can also...

Question: Because U.N. staff is so spread out and they're all coming back and forth, you can spread them from one building to the other. So if you could check that the other buildings are being checked, or is it just this complex?

Spokesperson: Well, as I said, we're taking the advice of the specialist making further tests and there are two factors here: one is that no staff, or indeed, people in the buildings have reported being bitten. And the second is that these sniffing dogs, expert though they may be, they cannot distinguish between bedbugs that are alive or dead. So that is another factor that one needs to take into account. Thank you very much.

Question: Can I just ask one follow-up?

Spokesperson: Yes, of course.

Question: In September of last year there was a similar outbreak or finding of bedbugs in the Albano Building on 46th Street, and I just wonder...

Spokesperson: This was not -- I need to correct you on that. They weren't bedbugs, they were clover mites. I know, because I went back, I asked my colleagues to check. They were not bedbugs, they were clover mites. They do not bite.

Question: It was reported on iSeek that it was bedbugs, and I just wonder, there was a controversy here...

Spokesperson: I am telling you the guidance that we received and, I think, in fact we provided at the time.

Question: At the time there was some discussion whether the landlord of the Albano Building or the moving company who had moved the furniture into the Albano Building...the question was who was responsible for these bugs, whatever they were, and I'm just wondering, what follow-through was ever done by the U.N. in terms of how those got in there?

Spokesperson: Let me find out. I don't know the answer to that question. Of more immediate concern is what we have been talking about now. And as I said, this is something that continues to be looked at. I can tell you that there has not been any confirmed bedbug activity in the Albano building since the fumigations took place last year. Okay. And I can reiterate that, as I just told you, that these were clover mites; and it wasn't in September, it was in May.

Question: (inaudible) this year and September last year?

Spokesperson: We're talking about...that's right, in September the building was fumigated, and then, as I told you, in May -- this is what I am talking about -- these were clover mites; these were not bedbugs. Maybe...

Question: In September it was bedbugs?

Spokesperson: That's right, that's right, yes. But let's...We may wish to turn to weightier matters, important though this topic is. I am not trying to minimize it, but let's try to keep it in perspective, please.