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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2002 /23 Shevat, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Exterminators are evolving, too -- LIKE janitors-turned-custodial engineers and the gym teachers who morphed into physical education instructors, exterminators ain't exterminators anymore.

They are pest management professionals.

Make that "pest control operators," says Ronald Meringolo, executive director of the New York State Pest Management Alliance. "We're not just managing [pests]. We're monitoring them, outsmarting them."

"Thirty years ago, we'd spray," adds Joe D'Ambrozio, his colleague. "Now we go to work wearing holsters, asking questions, using mirrors. ..."

Hey, at this rate, maybe they should call themselves the CIA - Certified Insect Assassins.

Truth is, the old-fashioned exterminator with a big tank on his back seems to be going the way of the ol' blood-stained dentist with a string on his doorknob.

This is good news for anyone with bugs (or a toothache). Well-trained exterminators learn how to kill pests without killing the planet. They also master high-tech gewgaws - like the giant gunlike syringes now used for filling cracks with anti-roach gel. But when on earth do they have time to learn all this?

Apparently, between the luncheon and afternoon tea.

Last week saw 300 extermin ... er, pest controllers gather for the alliance's annual convention at one of the fanciest catering halls in Howard Beach, Queens. Chandeliers gleamed. Cappucino flowed. If there were any bugs present, blame the FBI. And except for several booths proudly displaying the latest in glue traps, it could have been an insurance seminar or medical convention.

"But doctors have it easy," opines James Maloney, the association's president. "They only have to worry about two things - men and women." Pest controllers have to worry about all the age-old insects and now, as they learned in an after-lunch seminar, the bedbug resurgence.

Yes, bedbugs are back, entomologist Kenneth Welch announced to a note-taking audience. He then kindly handed around a couple containers of these critters to be examined by any pest controller too young to remember when "Don't let the bedbugs bite" was taken literally.

Though bedbugs were virtually eradicated in America after World War II, international travel (and, some say, not-so-new "new" mattresses) have brought them back.

How do you know if you've got 'em? You go to bed without bites. You wake up with them. And you may see some blood, too, because (Welch explained) bedbugs go through five stages to reach maturity, each requiring "one blood meal" to get to the next.

Uh, maybe this should have been the seminar before lunch.

In any event, it finally ended (but not before some memorable "vestigial wings of the bedbug" slides), and everyone started chatting about rat bait and German roaches and whether the poached salmon was better than the grilled portobellos. Then they partook of some delightful pastries.

So while it's true that, after 350 million years, roaches and their friends are still evolving, it's nice to see that exterminators are evolving, too.

JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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