Don't Let Government Bedbugs Bite

EPA bans pest-killing chemicals - so America gets infested.

Some time ago, we warned about the dangers of relying too much on the "Precautionary Principle."  This principle, beloved of all Luddites, demands that no new technology be introduced until it can be proved that it's safe.  If carried out literally, the precautionary principle would mean that no changes could be made - there is simply no way to know whether an innovation works safely or not until it's been tried for a while.

Being fairly fond of our modern comforts, we at Scragged deplore the use of the precautionary principle to ban untested innovations.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad actors out there who seem to want to legislate us back to the Stone Age.

What sort of society gives up a useful and helpful technology?  Ours, apparently.

Environmental Policies Making Problems Worse

The most surprising aspect to these modern Luddites is how frequently their "solutions" - which reimpose heavy burdens of inconvenience on everybody that scientists of a past generation thought they'd removed - wind up actually making the "problems" worse.  We were bemused to report that the international ban on Freon, put in place to help close the "ozone hole" over the Antarctic and make more money for DuPont, had two most astonishing effects: it did indeed shrink the ozone hole, but the lack of Freon and increased ozone has led to increased air temperatures there.

The increased temperatures are helping to melt Antarctic ice.  If there were polar bears in the Antarctic, they'd be worried.

It turns out that the Freon ban is not the only environmental regulation which has had unexpected consequences which were profoundly undesirable to the environmentalists who fought for them in the first place. In the article "NASA: Clean-air regs, not CO2, are melting the ice cap," the Register reports:

New research from NASA suggests that the Arctic warming trend seen in recent decades has indeed resulted from human activities: but not, as is widely assumed at present, those leading to carbon dioxide emissions.  Rather, Arctic warming has been caused in large part by laws introduced to improve air quality and fight acid rain. [emphasis added]

... Research indicates that, ironically, much of the rise in polar temperature seen over the last few decades may have resulted from US and European restrictions on sulphur emissions.

Our readers who remember the "acid rain" panic of decades gone by will remember that the justification for banning sulfur emissions, which left school buses stranded by the side of the road in the cold of winter, was to reduce the amount of sulfuric acid which fell on forests.  Sulfuric acid isn't good for trees, statues, stone buildings, or much of anything else, to be sure, but NASA reports that sulfates do have certain benefits when in the atmosphere:

Sulfates, which come primarily from the burning of coal and oil, scatter incoming solar radiation and have a net cooling effect on climate.  Over the past three decades, the United States and European countries have passed a series of laws that have reduced sulfate emissions by 50 percent.  While improving air quality and aiding public health, the result has been less atmospheric cooling from sulfates. [emphasis added]

In other words, reducing sulfur emissions has warmed the air over the Arctic.  Thus, if the US permits lawsuits in anticipation of what might happen due to global warming, we ought to be able to sue the EPA - after all, their restrictions on sulfur emissions led to global warming!  NASA now believes that reduced sulfur has led to more warming than CO2 emissions!

The diagram shows that Arctic air temperatures were dropping when the clean air regulations went into effect, after which, warming ensued.

Medical Policies Making Problems Worse

Air quality regulations aren't the only policies which exhibit unexpected consequences.  In "EPA Curbs Use of Common Bug Killer Dursban," the Los Angeles Times reported:

The Clinton administration Thursday announced that it will ban all over-the-counter sales and most nonagricultural uses of Dursban, one of the most common household and garden pesticides, but its chief manufacturer insisted that the chemical is safe and vowed to continue selling it overseas.

Dursban was used in more than 800 different bug sprays, flea collars, and similar products.  Since its banning in the United States, no real replacement has appeared; while pest control can certainly be obtained from professionals with pro-strength chemicals, that's a lot more expensive than just buying a can of Dursban at K-Mart.  Like the DDT ban which led to increased problems with malaria mosquitoes, the Dursban ban has led to problems with, you guessed it, bedbugs!

In "National infestation of bedbugs worries officials; first 'bedbug summit' held Tuesday", the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:

"Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Doesn't seem so bad in a cheerful bedtime rhyme, but it's becoming a really big problem now that the nasty critters are invading hospitals, college dorms and even swanky hotels.

With the most effective pesticides banned, the government is trying to figure out how to respond to the biggest bedbug outbreak since World War II.

Out of concern for the environment and the effects on public health, the EPA has banned many of the chemicals that were most effective in eradicating the bugs in the U.S. At the same time, the appleseed-sized critters have developed a pesticide resistance because those chemicals are still in use in other countries.

Ever since the Clinton Administration, other countries have continued to use Dursban to control bed bugs without serious issues.  This suggests that the EPA's ban was unjustified.

Now, we're suffering from an infestation of bedbugs which was brought about precisely because of the ban on chemicals that kill them.  The EPA, through bureaucratic fiat, has turned back the clock to revive a pest modern man thought he'd eliminated.

From the EPA's point of view, of course, the infestation of bed bugs is an opportunity - they get to sponsor seminars, write papers, and ask for more money.

"We need to have better tools," said Greg Baumann, a senior scientist at the National Pest Management Association. "We need EPA to consider all the options for us."

"All the options"?  Un-banning Dursban would not take long and it could be back in production almost instantaneously since it's still made for use in other countries, but nobody dares suggest that the EPA do that!  Being a bureaucrat means never having to say you're sorry, no matter how many people are suffering and scratching in infested beds thanks to your idiocy.

Is there any possibility that the "Precautionary Principle" could be applied to government regulations?  That no government regulation could take effect until it's proven that it will have no bad effects?  Now that would be really helpful!

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
But if the government stopped helping us there wouldn't be any more problems for them to fix. Which would lead to huge lay offs. In economic times like these its important to be as inefficient as possible!

I do hope everyone caught the sarcasm.
May 11, 2009 7:40 PM
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