THE WORLDWIDE BED BUG infestation, with all its miseries and desperation, has given rise to innovations from common molecules like cold liquid nitrogen gas (N2). Being 78% of planet Earth’s atmosphere and the air we breathe, liquid nitrogen gas is considered by some an ecological bed bug remedy. As John Emsley points out in his book, Nature’s Building Blocks, a copy of which I stumbled upon in Century Books near Pasadena’s Caltech: A bit over 78% N2 gas and the atmosphere goes from breathable to death by asphyxiation. Not that you would breathe better on Mars with its 2.6% nitrogen atmosphere; though neither would bed bugs survive, if leaving the planet to escape the plague were an option.
In its freezing cold liquid form, nitrogen gas freezes bed bugs and most everything else. Besides freezing and preserving genetic materials, liquid nitrogen is used in dermatology to freeze and excise warts, small lesions, early-stage skin cancers, and actinic keratosis. Liquid nitrogen treatments are called cryotherapy or cryosurgery, not because it makes you want to cry out in pain. But rather because cryogenics (physics) is the study of low temperatures. According to the National Cancer Institute, the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen is even used inside the body to freeze and excise cancerous pancreatic and liver cells, childhood retinoblastoma, precancerous cervix disorders (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) and noncancerous bone tumors.
Italy, which has 400 pest control operators (PCOs) specializing in bed bugs, is the meeting ground for liquid nitrogen and bed bugs, reported Riccardo Biancolini and Guglielmo Pampiglione of the Istituto G. Caporale (Teramo, Italy) at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Reno, Nevada. As people travel from north to south on trains and buses and stay at hotels or hospitals, Italy’s 21 regions and 50 million people have been exposed to the modern day bed bug resurgence.
The liquid nitrogen spray method developed by Ecotrade(R) (Roma, Italy) is called the Criopest method. Ecotrade’s Criopest method sprays liquid nitrogen at -196 C (-320 F) to freeze bed bugs and other pests. Liquid nitrogen has percolation effects, penetrating pillows and carpets to kill bed bugs. Italian hotels hire specialist PCOs who guarantee 100% results, and like the fact that after 1-2 liquid nitrogen treatments hotel rooms can be immediately rented again. The cost in 2011 was $400-600 euros per room. Well worth it if you are in the room rental business; and less costly than conventional bed bug treatments. The Italians told the ESA that 80% of their clients choose the Criopest liquid nitrogen option.
Liquid nitrogen is usually combined with other methods, as bed bugs are a tough pest to ferret out. As part of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) programs, the cold liquid nitrogen treatment of carpets and bedding might be combined with heat (hot dry air) to kill bed bugs on textiles. Also items to be disinfested are placed in bags with pyrethrin gels for 210 minutes. As part of the multi-modality IPM approach, pesticide treatments (only about 75% effective in 5 days) are also used to leave behind chemical residues in places like electrical sockets where bed bugs, cockroaches, and other pests might hide.