NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — They’re the creepy, crawly, nasty things that bite in the night.
Bed bugs—no one likes ‘em, and few know how to kill ‘em.
But they stand little chance against Changlu Wang. He heads Rutgers University’s urban entomology lab and has strived for years to rid New Jersey low-income housing projects, including in New Brunswick, of bed bugs. He and his team have earned the respect of their colleagues and beneficiaries in their efforts to develop new strategies to combat this scourge.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that, under Wang’s leadership, Rutgers is one of four winners of the HUD Secretary’s Award for Healthy Homes. The honor recognizes “excellence in making indoor environments healthier” by improving homes, according to a news release.
“The recipients of this award understand the strong connection between where we live and how healthy we are,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who was appointed this year by President Donald Trump, said in a statement. “They demonstrate innovative approaches to making homes healthier, and exemplify the outstanding work that’s taking place throughout the nation.”
In his drive to fight bed bugs, Wang worked with poor communities, manufacturers and other universities to build better “integrated pest management” plans, according to the release.
What is an integrated pest management strategy? Well, according to the federal government, it boils down to how workers and residents prevent and control bugs and the like, while respecting the environment.
Wang and his team received a HUD grant in 2013 to implement and evaluate a “model” bed bug management program in poor communities. He partnered with three Garden State housing authorities and worked in more than 2,000 apartment units to pull off the study, which closed last year, according to the news release.
“It designed and implemented a low-cost and highly effective bed bug monitoring protocol and a model IPM program,” HUD wrote in its press release, noting that Wang’s work was published in a respected peer-reviewed journal on bugs.
Wang’s work also touched New Brunswick. In 2012, he agreed to help the city Housing Authority tackle its bed bug problems, according to Rutgers. He found a number of infested apartments and, within six months, killed 96 percent of bed bugs there.
But the Rutgers researcher and his team also planted seeds that could prove more valuable in the long-term fight against the pests.
“The really good thing about him was that he didn’t just come in like an exterminator and lay down some stuff,” the housing authority’s executive director, John Clarke, told Rutgers. “He educated our staff and residents about what caused the problem and what we might do to eliminate the problem.”
Indeed, Wang and his team have proactively tried to teach residents, especially those in low-income areas, best practices to prevent and control bed bug infestations. This online guide, for instance, dispels common myths and highlights what residents should do to protect themselves.
The three other winners of the award include the Denver Housing Authority, for breaking up concentrated poverty and ushering in mixed-used development; Vermont’s Weatherization One Touch Program, which helps increase access to health and energy efficiency; and Washington’s Tribal Healthy Homes Network, for addressing asthma in native communities.