The city of Richmond has a new tool in the fight against bed bugs – a “thumb.”

City commissioners in March discussed options for stopping having city employees pick up furniture and other refuse from city streets, citing bed bug infestations as one of the reasons.

No ordinance has been passed, and city employees still pick up discarded furniture, but now they do it hands-free, said Jimmy Howard, interim city manager.

The city purchased a “thumb” to place on the backhoe used for pick-ups, he said.

“(The thumb) allows the backhoe to be almost like a hand,” Howard said. “It can reach down and pick up things.”

The city commission decided on this measure after discussions at a March work session left doubts as to the feasibility of using chemicals to kill the bugs.

Joe Lillis, codes enforcement director for the city, told commissioners at that work session that he spoke with an exterminator who said it has taken him three treatments to kill bed bugs.

The exterminator told Lillis about a product the city could purchase, which the codes enforcement director said costs about $50 a pint.

It would require at least a week for the entire treatment process, Lillis said.

Commissioner Jason Morgan said at the work session that the city had no choice but to try to exterminate the bugs if they were causing problems for neighbors of those who put out infested furniture, but city attorney Garrett Fowles said he was unsure whether the use of chemicals would be legal.

“I question whether a city employee can legally go out on the side of the road and start hosing down furniture (with chemicals),” he said. “Some people might not take kindly to city employees running around spraying chemicals.”

The “thumb” provides a chemical-free way to avoid having city employees contaminated, Howard said. Its cost was about $1,800.

Though no ordinance dealing with refuse pick-up has passed in Richmond, a Northern Kentucky city is considering passing an ordinance that would require any furniture or bedding materials put out to be completely wrapped in plastic. The Ludlow City Council plans to vote on the measure next month, according to the Associated Press.

Ludlow city officials told the AP that other nearby cities had passed similar measures.

Wrapping the items in plastic will not kill the bugs, according to information from the UK Cooperative Extension Service, but will prevent them spreading while en route to the dump.

Richmond city crews pick up about 80 cubic yards of refuse daily, said Stacey Curtis, the city’s public works director, at an April city commission meeting.

Kelly McKinney can be reached at or 624-6694.

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