(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2012) Across the U.S., some communities are responding to the threat of mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus (WNv) with aerial insecticide spray programs. This method of mosquito management is widely considered by experts to be both ineffective and harmful due to the hazards associated with widespread pesticide exposure.
Given the lack of evidence that adulticides (insecticides that target adult mosquitoes) reduce or prevent mosquito-borne incidents or illnesses, public health and environmental advocates question the decision to resort to indiscriminate spraying. Studies have shown that aerial spraying for adult mosquitoes is greatly ineffective (as little as 1% of mosquitoes will be hit, according to Cornell University entomologist David Pimentel). Pesticides like those typically used in aerial sprayings against mosquitoes, including synthetic pyrethroids and organophosphates, have been linked to numerous adverse health effects including asthma and respiratory problems, dermatological reactions, endocrine disruption, chemical sensitivities, and cancer. These chemicals can also be harmful or fatal to non-target wildlife, including pollinators like the honeybee. Further, pesticides that kill mosquitoes also kill their predators, leading to fewer biological checks on mosquito populations than without spraying.
Here are some of the areas currently, or soon to be spraying insecticides intended to kill adult mosquitos via airplane:
â€˘ An article in the Sacramento Press explains that Californiaâ€™s Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito Vector Control District (SYMVCD) proposed spraying 30,000 acres with highly toxic organophosphate pesticides after years of using Evergreen 6-60, which is composed of the pesticide pyrethrin and the noxious synergist piperonyl butoxide (PBO). The article indicates that public outcry concerning the widespread dispersion of these chemicals has not been recognized. â€śLocal residents, however, have almost no voice in the handling of their health concerns, and have been systematically been ignored by the District,â€ť the article explains.
â€˘ The Sun Sentinel reports that Palm Beach County, Florida has begun spraying a proposed 270,000 acres with mosquito adulticides. Even though the spraying is intended to prevent mosquito born disease, The Sun Sentinel explains, â€śThey [current mosquito populations] are most likely floodwater mosquitoes, authorities said, which hatch quickly in rainwater and attack aggressively, but don’t carry disease. In about a month or two, a more dangerous species will hatch in water accumulating in ditches, ground depressions, buckets and other containers.â€ť
â€˘ The Boston Globe reports that new guidelines from Massachusetts public health officials may increase the number of aerial sprayings in the state this year. The guidelines issued by the stateâ€™s Department of Public Health (DPH) lower the threshold for considering when to spray. The DPH declares, â€śWhen a spraying is scheduled, the department encourages residents to stay inside, close their windows, and turn off air conditioning units.â€ť However, these drastic steps are unnecessary if an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to mosquitoes is adopted by the state.
â€˘ Coloradoâ€™s Valley Courier details a recent decision by residents in Alamosa County to purchase an airplane for use in aerial spraying for mosquito control. Many residents voiced their opposition to the decision, including resident and organic farmer, Trudi Kretsinger, who explained, â€śChemicals present much greater problems in our populace than mosquitoes do.â€ť
Prevent Mosquitoes in Your Backyard:
The first step in avoiding mosquitoes around your property is prevention. Remove any standing water where mosquitoes can breed around the home, such as potted plants, leaky hoses, empty buckets, toys, and old tires. When outdoors in the evening, while mosquitoes are most active, the best way to avoid them is to wear long pants and long sleeves and use natural repellents. Burning citronella candles outside also helps repel mosquitoes. Since these two options are not always possible, least-toxic mosquito sprays can sometimes be a good alternative. Many common mosquito sprays can contain toxic ingredients, however, so it is important to consider all of the option and read labels carefully before buying or spraying the repellents.
Stop the Spray in Your Community:
Beyond Pesticides believes the ideal mosquito management strategy comes from an integrated approach emphasizing education, aggressive removal of standing water sources, larval control, monitoring, and surveillance for both mosquito-borne illness and pesticide-related illness. To get the word out, communities should utilize all forms of educational tools: the media; websites; posters placed around schools, libraries, post offices, and markets; and, pamphlets distributed to doctorsâ€™ offices and libraries. Public officials should also communicate mosquito prevention methods.
If mosquito transmitted disease is a concern in your area, Beyond Pesticides has several text and Mp3 copies of PSAâ€™s available for distribution. Include a cover letter when contacting your local radio stationâ€™s PSA manager, in order to give an overview of the announcement and the importance of public education (using the facts provided above). If you are with a local organization, you are welcome to add your organizationâ€™s name on to the text. Let us know where you sent the PSA and Beyond Pesticides will follow-up on your behalf.
Many municipalities around the country have consistently proven that dangerous pesticides are not necessary to effectively control mosquitoes and prevent outbreaks of West Nile virus. Prevention strategies, such as those listed above, have been adopted in such densely populated areas as Shaker Heights, OH and the District of Columbia.
For more information on safe and effective mosquito management strategies, see Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ page on Mosquitoes and Insect Borne Diseases, or contact us at [email protected], or call our office at 202-543-5450.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.