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Critics Claim Boulder, CO's WNV Spray Plan Fundamentally Flawed
(Beyond Pesticides, July 23, 2004) As many local governments across the U.S. are deciding to enact safer, more effective mosquito management plans, Boulder City finds itself entrenched in a heated pesticide spray battle as residents try to stop the county from spraying pesticides they claim don't work.

West Nile Virus (WNV) has become a fact of life for many communities across the U.S., especially for Coloradoans who are still reeling from having the highest number of WNV cases in 2003. Many people concerned about the dangers of WNV are equally concerned about the hazards of spraying the pesticides known as “adulticides” to control adult mosquitoes.

Citizens for Pesticide Reform (CPR) is a local non-profit in Boulder, Colorado concerned with the misuse of pesticides and part of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. CPR claims the city’s and county’s plans to spray for mosquitoes should be worrisome to people concerned about WNV. The group held a press conference on Wednesday to explain the issue to local reporters. According to a resulting article in the Colorado Daily, the press conference was just one week before the July 28 deadline for residents to sign up for the city's "No Spray List."

"Boulder County's approach to adult mosquito control is highly ineffective, rendering the risk of the pesticides they use unacceptable," says Betty Ball of CPR. Research shows that broadcast spraying of adulticides is roughly 10 to 30 percent effective at killing mosquitoes in populated settings.

"The county seems intent on playing up the dangers of WNV while simultaneously downplaying the hazards of the synthetic pesticides they are planning to use," says Ball.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises local government to implement a “Fite the Bite” campaign to raise public awareness about simple precautions. Boulder County has implemented a "One Bite, One Life Changed Forever" campaign highlighting some of the most dramatic and unnerving cases of serious illness. The County's campaign tells the public that 97% of Boulder County residents are at risk of getting WNV and that 1 out of 5 people infected with the virus will suffer a debilitating illness. The numbers conflict with county reports nationwide and CDC estimates that 80% of infected people show no symptoms at all and of the 20% that do experience the mild flu-like symptoms, only 1 in 150 will experience serious illness like encephalitis or meningitis.

One of CPR's complaints is the method the county is using to justify the spraying of adulticides throughout the county. According to CPR spokesperson Ed von Bleichert, the trapped mosquitoes are being pooled into large samples for WNV testing. "By pooling mosquitoes from multiple traps, the city and county are unable to determine where mosquitoes carrying WNV are located. This makes it extremely difficult to target the actual breeding sites and to reduce mosquito populations. The result is an ineffective and unnecessary county-wide spray program," said von Bleichert.

Last year Boulder City followed a model WNV response plan that focused on public education and larval control of mosquitoes. The results showed the city had fewer serious illness cases per 100,000 people than any other city in the county, several of which engaged in spraying. The city also reported the larval control had reduced the mosquito count by 80% on average without the use of adulticides. This season the city has come under intense pressure from the county to use adulticides.

"The county sold the city on a spray program promising that mosquitoes caught in numerous traps would not be lumped together and that test results would be available in two to three days," stated Ball. The county lab however is having difficulty getting the results back within seven days. Longer turnaround times for test results mean additional adult mosquitoes will continue to emerge while the county is waiting for data from the state, says CPR. CPR believes a spray program will be far less effective than the 30 to 50 percent kill rate estimated by county officials.

"As the benefits in the risk-benefit analysis of spraying continue to diminish, one has to seriously question whether the risks involved in the broadcast application of pesticides are worth it," says von Bleichert. Adulticides expose people to pesticides that carry health risks but will do little to protect them from WNV.

"The city needs to go back to an aggressive prevention program," says Ball, "spending the money meant for spraying on additional source reduction, larval control, and educational programs while these measures can still be effective. Instead of planning for a crisis, city and county officials need to do everything possible to avoid the crisis," she says.

Source: Citizens for Pesticide Reform, Betty Ball, Tel. 303.444.6981.
CPR is a member of the national Alliance for Informed Mosquito Management (AIMM).

TAKE ACTION: Fight to prevent unnecessary adulticiding in your community and promote effective, intelligent mosquito management. For help see Beyond Pesticides WNV Publications and Tools for Activists on the WNV Issues Page. For more information on West Nile Virus and mosquito management see a new factsheet by Beyond Pesticides: The Truth About Mosquitoes, Pesticides, and West Nile Virus.