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Daily News Blog

04
Aug

Massachusetts Enacts New Measures for Mosquito Management with Pros and Cons

(Beyond Pesticides, August 4, 2020) Last month Massachusetts lawmakers finalized, and the Governor subsequently signed, emergency legislation S.2757, aimed at revamping the state’s approach to mosquito management. The final version of this mosquito reform bill continues to include certain problematic provisions, but nonetheless represents a significant shift from an initial proposal that would have allowed the blanket spraying of mosquito adulticides throughout the Commonwealth with little oversight, notification, or transparency. “Though many cooks had a hand in the process, the resulting final bill was strengthened by advocates,” said state Senator Jo Comerford, Chair of the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health, in an emailed statement to supporters. “I’m pleased that we were able to build in strong protections for both the environment and human health.”

The original bill was filed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) under emergency legislative provisions, requiring state lawmakers to act within a set period of time. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) had indicated that this year would bring higher risks of mosquito-borne disease, particularly Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), for which outbreaks generally last two or three years.

The state saw 12 human cases of EEE and four deaths from the disease in 2019; EEE was also confirmed in nine livestock animals. Thus far in 2020, sporadic reports of EEE have been found, but the state considers the current risk level “low.”

While EEE and other mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus do pose a public health threat, it is critical that the response focus on achieving the highest level of public safety without further compromising resident health through the use of highly toxic adulticides (insecticide sprays that target adult mosquitoes). To that end, a coalition of advocacy groups released a fact sheet, and urged state lawmakers improve safeguards within the legislation. A Dear Colleague letter circulated by State Representative Carolyn Dykema and State Senator Adam Hinds echoed many of the coalition’s concerns and stressed the need for broader reforms.

The updated legislation ultimately passed by lawmakers improves transparency around making public health determinations, requires 48 hours prior notice to the public before mosquito spraying, sets a process to allow people and communities to opt-out of spraying, and sunsets all new powers within the bill after two years. Most importantly, over the course of the next two years, the legislation establishes a Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force, which will be overseen by a range of stakeholders. As Senator Comerford, who helped push for the task force, wrote, “Our current mosquito management system is a relic from the 1950s, and I am hopeful that the Task Force recommendations will lead to a more modern system that recognizes the latest evidence about effective mosquito management and environmental protection.”

In the meantime, the bill will provide outsized powers to state officials to conduct mosquito spray campaigns throughout the state. However, the desire to conduct broad, long-lasting spray campaigns may be tempered by a complaint filed with the state Inspector General by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), regarding the past efficacy of the Commonwealth’s adulticide-focused program.

Beyond Pesticides and many coalition partners had hoped to see further improvements in the legislation regarding the setting of strict thresholds for toxic pesticide use, and a greater focus on public education and least-toxic larvaciding, but will have to urge the task force to include these important provisions. Greater transparency of inert ingredients, and broader opt-out opportunities for beekeepers will also be important points the mosquito task force will need to address.

While pesticides are often billed as a silver bullet for mosquito control, such claims are rarely, if ever,` true. A program that focuses on killing adult mosquitoes after they are hatched, flying, and biting people and animals, is the least effective approach to mosquito management. It requires a knock-down rate of 90% of mosquitoes in a given area to achieve adequate control.  Research finds that aerosol plumes from truck mounted ultra-low volume spraying fail to make adequate contact with target mosquitoes at the rate necessary to achieve disease reduction.  And while adulticides may indiscriminately reduce some level of flying insect abundance, larval mosquitoes remain.  Overarching concerns regarding efficacy, repeated spraying of mosquitoes is likely to foster pesticide resistance. 

Abating mosquito-borne disease is best achieved through a science-based approach that prioritizes preventive measures. These measures include surveillance, monitoring, public education on eliminating breeding sites and personal protective actions, consideration of local ecology, habitat manipulation, larviciding with biological materials, full disclosure of all pesticide use, advance notice of spraying, and opt-out opportunities for local residents. Communities, such as Washington DC and Boulder, Colorado, are spotlighted for progressive and ecologically sensitive approaches to mosquito management that do not focus primarily on adulticide use.

For more information on what an effective community mosquito management approach looks like, as well as tools to enact these changes in your community, see Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on Mosquito Management and Insect Borne Diseases.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Framingham Source

 

 

 

 

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  • Archives

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