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We have had a rainy and therefore VERY buggy summer. The mosquitoes are so bad that, only a few weeks ago, I actually took Little Girl to the aftercare center thinking she was having an allergic reaction. I put her into her carseat in my car and drove three miles. By the time I got to my destination she was covered in welts all over her arms, legs, neck, and face. The doctor at the center actually diagnosed her with hives. It wasn’t until the next day — when the swelling started to come down and you could see the little bite marks in the middle of the welts — that we realized all those welts were actually from mosquitoes. One must have gotten into my car when I had the door open and went nuts on my kid.

The story has been the same all over the Island. Everyone, or so it seems, is talking about how crazy-vicious the mosquitoes are and how SOMEONE should do something. This weekend we got a call telling us that Nassau County was going to do that something: The county was going to be spraying my area and others surrounding us with Scourge, a resmethrin- and piperonyl butoxide-based pesticide since someone in the area had been diagnosed with West Nile virus.

As much as I hate those bugs, as much as I wish they were gone, I wish the county had simply let nature — and the impending cold weather — take care of the mosquitoes.

First off, I really don’t like the fact that our county executive robo-called everyone in Nassau warning them to keep their windows and doors closed, take children’s toys inside, cover fish ponds, and keep pets inside. The fact that it would take the time to do this means that these are not simple warnings. There is actual danger. And I really hate the product spec sheet from Bayer Environmental Science, the company that manufactures Scourge. “Harmful if absorbed through the skin,” and even better, “Caution. Keep out of the reach of children. Hazard to humans and domestic animals. This pesticide is highly toxic to fish.”

But what I really hate is that experts have come out against spraying, linking it to cancer, behavioral and developmental issues, and respiratory problems. The Cancer Prevention Coalition, founded by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., who is at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health, has a long, scary FAQ about Scourge. Here are some of the highlights taken directly from the site:

  • About one-fourth of the Scourge formula is “inert ingredients,” including petroleum by-products.
  • Unpublished data by the manufacturer reveal that Resmethrin is cancer-causing, with specific risk of liver and thyroid cancers.
  • Unless homes are air-tight and windows are closed at the time of spraying, all residents living in the vicinity of Scourge applications are at risk from inhalation.
  • The EPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have emphasized that the inerts used in Scourge are frequently contaminated with the potent carcinogen benzene, a well-documented cause of leukemia and other malignancies.
  • There are many case reports on these inert ingredients causing respiratory problems including irritant and allergic responses, asthma and conjunctivitis following inhalation or skin exposure to Scourge.
  • Children and the elderly are at increased risk for problems.
  • There are less toxic control methods that are just as effective.

Another source — the California Environmental Protection Agency — in a 2007 study reported that “for resmethrin, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that there is a likely risk of carcinogenicity in humans, requiring the manufacturers to provide more detailed data to prove that it can be used safely in vector control.”

And yes, according to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), the chemical takes a long time to leave the environment. According to the chemical’s fact sheet: “The typical half-life of resmethrin in the soil is 30 days.” So after a month, about half of the amount of pesticide sprayed is still out there. The worst part, also according to the NPIC, is that the reason the county is spraying in the air is that it is released as an “ultra-low volume (ULV) spray” that lets “very tiny droplets that stay in the air and kill flying mosquitoes that may carry public health diseases.” The way I am reading that is that the spray sticks around a bit in the air. How long? Who knows?

I called Nassau County this morning and was told that the spraying trucks, which get a police escort, will be driving up and down blocks tonight between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. The Scourge is blasted out 75 feet on either side of the truck, which means it will be coming right at my house, my windows, my front door. I’m really pissed.

Today, when I dropped Little Girl off at school I asked the director if she will be washing the outside equipment tomorrow. In the morning especially there is dew all over everything and it will intermingle, I assume, with a dose of Scourge. The director said the kids would be staying inside all week because she wouldn’t have time to power wash until the weekend. Sigh. I hated being the bearer of bad news, but I am glad my child, who is constantly touching her nose, eyes, and mouth, will be protected from the Scourge. Of course, the better protection would have been to avoid spraying in the first place.

The sick, crazy part is I just got off the phone with a staffer at Nassau County executive Edward P. Mangano’s office who told me that the county did not want to spray. That they had hoped the mosquitoes would die when we got a frost earlier in the month, but that they got “beaten up” in the press for not spraying. The source also said (and yes, I identified myself as a journalist) that he agreed with my safety concerns and that the chemical “probably” is a carcinogen, and that’s why the office does as much as it can putting out press releases and letting people know about the dangers, but the media and the public just don’t care. And that is the most depressing fact of all.

One Response to “Mosquito Spraying: Is It Worth It?”

  1. susan delg says:

    Hmm. I didn’t get that phone call. I wonder if the spraying will happen here as well? Do you know if there is an organic, non-threatening way to control the mosquito population? Is there a beneficial insect that we can introduce, like ladybugs? I would be the first to agree that these little flying vampires have been a pest this year, more so that in past years. I can’t go into my own backyard without being chewed. When taking in the laundry the other day, I looked down and had 6 on one ankle, and 4 on the other, all biting me. But that doesn’t mean that I want my town sprayed with pesticides.

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