County, NY Ordered to Halt Mosquito Spraying
(Beyond Pesticides, April 27, 2004) A hard-fought victory was finally won recently by the public interest group, Peconic Baykeeper, when New York State Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley Jr. ruled that Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works was not following state law in considering the environmental impacts of its mosquito control plan.
The ruling came after close to four years of pleading with legislators by Kevin McAllister, biologist and director of Peconic Baykeeper, who claims that the spraying of pesticides and ditching of wetlands (or the digging of trenches to drain water that accumulates in wetlands) for mosquito control was killing thousands of fish, birds and other wildlife, according to an article in New York’s Newsday.
Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic in White Plains, New York filed the case on behalf of Peconic Baykeeper.
Suffolk County Legislator, Cameron Alden (R-Islip) argued dramatically that the move to protect wildlife comes at a major sacrifice to human protection from West Nile virus (WNV). “’If you stop the mosquito control efforts, people are going to die,’” Mr. Alden told Newsday. “’The next person that dies, let that blood be on Mr. McAllister’s head.’” Though emotionally charged, the comment is not backed with evidence.
Larval control of mosquitoes is the most effective means of controlling mosquito populations according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other mosquito control experts and can be done a number of ways without the broadcast use of pesticides that may endanger wildlife. To date, there is no solid evidence that the use of pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes affects the incidence of WNV. Indeed, all over the county there are reports of counties that sprayed pesticides resulting in higher WNV cases, while neighboring counties that did not spray had lower cases and fewer deaths.
The use of ditching to control mosquitoes in wetland areas is a controversial land management method as it has a large potential to disrupt the natural processes and ecosystem of the wetland. The U.S. federal law requiring no net loss of wetlands makes the practice even more contentious.
The requirement that the Department of Public Works to do an environmental impact assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is meant to, “strike a balance between social and economic goals and concerns about the environment.”
The Department of Public Works’ Division of Vector Control is now due to revert back to its priorly approved 2002 mosquito management plan in which a SEQRA determination was carried out and “found no significant adverse environmental impacts.”
The judge’s ruling in this case underscored a point made within the Memorandum that restated the need for SEQRA environmental impact assessments in order to prevent “distort[ion] of the review process by minimizing or ignoring a project’s long-term or cumulative impacts, permit agencies to dramatically expand the scope of executive functions not subject to judicial review , and reduce the public’s opportunity to comment on projects during the planning state.”
The Department of Public Works is expected to appeal the judge’s decision.
TAKE ACTION: Request your local legislators to publicly explain your area’s mosquito management plan for this new season. If there is no plan you may see likely results – an over-reliance on the use of toxic pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes; the most risky, costly, and ineffective way to combat mosquitoes. Learn what you can do to manage mosquitoes in your own backyard, or begin organizing in your community to influence and educate decision makers on this important public health and environment issue. See Beyond Pesticides West Nile virus Mosquito Management project page and review the publications, articles, and some tools provided in the Tools for Activists link.