Daily News Archive
Spraying Continues Despite Health Hazards and Ineffectiveness
(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2004) San Bernadino County, in
southern California has been spraying pesticides in the hopes of combating
West Nile Virus. Last week, workers sprayed pesticides aimed at killing
adult mosquitoes in a neighborhood where a few contracted the virus,
according to ABC
news. Jackie Rigby said she believes that she and her sons contracted
the virus during a Mother's Day camping trip in a neighboring county.
"I don't think my neighborhood is the problem, but I don't know,"
she said. "I can't even recall seeing any mosquitoes here recently."
Although West Nile Virus is a public health threat, the spraying of
pesticides is also a potential health hazard. Moreover, mosquito spraying
is also not very effective. A raft of evidence shows that adulticiding
(killing mosquitoes in their adult stage) is not effective for controlling
mosquito populations, and that the risks to human health, wildlife and
water quality posed by exposure to pesticides likely outweigh the potential
benefits of such a spray program.
has been working on this issue since 1999, and has just come out with
About Mosquitoes, Pesticides and West Nile virus, a Beyond
Pesticides factsheet. Along with over 20 other groups, the organization
formed the National
Alliance for Informed Mosquito Management (AIMM). The mission of
AIMM is to protect the public and the environment from unnecessary exposure
to hazardous pesticides used in the attempt to control mosquito-borne
diseases. By working with communities, experts, and public officials,
the Alliance informs the public about the hazards of mosquito pesticides
and calls for the adoption of safer, least-toxic methods of managing
mosquitoes and the threat of West Nile virus (WNV).
The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that spraying adulticides
is usually the least efficient mosquito control technique. There are
a few main reasons that adulticiding is not effective. First, mosquitoes
are tiny, and fogging neighborhoods or spraying pesticides out of planes
is an extremely inefficient way to kill them. According to Dr.
David Pimentel, an entomologist at Cornell University, 0.1% of sprayed
pesticides actually hit the target pest. Second, adulticiding programs
target mosquitoes at the wrong stage. Such programs do not get at the
mosquitoes until after they have matured and are biting, and do not
restrict mosquitoes from continuing to breed. After Hurricane Andrew
caused a surge in mosquito populations in Florida, state officials took
bite counts before and after widespread aerial spraying, and found that
mosquito populations surged back to pre-spray levels within three days
of the treatment.
Adult WNV-carrying mosquitoes can also develop resistance to insecticides.
Furthermore, broad-spectrum insecticides will kill all flying insects
they contact, including mosquito predators such as dragonflies, leaving
populations with fewer natural controls. While traditional adulticide
methods look like action, in actuality they accomplish very little.
Moreover, these pesticides pose unacceptable health risks. According
to the New York City Department of Health, in 2000, more people were
reported to have gotten sick from pesticide spraying than from exposure
to West Nile Virus: 157 people reported illness as a result of exposure
to pesticides used for mosquito control, while only 19 people were hospitalized
for WNV. The pesticides most commonly used across the country are neurotoxic
and have been linked to cancer and other illnesses. People with compromised
immune systems, chemically sensitive people, pregnant women, and children
with respiratory problems such as asthma are particularly vulnerable
to these pesticides and will suffer disproportionately from exposure.
Fortunately, there are more effective alternatives available for mosquito
control. Many communities around the US have moved away from broadcast
spraying of adulticides to find more effective mosquito management practices
that pose fewer risks to human health, wildlife, and water quality.
These communities are adopting preventive strategies that manage mosquito
breeding areas and educate people to use non-toxic insect repellents.
The City of Lyndhurst, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, passed a landmark
ordinance last season prohibiting the spraying of pesticides “in
an effort to help control the spread of the West Nile virus.”
Other communities, such as Ft. Worth, Texas, and Washington, DC also
have no-spray policies.
One of the main
approaches to combating West Nile Virus without the use of pesticides
is targeting mosquitoes in the larval stage. Larval control of mosquitoes
is the most effective means of controlling mosquito populations according
to the CDC and other mosquito control experts and can be done a number
of ways without the broadcast use of pesticides that may endanger wildlife.
Contact your local officials or your local newspapers about the hazards
of pesticides, and urge them to investigate options other than pesticide
spraying for combating West Nile Virus in your community. Click
here for sample letters to the editor and letters to policy makers,
and to learn about alternatives to pesticide spraying.