Daily News Archive

Syngenta Study Reveals Public Concern Over Mosquitoes
(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2004)
Results from a recent online industry study showed that most of the respondents who completed the survey said that “mosquitoes are a concern and a perceived health risk,” according to Syngenta. Most people also chose West Nile Virus as the top disease of concern and said they saw mosquitoes as the biggest health threat when compared to other vector carrying insects like ticks or flies.

The online poll was designed to measure consumers’ willingness to invest in mosquito control products. The poll, conducted March 23-26, 2004, consisted of a survey of 934 homeowners in the U.S., a group that Syngenta described as “representing entire U.S. market.”

It is easy to understand Syngenta’s interest in quantifying the market for mosquito control products. Syngenta makes a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, designed to kill mosquitoes. But insecticides are not always the right answer to a mosquito problem. Exposure to pyrethroids can lead to a variety of acute symptoms including headache, nausea, incoordination, convulsions, swelling, burning, asthma-like reactions and death due to respiratory failure. Infants are particularly at risk because their bodies cannot efficiently break down pyrethroids. Pyrethroids have also been linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, and are extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.

On top of the dangers to humans and the environment, A raft of evidence shows that adulticiding (killing mosquitoes in their adult stage) is not effective for controlling mosquito populations or effective in reducing the incidence of West Nile virus, and that the risks to human health, wildlife and water quality posed by exposure to pesticides far outweigh the potential benefits of using such sprays.

According to Syngenta, the study shows that 25 percent of people surveyed would be willing to buy mosquito control products. By such logic, that means up to 75 percent of respondents are looking for other, perhaps non-toxic, solutions to mosquito management. This is an element that local municipalities might consider when addressing the fears of West Nile virus.

With this growing concern it is important for local governments to provide accurate public education on protection and safe, long-term solutions, such as source reduction and larval treatments which kill mosquitoes before they grow into biting adults, rather than spraying neighborhoods with hazardous pesticides. Roughly 80 percent of people infected with the virus never show any signs of illness, while other symptoms include are mild and flu-like, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Only in very few cases (less than 1%) can the virus lead to encephalitis or meningitis and be life-threatening.

In 2003, 264 Americans died from West Nile Virus. Although the comparison is somewhat controversial, about 36,000 Americans die from flu-related illnesses every year.

The Syngenta study also showed that the action most commonly taken by consumers against mosquitoes was the elimination of breeding spots in yards, which is confirmed by the CDC and other sources as the most effective response.

It is fully possible to control mosquitoes without the use of hazardous chemicals. The following are some safe and simple steps you can take:

  • Regularly eliminate any standing water in your yard.
  • Maintain screens on doors and windows.
  • Protect yourself from being bitten while outside. Wear long sleeved clothing and pants at dawn and dusk and use natural repellents like essential oils instead of products containgin DEET.
  • Stock mosquito-larvae eating fish in ornamental ponds or other areas that contain standing water.
  • Mosquito traps, microbial insecticides, and botanical yard repellants can effectively kill or ward off mosquitoes.

TAKE ACTION: For more information on mosquito management techniques see our publications on mosquito management. For least toxic ways to protect yourself and your family see our review of alternatives to pesticides. If you are concerned about the spraying of pesticides in your area, see our program on West Nile virus and visit Tools For Activists for advice on organizing your community and learning how to stop the spraying.