Calls For Health-Based Approach to West Nile Virus,
Widescale Spraying of Mosquito Pesticides Called Into Question
(Beyond Pesticides, August 31, 2005) A national public health advocacy organization today called on communities across the country to take a reasoned health-based approach in response to West Nile virus. The Washington-based group, Beyond Pesticides, is working with community residents who are asking for evidence that spraying their communities with toxic pesticides actually controls the virus and is worth the health risks associated with widespread public exposure. The federal agency responsible for determining the effectiveness of these spray practices, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has not conducted reviews, as required by law.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that pesticides registered for public health use are tested for efficacy, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still in the review process.
“Ground spraying in general is a waste of money,” said noted entomologist and Cornell University professor David Pimentel. “Most ground spraying is political and has very little to do with effective mosquito control.”
“We have asked the EPA for the data on pesticide product effectiveness (efficacy) for public health mosquito control and have been told that there is none,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national environmental organization. “This is problematic because chemicals like chlorpyrifos (DursbanTM), which was phased out due to its toxicity to children, and other hazardous chemicals continue to be used despite the availability of alternative preventive and less toxic approaches,” said Mr. Feldman.
Many communities across the country are not spraying pesticides for West Nile virus (WNv). Instead, they are adopting preventive strategies that manage mosquito breeding areas and educate people on how to reduce their risk of the virus. Scientific studies link the pesticides used to combat adult mosquitoes to effects on the central nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems and long-term health effects like cancer and disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system even at very low doses.
“When we find West Nile present in mosquito pools here in Washington, D.C.,” said Peggy Keller, Chief of the Bureau of Community Hygiene and Animal Disease Prevention in the D.C. Department of Health. “We don't spray. We’ve learned that the best way to protect the public from both the virus and the pesticides is to intensify our larval program and distribute outreach and education information that emphasizes prevention and protection techniques to the public in the surrounding area.”
Although Washington, D.C. has detected positive WNv mosquito pools, no human cases of the virus have been reported. Positive mosquito pools are often used as a main justification for widescale aerial or truck-based mosquito pesticide spraying.
After carefully reviewing the potential effectiveness of spraying as well as the risks of the virus with the risks of pesticide exposure, the City of Lyndhurst, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, passed an ordinance prohibiting the spraying of pesticides to control the spread of WNv. Several large-population municipalities also follow a no-spray approach to mosquito management including Ft. Worth, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio and others.
Preliminary comparison data show no significant difference in the human rates of WNv in communities that ground spray adulticides compared to those that use other methods of mosquito control.
Pesticide spraying of adult mosquitoes is known to be the least effective method of mosquito management, according to guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to experts, the threat of WNv is best managed through an integrated program that does not expose vulnerable populations of the society to pesticides, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. The most effective program to protect the public from WNv focuses funds and resources on removing breeding areas, killing mosquitoes that carry the virus before they start flying, and mass public education on prevention and precaution.
“The risk of getting sick from West Nile does not even compare with the risks of getting other illnesses such as influenza, respiratory disease, or cancer,” said Eileen Gunn, special projects director with Beyond Pesticides. “Meanwhile, spraying the public with pesticides may in fact contribute to these and other unfortunately common illnesses as well as our susceptibility to getting the virus.”
Beyond Pesticides advises communities to adopt a preventive, health-based mosquito management plan and has several resource publications on the issue, including the Public Health Mosquito Management Strategy: For Decision Makers and Communities. Material can be found online at www.beyondpesticides.org/mosquito or by contacting Beyond Pesticides.