Mosquito aerial spraying causes concern

 

Doug Beatty walks in the woods behind his home in Magnolia. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MAGNOLIA — DNREC’s continuing mission is to “fight the bite” this spring.

But given Doug Beatty’s recent online research, that campaign is raising his concern.

According to the Meadowbrook Acres resident, some studies regarding Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI) — the chemical sprayed to kill Delaware’s mosquitoes — show that it may “decrease biodiversity over years and could be harmful to honeybees.”

There’s also ample evidence, however, that BTI is safe and non-toxic to humans and animals. It has the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval and is generally considered an industry standard.

Whatever the case, Mr. Beatty said he and others grew uncomfortable on March 24 as a Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control-fueled helicopter hovered “50 to 100 feet above” their neighborhood while dropping the larvicide from the sky. At least five residents were outside at the time, he said.

“I waved my arms wildly to get the pilot’s attention and screamed, but couldn’t scream louder than the sound of his rotors,” he said, adding that family pets were also in the vicinity.

A DNREC Mosquito Control Section helicopter executes a woodland pool spraying mission from the air. (Submitted photo/DNREC)

“The pilot wasn’t smiling and didn’t notice the hand gestures, which I believe might have been due to his concentration on the tight turns and low flying.”

Two contractors sealcoating a roof felt a mist, Mr. Beatty said, and he’s unsure if the minor irritation to the back of his throat resulted from the spray, or his screams for attention combined with lingering effects of quitting smoking in January. The men on the roof “respectfully declined” to speak with the media, he said.

Others reported similar throat and eye irritation immediately afterward, according to the homeowner, though “no parties have sought medical attention at this time.”

The supposed incident lasted approximately 15 to 20 minutes at about 2 p.m., Mr. Beatty estimated, and involved two helicopter passes over his home.

Just before 3 p.m. on the spray day, Mr. Beatty sent an email to DNREC, Delaware Gov. John Carney and media outlets to express skepticism, which he claimed has been ongoing for years.

“This has been a repeated problem in the Meadowbrook Acres Mobile Home Community despite numerous calls to DNREC asking for a procedure to not have private property sprayed with poison especially directly on people and companion animals,” Mr. Beatty claimed.

Two days afterward, the 15-year Meadowbrook Acres resident contacted DNREC for more information. He learned that the pilot apparently did not see residents below and that one quart per acre is applied.

“I don’t think they’re hearing me about the concerns,” said Mr. Beatty, who said he retired from the United States Navy after serving on ship and shore as an aviation electronics technician and professes to know safe or unsafe flying tactics when he sees them.

“I would be concerned about their flying habits and they need to dial it back a bit when it comes to maneuvering around trees and wires and going low over residential yards.”

Next time, Mr. Beatty said, he’ll point his cell phone camera upward and take photos that are “hopefully high resolution enough to put it all in the proper perspective.”

DNREC’s flight plan

According to Mosquito Control Section Administrator Dr. William Meredith, DNREC “subsequently spoke with Mr. Beatty and explained our spraying methodology for woodland pool mosquitoes.

“We underscored how our spray pilots fly a precise bearing by use of onboard navigation for aerial application.”

While “DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section fields only a few spray-associated complaints statewide every year,” Dr. Meredith said, “We take each one of them seriously.

“But after we’ve been given the opportunity to explain the ‘what, why, where, when, and how’ regarding going about our business and safely so doing, almost every one of these complaints is satisfactorily resolved.”

Mosquito Control Section pilots don’t freelance during their routes, Dr. Meredith said.

“Automated flying/spraying records (via AGNAV and GPS) are generated onboard during application flights, and we also gave advance public notice of our intention to treat in accordance with standard spray notification protocols,” he said.

“Our experienced spray pilots follow their flight plan by use of onboard navigation in lining up flight paths for application; aerial spraying is done safely and in following Federal Aviation Administration requirements.”

Regarding the safety of BTI, Dr. Meredith answered, “An indication of how safely BTI can be applied is that EPA sets no limits on its frequency of application for any given area or site, nor has EPA imposed any minimum reapplication period requirements.”

At least the spray appears to be working in the Meadowbrook Acres neighborhood.

“In general we have no problems with mosquitoes here, but have to monitor the pools and puddles of water,” Mr. Beatty said.

The time to act against pesky mosquitoes is now, DNREC said, since the annual spring woodland pool aerial applications target the larvae of early-season mosquitoes. Left untreated they “would emerge as an infestation of flying adults,” according to Dr. Meredith.

Treatment could come every couple weeks, but is usually administered far less frequently, according to DNREC. The standard plan for BTI involves one spray in late March or April.

Dr. Meredith, a recent past president of the American Mosquito Control Association, and recipient of the organization’s Medal of Honor, said the state has conducted mosquito control applications safely and without incident for decades.

“Once residents know who we are and what we’re doing to control mosquitoes in Delaware, the public reaction more typically becomes one of gratitude toward the State for working to prevent or alleviate severe mosquito infestations and related mosquito-borne disease problems,” said the man described by DNREC as a “giant among peers” when it comes to the science and control of mosquitoes.

Avoiding infestation

According to Dr. Meredith, “the total amount of such spraying statewide each spring occurs only over woodland pool locations that could potentially produce an infestation of these early-season species.

“Our focus with woodland spraying is treating locations near communities, involving mosquito species with a flight range of about one mile from where they arise.

“At this time of year Delaware has about 100,000 acres of such woodland pool mosquito-producing habitat, but for many practicable and logistical reasons DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section statewide selectively treats only about 10,000 acres of this total.”

The Mosquito Control Section’s staff has 18 year-round members, and about 15 annual seasonal hires each summer at the peak time for issues.

DNREC employs a spray zone notification system that announces scheduled pesticide applications, which is updated daily at 4 p.m. with upcoming times. Signups are available.

Dr. Meredith said he believes, “Education and information is key to public awareness of mosquito control in Delaware. To that end, considering all the spray control work we do statewide annually, it’s gratifying to see that the public knows that our mission is making a better quality of life in Delaware and protecting public health.

“We attribute a lot of this good will to the Mosquito Control Section’s professionalism in going about our necessary business — and to the fact that we use only EPA-registered mosquitocides, the use of which EPA has scientifically determined, when applied in accordance with all product label requirements and conditions for intended purposes (as required by federal law), ‘poses no unreasonable risks to human health, wildlife or the environment.’ ”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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