Monday, August 13, 2012

West Nile Virus Hysteria


West Nile hysteria is running rampant in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. It is the top news story these days. Sadly, a few deaths have been attributed to the virus. 

The response from most municipalities is to spray chemical pesticides to kill the adult mosquitoes. Dallas may even begin aerial spraying later this week.  I am only a couple of miles north of the Dallas border, so there is a possibility that southerly winds could blow the poison into my yard. 

Plano has sprayed several of the neighborhoods around mine in the last few weeks and my neighborhood is scheduled for spraying tomorrow night. According to the Health Department website, I can call to opt out. I don't know exactly what that means, but I plan to do call first thing in the morning.

According to people that are supposed to be experts in this area, the widespread spraying of poison is safe. Just be sure you stay inside, bring your pets inside and cover your fish ponds when the spraying takes place. Interestingly, mosquitoes usually are not flying around late at night when the poison is being sprayed.

Personally, I would rather take my chances with West Nile than have my neighborhood sprayed. I do not want my property coated with poison. I have organic vegetables growing outside that I do not want covered in poison. I have bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects in my yard that I do not want to be harmed by the spray. I usually have a number of dragonflies in my garden. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, but what kind of damage will the poison do to them?

The best way to solve the mosquito problem is to get rid of standing water. I have been more diligent about completely emptying my bird baths each day because I have noticed mosquito larva in the water when I just top off the evaporated water. 

Probably the biggest mosquito breeding grounds in my neighborhood are stagnant swimming pools. I live in an older neighborhood that is in transition and several houses are vacant or have residents that do not take care of their pools. One look at aerial images on Google Maps and you can easily see several dark, swampy pools in backyards. One of these swampy pools is next door to me. The house been vacant for two years and neglected for several more. I report the pool to the Health Department every spring. The city drained the pool last year. Spring rains filled the pool this year and it was drained again a couple of weeks ago. 

Enough of my ranting. Here is a link to a study indicating that spraying for West Nile may cause more harm than good. Below is a short piece by local organic expert and radio personality, Howard Garrett.


Mosquito Spraying & West Nile Virus

By Howard Garrett

West Nile Virus is the most overblown health threat since the “killer bees.” Yes, people have gotten sick and a few have even died from WNV, but people need to try to put things into perspective. Unfortunately, a few people have died this year from WNV, but thousands of people have died from asthma and other respiratory diseases.


The city of Fort Worth, TX has impressed me. They have done the right thing. They have realized that spraying does more harm than good and has spent their effort educating homeowners. The city of Dallas and other metropolitan areas across the country have been foolish. These cities have listened to the chemical pushers under the misconception that spraying toxic chemicals is helpful in controlling the mosquitoes.

Spraying toxic chemical pesticides, known generically as synthetic pyrethroids, has been the primary recommendation. Besides being toxic, this procedure doesn’t work. An adult mosquito spray program conducted late at night, as is usually done, misses the primary activity time of the pests. It also sprays or fogs down streets primarily affecting front yards of residential property. Most mosquito problems are in back yards. When these airborne toxins reach water features, ponds and creeks, a common result is the death of fish including goldfish and koi.

The risk of getting West Nile virus is remote. A very small percentage of mosquitoes have the virus, an even smaller percentage of people exposed to the virus develop symptoms and a minute percentage of those people even get sick. Deaths? Well, there are tremendously larger numbers of people who die from asthma and other respiratory diseases. Even the experts who push the toxic spraying admit that the pyrethrum and pyrethroid products adversely effect those with allergies and can actually cause those problems.

Spraying toxic chemicals for the control of mosquitoes is a waste of money, an unnecessary assault on people, pets and the environment – plus it simply doesn’t work. There are very few adult mosquitoes flying around early in the morning when the spraying is done plus there is a good argument that the spraying actually increases the mosquito problem by killing beneficial insects such as dragonflies that help control mosquitoes.

Synthetic pyrethroids like Scourge (resmethrin) are particularly hard on people with asthma and other allergies. These toxic products now contain piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a synthetic synergist that interferes with the insect’s system of neutralizing toxins. PBO makes the pesticide more effective at killing the targeted pest, but that override of the body’s detox system is also a concern for all other animals including birds, lizards, toads, frogs, beneficial insects, pets and humans. MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) on these products available from pesticide manufactures point out that liver tumor increases in test animals has been significant. Of course, they claim that humans aren’t in danger.

Rational, effective control of mosquitoes results from removing or treating stagnant water with biological products, horticultural oils or gambusia fish and wearing non-toxic repellents on the skin.

If spraying the air to try to repel or kill adult biting mosquitoes is required, there are highly effective non-toxic alternatives. They include garlic oil, cedar oil, mint oil, orange oil, and cinnamon – just to mention a few. And yes, there is university research on these products and techniques.

Mosquitoes can be controlled and it doesn't have to be dangerous. The effective and non-toxic site management program for mosquito control that I recommend is as follows:

1. Empty standing water where possible. Even small containers such as pot saucers, old tires, soda bottles and cans hold enough water for mosquito breeding.

2. Treat water that cannot be emptied with gambusia fish or (Bti - Bacillus thuringiensis ‘Israelensis’) products such as Mosquito Dunks or Mosquito Bits.

3. Homeowners can spray to kill adult mosquitoes with plant oil pesticides such as Earth Harvest, Avenger and Eco-EXEMPT. Garlic sprays work well to repel the insects for up to 30 days. Even better, broadcast dry minced garlic to the site at 2 - 5 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. Bonide Mosquito Beater Granules is another good dry product.

4. Use organic landscape management to encourage birds, bats, fish, dragonflies and other beneficial insects.

5. Use skin repellents that contain natural repellent herbs such as aloe vera, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, lavender, vanilla, citronella and other helpful herbs. The Center for Disease Control now recommends lemon eucalyptus. DEET products should not be used, especially on children – as is stated on the label. 

22 comments:

  1. This may be one of your most important posts. Hope you get it out on your facebook page and make sure you have it labeled so it will be found.

    And here is another great link with more recommedations for non-spraying controls:
    http://www.livestocktrail.illinois.edu/uploads/horsenet/papers/tips%20for%20mosquito%20control.pdf

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    1. Thanks for the link Marilyn. More good information. I don’t have an official facebook account. My life is not exciting enough to share every detail with the world. Of course, that has not stopped millions of other people on facebook. This blog is enough for me to keep up with.

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  2. I don't blame you...I would opt out as well. Spraying toxic poison can not be good for the environment or for humans. I think you are right, education and eliminating standing water is key.

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    1. Steph, I did call to opt out today. They put my name and address on a list and said they will not spray around my house. Unless I see lots of dead critters around, I guess I will never know if they actually don’t spray around my house because I will not be awake and I definitely not outside while they are spraying.

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  3. I am so with you on this one.

    When we lived up in the DFW area (Grand Prairie), they sprayed every summer. They would at least give us warning, so we could cover our pond....not easy, by the way. Our fish did more to control mosquitoes than the spray.

    There was no 'opt out' for us. Don't know how one house can opt out, and next door not.

    It's hard to empty all standing water. We live on a golf course. Water hazards and a couple catch water ponds are mosquito magnates. We do our part...dunks and emptying all standing water...but, can't do much more except spray our own bodies.

    Cities need to be more educated about the spraying. Chemicals aren't the answer to everything.

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    1. Linda, I am a little concerned about the driver of the spray truck keeping up with where to and not to spray. I will hope for the best, but still run the sprinklers for a bit to wash off any pesticide residue.

      Gambusia fish might be good for mosquito control in the water hazards if run off from the fertilizers and pesticides used on the greens does not kill them.

      Chemicals are not the answer, but most people think they are the best solution. There is a chemical to solve every problem. Especially when it is man vs. nature.

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  4. Great post! It really puts it in perspective.

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    1. Stewart, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  5. You could not be more correct in your opposition to spraying. Thankfuly , I live in a rural town that wouldn`t even think of it. Keep up the posts and the pictures!

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  6. Randy, the ground spraying is bad enough, but the idea of aerial spraying really concerns me. Dallas, Highland Park, Garland and Mesquite have all signed on. I hope Plano does not agree to this aerial assault too.

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    1. Since Plano is not in Dallas County, I don't think it will go in on the aerial spraying. Thanks for Howard Garrett's take on the subject along with yours.

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  7. Plano is sticking to ground spraying for now. According to the city website, "to date twelve neighborhoods have been sprayed by ground. At this time, there are no plans for the City of Plano to participate in the aerial spraying that is being conducted by Dallas County.

    The City uses six criteria to determine which areas will be ground sprayed each week: report of a human case of West Nile Virus (WNV); WNV positive mosquito samples or pools; stagnant creeks/ponds which create ideal breeding conditions OR areas where trapping has yielded high numbers of mosquitos without WNV positive samples; neighborhoods where a high volume of individual mosquito complaints have been received; high density residential areas with proximity to natural waterways; and staff identified locations which are ideal for mosquito breeding."

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  8. I totally agree about the hysteria that's being hyped in the media about West Nile. I can see spraying if there's a real epidemic of disease caused by mosquitoes. But one or two deaths, tragic as those are, is NOT cause for spraying poison throughout a city. I would be very angry if Austin proposed such a thing. I'm sorry to hear that Dallas powers-that-be decided it was the right thing to do.

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    1. Pam, Austin is fortunate to have a healthy bat population to help control the mosquitoes. I wish north Texas would do more to encourage them. People are mostly afraid of them up here. More hysteria. This time about rabies. The planes are flying again tonight after a few rain delays. The plan is to coat more than 200,000 acres in poison.

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  9. I am looking for a all natural but powerful mosquito repellent for my family to use.. What would you recommend ? I do not want deet or pocardin. I live in irving

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    1. DayTrader, I am using All Terrain Herbal Armor right now. I found it on clearance at Target. It seems to work pretty well. It does feel a little hot on the skin which some people may find uncomfortable. I usually go inside when the mosquitoes get too thick.

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  10. I'm so glad to read the same things that I've been thinking/saying since this rush to spray hit the news. Spraying is ineffective and hysteria-driven. I use a product called Repel on my skin--it's lemon eucalyptus and can be found at REI or on Amazon.

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    1. I think the spraying is an extreme solution, Tina. I would rather see the cities cracking down on stagnant swimming pool and passing out insect repellant. Thanks for the info on Repel.

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  11. I waited up to witness the spraying in my area on Thursday. I donned a respirator when I heard the plane. It crossed about 4 houses down from me flying very low. It returned shortly after flying in the other direction passing above my neighbors house.I watched to see the effect on the moths and other nocturnal insects. It had absolutely no effect. After showering and a night of sleep. I entered my wildscape and was immediately overcome by Mesquitos.
    I have been pesticide free since 1996 and full organic since 2000. I am furious that this was forced upon me. I'm also furious that it is an absolute waste of tax dollars. I live in a very old area of lower Greenville and have never seen any effort by the city to eliminate the breeding grounds in and around my neighborhood. Thank you for putting the word out and for such a great blog!

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    1. Thanks Tom. I was fortunate that I could opt out (in theory) of the ground spraying. You are not so lucky when it falls from the sky. I heard on the news that there are fewer mosquitoes in the city monitoring traps. They are crediting the spraying. Maybe or maybe the rain just washed the larva away.

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  12. I got "bombed" in Carrollton on Friday night. It was a very eerie sensation to hear the plane swooping low across my home. Rather unsettling to know that I had absolutely no control over what they were dumping on my property. It seems that many cities are opting in for the spraying simply because the planes are available now. It's as if they don't want to pass up the opportunity even if conditions don't necessarily call for it.

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  13. It's hard to believe they can still think such drastic measures are ok. I'm remembering the old footage of them spraying neighborhoods with DDT in the 50's...with kids running through clouds of the stuff. They said THAT was harmless too. Eek. The scariest thing, as you mentioned, is what about the other insects? In an era when bees are already in decline...can we really take the chance?

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