Tell Your Public Officials to Stop Spraying Pesticides and Adopt a Safe, Effective Mosquito Management Plan

Does your community spray toxic pesticides for mosquitoes? In a well-intentioned but ill-informed attempt to prevent mosquito-borne illness such as West Nile virus, many communities spray insecticides (adulticides) designed to kill flying mosquitoes. If your community is one of these, then your public officials need to know that there is a better, more-effective, way to prevent mosquito breeding. 

>> Tell your public officials to stop spraying pesticides and adopt a mosquito management plan that protects public health and the environment.

The problem with mosquito pesticides. Two classes of insecticides are favored by mosquito spray programs –organophosphates and synthetic pyrethroids. In order to better target flying mosquitoes, adulticides are generally applied as ultra-low-volume (ULV) formulations that will float in the air longer than usual. 

Organophosphates, which include malathion (Fyfanon), naled (Dibrom), and chlorpyrifos (Mosquitomist), are highly toxic pesticides that affect the central nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. Symptoms of poisoning in humans include: numbness, tingling sensations, headache, dizziness, tremors, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, incoordination, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, slow heartbeat, loss of consciousness, incontinence, convulsions, and death. Some organophosphates have been linked to birth defects and cancer. Breakdown times range from a few days to several months, depending on conditions.

Synthetic pyrethroids, which include resmethrin (Scourge), sumithrin (Anvil), and permethrin are adulticides patterned after pyrethrum (an insecticide derived from chrysanthemum plants), that have been chemically engineered to have greater toxicity and longer breakdown times. Almost all synthetic pyrethroid mosquito products use synergists like piperonyl butoxide (PBO), which increases potency and compromises the body's ability to detoxify the pesticide. PBO causes a range of short- and long-term effects, including cancer and adverse impacts on liver function and the nervous system.Symptoms of synthetic pyrethroid poisoning include: dermatitis and asthma-like reactions, eye and skin irritation, and flu-like symptoms. Synthetic pyrethroids are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast and prostate cancer. People with asthma and pollen allergies should be especially cautious. Exposure has resulted in deaths from respiratory failure. Breakdown times range from a few hours to several months.

Mosquito spraying also hurts the environment. Naled, an organophosphate commonly used for mosquito control, affects a variety of non-target animals, including fish, insects, aquatic invertebrates, and honey bees. Naled is moderately acutely toxic to mammals, moderately to very highly toxic to freshwater fish and birds, highly toxic to honey bees, and very highly toxic to freshwater aquatic invertebrates, and estuarine fish and invertebrates. Elevated mortality rates among honey bees have been documented after nighttime aerial ULV applications of naled. Average yield of honey per hive is significantly lower in exposed hives.

Synthetic pyrethroids are highly toxic to fish and honey bees, even in low doses. Beneficial insects, including mosquito predators like dragonflies, will be killed by synthetic pyrethroids and organophosphates.

In addition to the dangers, adulticiding is usually the least effective mosquito control method.

Preventing the problem. Beyond Pesticides offers resources for managing mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease without the use of toxic pesticides. A better mosquito management plan protects public health and the environment. There are steps that can be taken to eliminate breeding sites around homes and buildings, and throughout the community. For example:

• Clean up standing water on residential property.
• Get rid of unnecessary debris, such as old tires, on residential and commercial property.
• At least twice a week, empty water from toys, buckets, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, and any other areas where water can collect.
• Drill holes in swing tires, and in the bottoms of recycling bins and other outside containers.
• Clean out rain gutters and make sure they drain properly.
• Turn garbage can covers right side up.
• Utilize safe repellents and other methods to protect against mosquito bites.
• Establish community-wide public awareness campaigns.

Local public policy is key to long-term solutions. Outbreaks of disease-carrying mosquitoes often result from habitat disturbance, such as deforestation, impairing wetlands, and spraying insecticides. Restoring the health of ecosystems helps keep mosquitoes under control. Native minnows, for example, can provide effective control of mosquito larvae breeding in standing water.

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