By Dhiki Drury, contributing writer
The warm summer months are a time to enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, the outbreak of West Nile virus (WNV) has hampered summer plans and fueled a panic throughout the southern United States. A panic from the overuse of pesticides, which is threatening the environment as city officials scramble to decrease the amount of WNV cases.
West Nile virus, an avian-borne arbovirus transmitted by mosquitoes to humans, was first identified in the United States in 1999. Twenty percent of cases result in flu-like symptoms, while the majority of cases are asymptomatic, showing no symptoms. Less than one percent of cases experience severe symptoms leading to neurological disease and/or death. As of mid-September, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported a total of 3,142 cases and 134 deaths in 2012. Dallas declared a state of emergency and ordered aerial pesticide spraying after a reported 230 cases and 20 deaths were attributed to WNV in the region.
The aerial pesticide, Duet™, is used throughout the United States as a means to control mosquitoes and lower WNV occurrence. Duet™ is produced and aerially administered by the chemical company Clarke, and is composed mainly of two synthetic pesticides: pyrethrins and permethrin. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings ensures minimal risk to human health from aerial spraying citing that Duet™ has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the CDC. However, the product label states it is toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, the Guardian reports.
The indiscriminate, widespread spraying of chemicals poses environmental risks. Permethrin, a general insecticide, kills not only mosquitoes but honeybees, lady bugs, dragonflies and aquatic species. Honeybees, essential crop pollinators, and fish, who consume mosquito larvae, hazard bioaccumulation of toxins in their tissues. Birds and bats who feed on mosquitoes risk exposure. The Clarke Company, says Duet™ “kills mosquitoes effectively, yet biodegrades rapidly in the presence of sunlight and/or microorganisms.” Environmental groups, such as Pesticide Watch in California, are skeptical.
Pesticide Watch questions if spraying would even decrease mosquito population numbers. Pesticide ineffectiveness has occurred locally during the outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in New York. The spraying of Cicero Swamp led to a 15- fold increase in mosquito populations. These pesticides were more effective in killing the natural predators of mosquitos than killing mosquitos. Without these predators, mosquito numbers and associated risk of disease substantially increased. Pesticide Watch has not only raised concerns over efficacy but also pesticide resistance due to overuse. Other environmental officials are alarmed by the use of aerial pesticides. Brian Boerner, director of Environmental Management in Fort Worth, has previously stated that spraying could potentially pollute watersheds, harm fish that feed on larvae, and add volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere.
What can concerned citizens do? The political action group Dallas, Stop the Spray! began a petition in hopes that Dallas “will stop [the] practice of indiscriminate, costly, and ineffective poison spraying.” The group says use of pesticides is solely a means for public officials to “placate the public.” Take a stand today, and sign the petition.