Natural Mosquito Control

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Living in the 21st century requires a heightened awareness to avoid harmful chemicals in our every day lives. The latest scare concerning the West Nile virus brings up the question: Are we creating a greater hazard by spraying toxic chemicals to kill mosquitoes than the risks of the virus itself? Several communities around the country such as Bridgeport Connecticut, Lyndhurst Ohio and Fort Worth Texas have taken maverick approaches in their handling of this public health concern. Shawnee Hoover, special projects director of “Beyond Pesticides” of Washington D.C. spoke to us about the Ohio program.

“There’s one community: Lyndhurst Ohio, which is really a model. They have passed a city ordinance saying that they will not adulticide for West Nile virus under any circumstances. And that’s because they believe very strongly that there has not been proven efficacy of the pesticides that are sprayed. That they’re actually killing the target mosquitoes and that it’s actually worth the risk of exposing the public to hazardous pesticides alongside the risk of contacting the West Nile virus.”

Jason Lamerse, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas Public Health Department, recently confirmed that Fort Worth discontinued its spraying program in 1991.

“We’re making a big impact without putting pesticides or chemicals into the environment. We had a nuisance program where we could spray for nuisance problems but we stopped that in 1991. And ever since then we have not sprayed, even with the coming of West Nile virus in our community. We’ve kind of stuck with the fact that residents are the front line when it comes to the fight against mosquitoes and West Nile virus.”

The Toxics Action Center of New England, in collaboration with the Maine Environmental Policy Institute, published a report in July of 2001 titled ‘Overkill: Using Pesticides to Control West Nile Virus’. This report describes the history of the West Nile virus and the overuse of chemicals that some municipalities are using to combat the disease.

The report also cites dozens of scientific studies that demonstrate how pesticides are causing serious health problems… including cancer. Many pesticides are highly toxic to wildlife, especially fish, bees, birds, and even lobsters. The report states that 90% of the lobster population offshore of New York and Connecticut have died due to the pesticide spray residues reaching the ocean.

To put the problem into perspective, the Overkill Report further states that the West Nile virus is not a deadly epidemic. Recent statistics show that while West Nile can be fatal, approximately 80 times more people die of the common flu each year in the U.S.

Hoover agrees.

“Less than one percent of those people who are affected with West Nile will actually even develop an illness.”

The Overkill report states that of those few who actually contract the disease, most only exhibit mild flu-like symptoms. Hoover also spoke to us about other significant impacts related to the spraying of pesticides.

“There have been studies that have shown that there can be a detrimental effect on other non-target species, such as dragon flies who have a much longer gestation period. And they are predators of mosquitoes. Bees are highly sensitive as well.”

According to Hoover, additional studies show that the cumulative effects of toxic sprays, which collect in the sediments of streams, lakes, and rivers, in turn threaten the health of ecosystems.

Lamerse further explains that the Fort Worth Public Health Department is educating their citizens to take personal steps to avoid mosquito bites such as eliminating breeding sites, wearing appropriate clothing and using personal mosquito repellents.

“You can only get the disease from a mosquito bite, so if you try to avoid mosquito bites in the first place, you’re not going to be at risk of the disease at all.”

Dr Joel Coates, chair of the entomology department at Iowa State University spoke to us about effective natural mosquito repellents.

“Our researched has been focused for a while on catnip oil because there is evidence in folklore and some distant past publications indicating that it is repellent to insects. We’re studying the chemical and finding out how well it repels mosquitoes, and compare that to Deet and we compare it to citronella, also a known natural repellent. We’ve found it is definitely better than citronella. It was very very strong originally, in time period, and better, much better than Deet.”

Coates former colleague, Chris Peterson, a PHD entomologist, says that the active ingredient in catnip oil is actually ten times more effective than Deet even though it requires more frequent application than chemical products that contain Deet. The good news is that there are alternative and effective methods of avoiding the use of toxic sprays to deal with West Nile virus.

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I’m Tami Graham, and I’m Tom Bartels. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt… Digging up Good News… For a Change.


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