Aerial Spraying Against West Nile Needs Debate

We're getting only half the story about the risks and dangers of pesticides.

After that meeting, I spoke with Jenny Land, who is with a group called Concerned Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control. She said her group has assembled scientific papers and journal articles from places like Rutgers State University in New Jersey and Cornell University in New York strongly supporting what Garrett told the commissioners — that there are effective ways to kill and control mosquitoes without exposing human beings to endocrine disruptors.

When Garrett has spoken on this topic before, some officials have treated him as less than a serious authority, suggesting he may even have a conflict of interest based on his marketing of his own trademarked organic garden products. None of those products is related to aerial spraying for mosquitoes.

But, look, this kind of innuendo, fairly or not, can be turned just as easily against the government agency scientists who promote aerial spraying. Nasci, one of the CDC pair who came here and urged aerial spraying, is a past president of the American Mosquito Control Association. When I look at the AMCA web site, I can't help noticing that it's paid for by a lot of corporate "sustaining members," including Clarke Mosquito Control, the company that produces Duet, the stuff the planes sprayed on us last summer.

Jared Boggess


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I am not even remotely suggesting that Nasci gets marching orders from Clarke. But think about it. It does tell you something, does it not, about the culture of the organization. I can guarantee you that Howard Garrett would never have a logo like that within 100 miles of his web page, because for his own reasons he wants to avoid ever being associated with Big Chem. For Nasci, not so much maybe.

But let's say somebody doesn't trust Garrett because he has his own agenda. What about the people at Rutgers and Cornell? Why would we ignore those resources when we're talking about such an important matter?

If Dallas were to convene some kind of colloquium, we would quickly find a plethora of respected mainstream scientists with hard evidence pointing to three crucial considerations: 1) The substances sprayed on us last summer may be ineffectual in their main mission of controlling West Nile; 2) the substances may pose serious collateral health risks to humans, especially children; 3) better, more effectual, less dangerous substances are readily available.

Each of those three is an argument, not a fact. We can assume there would be many good scientists who would bring us lots of good science to rebut each of those three points and prove something else.

McAllister of the CDC told me last week that there is ample research showing that, "the risk, especially in an epidemic, of getting the disease and the consequences of the disease are much greater than the risk of the exposure to the insecticide. There is a whole series of scientific papers that look at the risk and the safety of the insecticides that are used and how they are used.

"Yeah," she said, "you can say that these compounds are endocrine disruptors, but it depends on the dose and the exposure." She spoke of the anti-insecticide people as "alarmist."

So there is a good conversation to be had about these risks. But we are not having that conversation. Instead what's going on is a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by proponents of aerial spraying in order to have some kind of mechanism already in place next spring so that the decision itself is removed from public debate and control. I asked Jenkins about it. He said neither he nor anyone else at the county is involved in such talks, but he conceded he was aware of "private interests" who may be.

I am working on the question of who those private interests may be. I found Jenkins pretty open about it. I just need some more time to confirm a few things.

In the meantime we should probably start with a basic assumption that West Nile is a genuine and difficult challenge for our region and that all of the people involved in the issue have as their basic guiding intention a sincere desire to protect human life. It's from there on out that things get complicated.

McAllister made a point that seemed especially germane. She said you can't do the math by looking at only one side of the equation — the effectiveness of the spray or the dangers posed by the insecticide. You have to balance each against the other. So far in our discussion, we have looked only at the mosquito-killing power of the spray, not at all at the risk from the pesticide. And the story we have been told about 93 percent effectiveness is not true. This is not a good time to cut off debate.

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Jim Schutze, thank you for staying on aerial spraying with rational, thoughtful reporting.