John Wiley Price is Right -- This Time -- to Support Health Director on Mosquito Spraying
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is exactly right to support Zachary Thompson, the county's embattled health director responsible for fighting West Nile disease. Zachary Thompson is exactly right to worry about the role of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency that aggressively promoted aerial spraying here last summer.
In a debate about it at the last county commissioners court meeting, Thompson said he was "concerned about the transparency of the CDC." No kidding. Look at one fact alone: Last summer right after the county bombed us with chemical substances called endocrine disruptors, the CDC endorsed a quickie study by the bug bomb company crediting the endocrine disruptors with a 93 percent kill rate for mosquitoes capable of spreading West Nile disease. Six months later the CDC published its own revised version. During the campaign of aerial spraying, according to the new study, mosquito populations in the county increased.
Wait. Note that down, will you? Last summer right after the bomb campaign when officials still had their aviator jackets and their cool sunglasses on, the CDC endorses a "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" media event claiming a 93 percent kill rate. Six months later they slip a little study out the door saying mosquito populations actually increased.
Quite a difference, what? Maybe time to take down the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner? Oh, no. Can't take down a good banner, can we? At the end of the second study, the CDC concludes that the endocrine disruptor bombs achieved a "measurable impact in preventing West Nile neuroinvasive disease."
Well, wait. In that second study, the CDC decided not to measure the effectiveness of the aerial spray against one of two varieties of West Nile, which happened to be the one where numbers indicated there may have been no impact at all. They just didn't add that one up. Too busy.
Even in the version of the disease where they did add up the numbers and did claim "measurable impact," you had to read the fine print in the report. The impact they actually claimed was between tiny and none at all. One entomologist here who drilled down into the report found that even the CDC's most optimistic estimate amounted to a reduction of two-tenths of 1 percent per 100,000 population or five human cases prevented at a cost of three million dollars.
That cost may be nothing, however, compared with the potential risk we all incurred in the spraying of the entire county with endocrine disruptors, chemical substances that can throw human hormone production out of whack. Those substances have become the focus of increasing scientific concern about human impact, in part because of the key role hormones play in infant brain development.
Look, the bottom line is that the CDC last year came into town like Cirque de Soleil, promoting aerial bombing as a kind of magic act. Thompson, the county's health director, has consistently stayed on the more conservative side of these issues with a lot of available science to back him up. His focus has been on larvicides dumped in mosquito breeding water and on ground spraying if necessary.
But he's got the entire affluent Park Cities contingent against him. The Park Cities, where people pour huge volumes of water on the ground to support lavish lawns, happen also to be Ground Zero for West Nile in the county -- surprise, surprise. Their attitude so far has been, "Bring on the bombers." Thompson's only official back-up has come from Price.
Hey. Let's say you claim a 93 percent victory, and then you find out it was between zero and two-tenths of one percent: what do you do? If you're a straight-up honest scientific outfit with no hidden agenda or ax to grind, you own up to it. You say, "Here's what we got wrong, and here's why we got it wrong."
If you do the opposite, if you continue to claim a big victory and continue pushing the bombing campaign, what does that say about you? It says Zachary Thompson is right to worry about your basic integrity, and it means John Wiley Price is right to get Thompson's back.
I know, I know. It's tough for me, too. But we have to face it. He's not an unsmart guy. And sometimes the Price is right.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.