City Hall

Mike Rawlings Declares State of Emergency, Wants Entire City Blanketed With Pesticide

There have been 111 documented human cases of the West Nile Virus in the city of Dallas this year, a full quarter of cases nationwide. The county declared a state of emergency a couple of days ago and, this morning, Mayor Mike Rawlings followed suit this morning. That puts the decision over whether to initiate aerial mosquito spraying solely in his hands, and he's already told us where he stands. He doubled down at a City Council briefing this morning.

"I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we did not take action at this point," he said.

So five chemical-laden planes are en route and will arrive Thursday. They will cover the entire city with Duet, a chemical used for mosquito control in Sacramento, Massachusetts, and New York City where, Rawlings noted, "you can't buy a Big Gulp."

The spraying will happen at night, but exactly when remains to be determined. (The city has set up an aerial spraying page on its website where the information will be posted). That's up to the state, and their decision depends largely on the weather. The state's going to pony up the $500,000 or so the spraying will cost, through unused disaster funds.

The elephant in the room, and the reason why every seat was filled, was the health and environmental effects of aerial spraying. Assistant city manager Joey Zapata said Duet has "no documented impact to human health," a statement that elicited scoffs from the audience.

But David Lakey, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services who was listening in via phone, backed up the statement. The amount of spray amounts to an ounce or less per acre and is not enough to impact human health. The chemicals degrade with exposure to water or sunlight. Even for those with respiratory issues, Lakey said places like Sacramento haven't reported any problems.

Same story with the impact on organic gardens and beneficial insects, Lakey said. That's why the spraying happens at night. "It minimizes the impact on non-targeted insects."

Susan Pollard of the Texas Honey Bee Guild shot a disgusted "Are-they-stupid?" look to no one in particular, and Gene Helmick-Richardson, an entomologist and outspoken spraying opponent, muttered, "Yeah, they just go inside at night."

Councilman Scott Griggs got a round of applause when he questioned the efficacy of aerial spraying and wondered aloud why the city hadn't put the sneakers on the ground with a stronger public relations campaign.

The silent protests -- there was no opportunity for public comment -- were for naught. Rawlings has made his decision, and he's owning it. Council members can throw him under the bus if they want, but it's his decision. He said he would call County Judge Clay Jenkins immediately after the meeting and tell him the city is on board.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson