Zika-Spooked City Council Committee Passes First Step Toward Aerial Spraying

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Dallas is waiting for the seemingly inevitable local transmission of the Zika virus, but in the meantime there is preparation to be done. When someone in the city of Dallas contracts the birth defect-causing disease from a local mosquito, Dallas County — home to 30 residents so far who've caught the disease elsewhere — will need to spring into action, county Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson told the Dallas City Council's Quality of Life Committee.

The county wants the city to sign off on aerial spraying in the event that localized Zika transmission occurs, but doesn't necessarily need the city's go ahead. Current county policy says that the county won't spray in constituent cities that don't want to be sprayed, but that could change. Dallas city staff said Monday that the county does not need the city's permission to spray. The last time aerial spraying was done in the city of Dallas — during the West Nile outbreak in 2012 — Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings signed off on it through an emergency declaration. 

Still, it's good public relations for Thompson to get the go ahead and some members of the council want to give it to him. Rickey Callahan, who represents Pleasant Grove, said that he trusts the experts at DCHHS to take the best course of action. "Doing nothing, in my opinion, is not an option," Callahan said.

If someone is found to have acquired Zika without having traveled to Central or South America or having had sex with someone from Central or South America, the county is going to want to aerially spray the areas in which that person lives, on top of the truck spraying currently being done to address West Nile Virus.

"Trucks, often times, have shown not to be able to reach some of the areas that we need to reach in terms of knocking down the mosquitoes," Thompson said. "Let's look at it in terms of Zika. If we look at what's happening in Florida we don't really have an option in terms of knocking it down quickly by ground activity, so you have to move to aerial." 

The chemical that DCHHS would use in aerial spraying, Duet, is the same one the county used in combating the West Nile outbreak of 2012.

Dallas City Council member Mark Clayton — who represents an East Dallas district home to some of Dallas' cruchiest individuals — said that his constituents were going to have a problem with any aerial spraying. "What would [aerial spraying] do to bees and other beneficial insects?" Clayton asked. 

DCHHS microbiologist Spencer Lockwood said that, because spraying would be done at night, any effect on bees would be minimal. "Bees are only active during the daytime and they've gone back to their hives, so it has less effect if we're spraying at night and targeting the mosquitoes," Lockwood said. 

Clayton's colleague, Philip Kingston, also expressed doubts about aerial spraying, telling Thompson and Lockwood that he had not seen conclusive showing that aerial spraying works.

Over the objections of Clayton and Kingston, who said he didn't want to give the county a "blank check," the committee voted 4-2 to send a measure that would allow DCHHS to spray in Dallas however it sees fit to the full council for a vote, likely to take place sometime in September.

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