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Fighting West Nile Virus

HEAL members Organize Mosquito Management Workshop

An article by members of HEAL of S AZ

As printed in the Winter 2005  “Ecologic News”, newsletter of HEAL of Southern Arizona

At one point during the summer of 2004, Maricopa County led the nation with 61% of reported West Nile virus cases. For several months, thousands of acres in Maricopa County were fogged nightly with pesticides in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes that transmit the virus from infected birds to humans. This included residential neighborhoods, despite protestations by residents and doctors about adverse health effects.

Although P/ma County was spared, it shares many characteristics with Maricopa County that are conducive to mosquito breeding and could lead to an epidemic. In order to encourage State and County governments to perform safer, more effective mosquito abatement, Dr.  Kristi Mattson with the help of others on our West Nile Virus Committee put together a Mosquito Management Workshop. Here is the gist of a summary by Mary Budinger, a publicist who spearheaded the protests against fogging in Maricopa County:

An Integrated Pest Management (1PM) Workshop, focusing on mosquito abatement for West Nile Virus, was held November 15-16, 2004, in Tucson. Kudos to Dr. Kristi Mattson, Madeline Rivera, Ariel Barfield, Steve Ross, Janice Carr, Kathy Hess, and the rest of the team who put this together.

On Monday we heard about the mosquito life cycle, saw traps used for surveillance, learned about larvicide treatments used at the Tucson Wetlands, heard from 3 Wyoming officials about successful larviciding in Lara-mie County, heard from Indian communities as to their efforts, and finished with pesticide company represen-tatives who explained the advantages of different prod-ucts and how to conduct a good larviciding program.

On Tuesday we heard from Craig Levy of State Health, Larry Jech of Maricopa County Vector Control, and 3 doctors who spoke about the undeniable impact of chemicals on our health and the growing numbers of people with chemical sensitivities. A number of important points arose during a roundtable discussion:

1.   Neither Pima nor Maricopa County has an Abatement District. That leaves the job to public health or environmental services, which have to vie for scarce dollars from the general fund. Counties back East 1/8th the size of Phoenix have 25 people doing mosquito abatement. Maricopa County covers 9200 square miles and is the 5th largest county in the US, larger than the state of Rhode Island; yet Maricopa County Vector Control has 6 employees and no ability to fine people who do not cleanup their backyard problems.

2.   Neglected backyard breeding sources are the greatest threat to successful larviciding programs and mosquito abatement in general. These problems include horse property, transit pools caused by people over irrigating, junk piles, tarps, wheelbarrows, green pools, and other backyard breeding sites. Even standing water under potted plants is a potential breeding site.  

3.   Due to land development, golf course construction, and the many water features and irrigation on private property, new mosquitoes have taken up residence in Maricopa County, especially the ankle biter mosquito, a potential vector (disease transmitter) for dengue fever and yellow fever.

4.   There were differences of opinion as to the use of chemicals. One representative from Wyoming said, Doing chemicals is like doing Napalm on your-self.. .We start larviciding in April. Our goal is to stay with larviciding.” Other speakers said, ‘Given the substantial variety of terrain in Maricopa County, larviciding alone won’t work. Adulticiding (fogging) is the only way to kill mosquitoes on the fly.’ This difference of opinion was not resolved.

5.      The Valley hasn’t had a killing frost since about 1994. Mosquitoes simply hibernate and are ready to reproduce for the next year.


Medical presenters Dr. Michael, Gray, Dr. Robert Crago, and Dr. Doris Rapp shared important information about pesticide toxicity:

1.   Pesticide exposure is linked to an increase in childhood leukemia and a decrease in testosterone levels and fertility rates in men. Pyrethroids (such as Anvil) have been shown to increase the incidence of breast cancer.

2.   The incidence of heart attack, stroke and asthma-like symptoms increase with pesticide exposure.

3.   People with MCS can die from pesticide exposure

4.   Pesticide exposure can cause serious emotional and psychological symptoms, especially in people who already have chemical sensitivities. Symptoms include anxiety, personality changes, mood swings, and loss of emotional control.

5.   Direct pesticide exposure can cause delayed onset of polyneuropathy, like numbness, tingles, weakness and pain. This can mimic stroke symptoms or multiple sclerosis.

6.   Regarding the dangers of organophospate pesticide exposure, 15 to 17 percent of the population lack the enzymes necessary for the liver to detoxify the oxone form of organophosphate, which causes tissue and nerve damage. The larvicide Abate, which has been used in Maricopa County, and Malathion, are both organophosphates.

All the experts agreed that larviciding is effective, but can only be successful if: (1) private property owners, commercial and agricultural land owners, and ranchers all become responsible for their own private property and make sure there are no mosquito breeding sites on that property, and (2) they report other sites to home owner associations or the county’s vector control. In this respect, neighborhood groups can play an important role in education and outreach.

The panelists also agreed that there are no good reporting systems (such as hot lines, physician and health care worker education, and clinician availability) in place for pesticide related illness. Without these systems we cannot document pesticiderelated effects on human health Our Stolen Future by Colburn, Myers, and Dumanoski was highly recommended for further reading.

The conference was successful in every respect informai exit interviews suggested both presenters and attendees welcomed the chance to spread and share information that could help protect everyone and especially the chemically sensitive from unintentional and unnecessary harm.



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