How effective is urban mosquito control?

August 4, 2013

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus: To spray or not to spray

I saw a local news story on TV a couple of weeks ago when the City of Chicago announced that it would be spraying certain neighborhoods for mosquitoes. I don’t even remember which channel it was on. I only remember being fairly annoyed by the news reader who blithely announced that the City would be spraying neighborhoods to control mosquitoes.

Why was I annoyed? No mention of what chemicals might be used or how they might affect humans or other living beings. No sense that there might be any other way to handle the “scourge” of mosquitoes. No suggestion that folks who might disagree with this policy might have any recourse.

I can’t even remember whether or not “West Nile Virus” was uttered, though it probably was. Those are the magic words that usually justify any kind of spraying. The City helpfully explains that

While the spray is not harmful to people or pets and is routinely sprayed in residential areas across the nation, residents of targeted neighborhoods may choose to stay indoors and close their windows while spraying is underway, as an extra precaution.

If the spray is “not harmful”, then why should residents “stay indoors and close their windows”? Superstition? Just for fun? Something to post on Facebook?

I do give the City credit for putting out as much information about their spraying program as they have:

Weather permitting, the spraying will occur on Thursday, July 25, 2013. It will begin at dusk and continue through the night until approximately 1:00am, with licensed mosquito abatement technicians in trucks dispensing an ultra-low-volume spray.

The material being used to control the adult mosquitoes, Zenivex™, will be applied at a rate of 1.5 fluid ounces per acre. It is approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is used to control mosquitoes in outdoor residential and recreational areas.

Zenivex™ has been used effectively to control disease-carrying mosquitoes and is non-persistent, decomposing rapidly in the environment. The rapid degradation of this product makes it an excellent choice for control of West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes.  The spray will be applied by licensed mosquito abatement technicians from Vector Disease Control International, a leader in the mosquito control industry. Guiding the crews through the streets will be supervisors from the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.

Now, me being me, I made a quick visit to Googleland and found this out about Zenivex™ E4 (emphasis mine)

This pesticide is toxic to aquatic organisms, including fish and aquatic invertibrates. Runoff from treated areas or deposition into bodies of water may be hazardous to fish and other aquatic organisms. Do not apply over bodies of water (lakes, rivers, permanent streams, natural ponds, commercial fish ponds, swamps, marshes or estuaries), except when necessary to target areas where adult mosquitoes are present, and weather conditions will faciliate movement of applied material away from water in order to minimize incidental deposition into the water body. Do not contaminate bodies of water when disposing of equipment rinsate or washwaters.

This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Time applications to provide the maximum possible interval between treatment and the next period of bee activity. Do not apply to blooming crops or weeds when bees are visiting the treatment area, except when applications are made to prevent or control a threat to public and/or animal health determined by a state, tribal, or local health or vector control agency on the basis of documented evidence of disease-causing agents in vector mosquitoes or the occurrence of mosquito-borne disease in animal or human populations, or if specifically approved by the state or tribe during a natural disaster recovery effort.

The questions thus become: “How serious is West Nile Virus?” and “How important is it to target exactly one insect and inflict so much collateral damage on other insects?” and “Do we even know which other insects are being affected by mosquito spraying?”

These questions are asked in light of more and more evidence that certain types of pesticides are implicated in bee deaths.

In case you’re wondering, the highest number of deaths, 286, which happened last year, is 0.00009050632911392405% of the U.S. population of 316,000,000. While any death is sad, we’re not exactly dealing with pandemic numbers here.

An organization that is concerned with spraying is the Midwest Pesticide Action Center (MPAC), formerly known as the Safer Pesticide Control Project (SPCP). The name was just recently changed. In fact, if you log on to MPAC, you will be directed to the SPCP site. MPAC has a pdf about West Nile Virus that you might find useful. In it, they state

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Mosquito Control Association, the airborne spraying of pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes (adulticiding) should only be used as a last resort. Adulticiding is expensive, less effective, and can be harmful to both human health and the environment.

Adulticiding usually consists of spraying or fogging a pesticide from a truck or plane. The pesticide only kills those insects flying in the spray. Mosquitoes behind buildings
and under vegetation or other cover are not affected. However, pesticide residues are left behind on items left outdoors, such as children’s toys and furniture – and may
be tracked inside on shoes. Since adulticiding also kills insects that eat mosquitoes, it may be even less effective in the long term.

I’m pleased to have Ruth Kerzee, Executive Director of the Midwest Pesticide Action Center and Dr. Cort Lohff from Chicago Department of Public Health in the studio with me to discuss this important issue.

Greg Wittstock is The Pond Guy™ (yes, complete with trademark)

Did You Know that

  • One inch of rainfall on a 2,000 square foot residential roof generates 1,250 gallons of water that can be reused.
  • That same roof in a region receiving 30 inches of annual rainfall generates 41,000 gallons of reusable water.
  • The average U.S. household with a 10,000 square foot lot uses up to 3,000 gallons of water weekly for landscape irrigation.
  • Running a sprinkler for 2 hours can use up to 500 gallons of water.
  • Seventy percent of water used at home is used outdoors.
  • 66,175 gallons of water are used outdoors per household, per year.

All of those facts are taken from Aquascape, Inc., which is the brainchild of Greg Wittstock.

Greg Wittstock is a guy who is doing what he loves…which is pretty much the dream for all of us, isn’t it? At the age of 12, he took an interest in water gardens and pretty much never looked back. His innovations and his positive attitude ultimately resulted in the creation of the multi-million dollar business called Aquascape, Inc.

Their office headquarters in St. Charles is called Aqualand and it’s a 256,000 square foot office and warehouse facility that boasts the largest sloping green roof in North America. In fact, St. Charles recently adopted the title of Water Garden Capital of the World. The move came after the city counsel approved the idea proposed by Aquascape’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Ed Beaulieu.

Obviously, Greg is pretty good at selling water features. But more importantly, his business has moved forward in the realm of sustainability, to something he calls Rainwater Harvesting. For example, Aquascape notes that

  • Local water sources such as lakes, reservoirs and groundwater continue to decline despite regular rain events.
  • Demand is becoming greater than the supply and the rains that do fall on our ground are lost.
  • Rainwater is actually flowing away from the area it falls on due to development.
  • Water cannot soak into asphalt, concrete or shingles. It flows very quickly off of these surfaces and in the process it carries a variety of pollutants from dust and dirt to oils, fertilizers and pesticides.
  • This mixture flows quickly into storm sewers and in some cases, ponds and streams.
  • Highly developed areas can have 50% or more surface area covered by impervious surfaces forcing water away from the area where it’s needed.
  • Increased water velocity strips the aquatic vegetation from the shores exposing the soil to subsequent erosion and habitat loss.
  • According to the EPA, urban runoff is the number one cause of pollution in coastal environments.
    • Almost 50% of our stream miles, 45% of lake acres and 35% of estuary and bay square miles surveyed by the EPA are considered below the standards for fishing and swimming.
  • As rainwater run-off is carried away it does not have the opportunity to soak into the soil or groundwater reserves so our aquifers continue to lose water and new water is not coming in.
  • Wells throughout the country are going dry or have to be lowered to access the lower water levels.

Aquascape is moving to address some of these problems, not just in the United States but in other countries as well. That’s where the The Aquascape Foundation comes in. It’s a not for profit organization established in 2008 with a mission to create sustainable solutions for the world-wide water crisis. They accomplish that through using, among other things, Aquascape’s RainXchange® Rainwater Harvest System as a solution to bringing clean drinking water to places where people currently have no access.

Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy, joins me on the show this morning.

Giving away 2 MORE tix to the SETF “Down in the Dumps,” tour

Last week, I gave away a couple of tickets to the Southeast Environmental Task Force‘s upcoming “Down in the Dumps” tour on Saturday, August 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I will be on board the bus leaving from the Chicago Cultural Center, so I hope you’ll join me. Here’s what you can expect to see…and smell:

It may sound nasty, but it really is a fascinating trip through the southeast side by comfortable coach bus, visiting a variety o f past & present waste sites (of which there many!) located in our area of the city.

We’ll tour these operations and learn how Chicago deals with garbage, sewage and waste treatment in general. This unique narrated tour highlights the Southeast Side’s overabundance of treatment facilities – huge landfills, recycling centers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying fields, as well as several former notorious illegal dumps.

The tour originates and ends at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown at Randolph & Michigan The regular cost of $35.00 is reduced for “early bird” registrants to $25 –which includes lunch at Phil Stefani’s Pier 37 Restaurant. This picturesque location is at the famed Harborside International Golf Course on Lake Calumet -a remarkable facility built upon a former dump!

Register by visiting — there you will find a PayPal option or call 773-646-0436.

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