The Pesticide Protests

Sept. 27, 2016

Protesters were recently out in force in Miami—not so much for a political cause, but for an airborne one. The city was aerially spraying the pesticide naled in areas like South Beach where the Zika virus has been transmitted by mosquitoes. The protesters—some 200 of them—said they didn’t want to be exposed to the spray. Some said the virus, which causes mild or no symptoms in most people who contract it, is not serious enough to warrant the spraying. One, wearing a gas mask, called Zika a hoax.

The virus has been linked to the serious birth defect microcephaly as well as to other conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been advising pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas where the Zika virus is active.

Some protesters, though, are questioning the safety of the pesticide and whether it might not pose an even greater danger. It has been reported that the spraying has killed not only mosquitoes, but also bees, and possibly koi in fish ponds.

It’s a conundrum for elected officials, who on the one hand want to stop the outbreak—which, among other things, hurts tourism—and on the other are hesitant about the widespread spraying of insecticide, which will likely cause tourists to stay away from the areas during the time the chemical is being applied.

Some officials are pointing to Puerto Rico as a cautionary tale. In July, the CDC wanted to spray naled there after it was discovered Zika was being transmitted by mosquitoes on the island. Puerto Rico’s governor declined. At the time, Puerto Rico had more than 5,500 reported cases of Zika infection, 662 of them in pregnant women, and one reported case of microcephaly believed to be caused by Zika virus acquired in the US. Today Puerto Rico has about 20,000 reported cases of Zika. So far Florida has had 93.

Puerto Rico rejected the spraying of naled in part because many residents believed it posed a threat—perhaps a greater one than Zika—to pregnant women in particular. EPA’s FAQ on naled makes no mention of pregnancy; it offers these guidelines for people concerned about exposure to the pesticide:

When applied according to label instructions, naled can be used for public health mosquito control programs without posing risks to people. People aren’t likely to breathe or touch anything that has enough insecticide on it to harm them. Direct exposure to naled during or immediately after application should not occur. However, anyone who has a particular concern because of an existing health problem should talk to their doctor. Also, those who tend to be sensitive to chemicals in general, including household chemicals, could experience short-term effects such as skin, eye and nose irritation.

The site also recommends that people who are concerned about exposure should stay indoors with the windows closed while spraying takes place, cover outdoor items like patio furniture and grills, and wash fruits and vegetables grown in the sprayed areas before eating them. It also offers specific guidance to beekeepers on how to protect hives.

Other chemicals that kill mosquito larvae are also being used in Miami, but they’re not being sprayed from the air; most are delivered through handheld sprayers at the sites of potential breeding grounds. Naled kills adult mosquitoes.

Are additional mosquito control efforts taking place in your area because of the Zika virus? If so, to what extent is the stormwater program involved? Here again is a link to an article from Stormwater that we’ve referred to frequently in the past few months, on cooperative efforts between public health and stormwater officials.

About the Author

David Rachford

David Rachford is the web editor for Forester Media.