Chemical used to kill mosquitoes splits communities

Residents concerned about aerial spraying with naled

By Scott Johnson - Reporter , Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's hard to find anyone against killing the mosquitoes that seem to be everywhere since Hurricane Irma, but it's the way to get rid of them that has grounded planes at the last minute and divided local communities.

Aerial spraying is a quicker way to kill mosquitoes versus using a fogger on the ground, but the chemical dropped from planes -- naled -- has some residents concerned about their health and safety.

"Quadruple the number of what we had seen in previous years during this time," said Dr. Brad Burbaugh with Clay County's Mosquito Control about the uptick in the mosquito population.

To put it in perspective, Clay County averages around 27 mosquitoes per trap. After Irma hit on Sept. 11,  there were 206.  That's almost 10 times the yearly average -- and still four times as high as peak mosquito season.

"When we first got the numbers from our traps, we engaged the Department of Agriculture, our local Department of Health to see what our plan of action could be, and we all agreed that aerial spraying would knock down the population," Burbaugh said.

To deal with the overwhelming mosquito problem, on Sept. 21, Clay County planned to launch aerial spraying with naled, which is EPA approved and thought to be very effective.

"We have about 1,400 miles of private roads and public roads in the county," Burbaugh added.

But, hours before takeoff, county officials released an update to its plan that read: "Based on feedback we have received from the public, Clay County will not move forward with using the EPA approved chemical naled."

Instead, the county turned to truck foggers -- which takes weeks instead of hours. But Burbaugh tells News4Jax the hundred calls and emails were only a secondary consideration.

"Flight schedules were an issue," Burbaugh added. "I think the Department of Ag was overwhelmed with counties asking for support with aerial spraying."

So Burbaugh said, at the time, it made more sense to use trucks and could still use naled in the future. But this is not just a Clay County debate, it stretches to the beaches.

The Facebook group Citizens Against Organophosphate Spray met in Neptune Beach as it is currently fighting Duval County to stop the aerial spraying of naled.

"Mosquito control is not listening to us right now," Shayna Winghart with Citizens Against Organophosphate Spray told News4Jax.

She claims the chemical is a neurotoxin, which could disrupt the normal function of nerve cells.

"It's been directly linked to ADHD, but a neurotoxin can be linked to many things in the neurological system," said Winghart. "The neurotoxins, and specifically the naled that's being sprayed, will affect not only adults but children in their developmental stages and will also affect in uterine." 

"I’m concerned about anything that’s a neurotoxin that’s introduced into the environment," added Eddie Whisler, who also opposes aerial spraying with naled.

Group members point to the European union, which they say banned naled in 2012.

"We're not against ground fogging. Nobody likes to be bit by a mosquito, and nobody wants mosquitoes around," said Winghart. "What we're trying to do is make people aware and ask them to do their own research as to what this neurotoxin they're spraying out of an airplane is doing."

But many mosquito control agencies, including Clay County, don't believe naled is dangerous, citing the Environmental Protection Agency that says it is a safe chemical with very little used --about 1/3 of a shot glass for an entire acre.

"It does seem like a very small amount. At the end of the day it's still a neurotoxin that's getting distributed in microscopic droplets. So when you take that shot glass and you break it down to microscopic droplets, and you spray it over an entire community, it's still coating everything. It's still hitting everything," argued Winghart. 

But, Burbaugh says a majority of the studies say naled is safe and he believes critics of the spray are cherry-picking their science.

"As a scientist, one study does not prove a scientific theory, and so as a scientist, you kind of do meta analysis and look at all of the studies in order to make a sound conclusion," he said.

As for people who have no dog in the fight, they just want the mosquitoes gone.

"I support the spraying. It keeps the Zika virus down. I'm all for that," said Ronnie Lettow.

Lettow says he's not worried about naled being used it because it's an approved formula with only a tiny amount used. 

But many can also understand both sides of the debate, like David Vincent.

"I've got mixed feelings about that," he told us. "We've had a lot of cancer in our family and it makes me a little uncomfortable. But at the same time, you've got to control them."

The Environmental Protection Agency reevaluates naled every 15 years, and its newest study should be completed by the end of this year.  But for now, the EPA's website says this about the potential health risk of the chemical:

Because of the small amount of naled released (about 1-2 tablespoons of naled is applied per acre treated), exposures are below an amount that might be expected to pose a health concern to children or adults."

For more information from the EPA on naled, go here

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