Mosquito control fights post-Matthew outbreak with aerial spraying

Spraying continues Thursday night for 160K acres in SJC not treated Wednesday

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Mosquitoes have become even more of a problem in Florida after Hurricane Matthew. In St. Johns County, Anastasia Mosquito Control conduct has received more than 1,000 calls a day about mosquito problems since the storm.

The agency conducted aerial spraying from 8 to 11 p.m. Wednesday to combat the outbreak of mosquitoes, but the plane was only able to cover the area just east of the St. Johns River and Flagler Estates -- totaling only 60,000 acres out of the requested 220,000 acres. 

The plane, which flies out of Palatka Airport, will continue spraying beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday to treat the areas that weren't covered Wednesday, which includes Fruit Cove, Armstrong, St. Johns, St. Augustine and West Augustine -- all mostly western intracoastal areas where tributary flooding was bad after Matthew.

Anastasia Mosquito Control education specialist Christopher Bibbs said both his agency and Clarke Mosquito Control, who they hire for aerial spraying, have been slammed since Hurricane Matthew. 

"They got similar large calls from three more counties, so our contracting company had to make the decision about do we serve only one place or do we serve all the places that requested it. So they gave us what they could and they were able to reach about 60,000 acres last night, which is still a pretty large area," Bibbs said. "We have already gotten a lot of calls from people saying they feel it's working, so that's good."

Any areas not included in the aerial spraying will be covered by ground spraying, which is conducted by trucks that spot-treat areas, Bibbs said. 

The Environmental Protection Agency said the chemical used in the aerial spraying can be used for public health mosquito control programs without posing risks to people, but as a precaution, people and pets in the zones should stay inside during the spraying, officials said.

Bibbs said that is just a precaution.

"What we're using is about .056 ounces per acre -- very, very small volume -- like a teaspoon of chemical," Bibbis said. "That's something called ultra-low volume spraying, and it's something we use a lot throughout all of our different chemicals and stuff here. Because of that, we don't expect the dosage that's being applied to affect pets or humans; however, a lot of it is precautionary."

MORE: CDC info on aerial spraying to combat Zika

“This chemical is not going to leave a long-lasting residual issue,” Bibbs said. “It should be gone by the morning. In addition to a blowing away and a variety of other things, as soon as the sun comes up, the sun cooks it off like it would fog.”

Bibbs said his agency hasn’t had to aerial spray in more than 10 years, but it's necessary now because ground spraying just isn’t doing the job.

“With nowhere for the water to go, that means sequentially throughout the county, mosquito breakouts have been popping up everywhere every day,” Bibbs said.

Bibbs said that after the hurricane, the mosquitoes are worse than they’ve been in quite some time.

“Every day, the population of mosquitoes has gone up and up and up, and there's a lot of people at risk right now because they're doing outdoor restoration efforts -- hurricane relief groups and things like that,” Bibbs said.

Bibbs said the forecasted cool-down expected this week should also help get rid of some of the mosquitoes. 

Anastasia Mosquito Control also alerted beekeepers, farmers and others to cover crops for protection. Bo Sterk, the president of the St. Johns County Beekeepers Association, said Anastasia Mosquito Control always gives advanced warning about aerial spraying, so he has time to protect the thousands of buzzing bees, which are a major part of northeast Florida's ecosystem. 

"With the trucks, it's not a problem. They can actually turn their sprayers on and off when they come across a beekeeper in that area. But with the aerial spraying, it's a broadcast, large area. There is no such thing as a no-spray zone," Sterk said. "What we do is we throw a bed sheet over the colony and that's enough of a block to keep those bees alive."

The spray area does not include protected lands, including Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and the 12-Mile Swamp Conservation Area. 

Questions and concerns about the aerial spray can be directed to the Anastasia Mosquito Control District at 904-471-3107. For more information on the spraying and the chemical used, visit the Anastasia Mosquito Control website.

The city of Jacksonville Mosquito Control is also doing aerial spraying in Duval County, using a chemical called Dibrom. Ground treatments use permethrin. Jacksonville's aerial spraying started Tuesday and is going until Thursday during the morning hours, but evening flights may be conducted. The targeted areas include Bayard, Bartram Park, Julington Creek, Loretto, Mandarin and North Oceanway.

For more information on the spraying, visit the COJ Mosquito Control website.