ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Nearly a 1,000 percent increase in the mosquito population in Clay County prompted officials to plan an aerial spraying for the pests but they canceled it after public pushback.
Commissioners in Clay County canceled plans for aerial spraying to combat an exploding mosquito population in response to more than 300 emails, phone calls and comments from concerned citizens.
County officials said standing water left after Hurricane Irma dropped more than a dozen inches of rain and pushed Black Creek to a record flood, combined with piles of debris, are perfect breeding ground for the pests.
Traps the county put out in 2016 averaged 14 mosquitoes per trap. Earlier this year, it was 27 mosquitoes per trap. On Tuesday night, traps averaged 206 mosquitoes each. That prompted the county to plan to do a one-time aerial spraying in Middleburg, Orange Park and Oakleaf Plantation on Thursday evening, but later in the day, the county released a statement saying it had changed its plans.
Based on feedback we have received from the public, Clay County will NOT move forward with using the EPA approved chemical Naled for aerial mosquito control..."
Instead of spraying the insects from the air, Clay County agricultural extension office director Brad Burbaugh says crews using two trucks will begin spraying an insecticide along some 1,400 miles (2252 kilometers) of roads.
Burbaugh says ground spraying is slower because the trucks can't go more than 15 miles per hour (24 kph) while spraying. He says naled, the product they'd planned to use in aerial spraying, is EPA-approved, but officials wanted to be responsive to residents' concerns.
Since Hurricane Irma's floodwaters, many people had complained about mosquito infestations. No cases of Zika or West Nile disease have been reported.
Clay County had said the aerial spray it had planned to use was safe, having been used against mosquitos since the 1950s. But now that it’s canceled, the county is moving back to using fogging trucks with a goal of spraying the entire county over the next few weeks.
News4Jax found Kelter cleaning up his yard. The civil engineer said the areas with a lot of water, like along the St. Johns River and Black Creek, get the worst of it.
"They are a bad infestation. They’ll swarm you," Kelter said. "A lot of the larva is attached to the underside of the foliage, and when a storm comes through, all that larva comes down."
Residents said the mosquitoes are more than just annoying.
"She’s allergic to the mosquitoes and breaks out," Sharon Bentress said of her daughter.
Her grandson is also reacting to all the mosquito bites.
The three generations of Savannah Gillyard's family were walking along U.S. 17 Friday. They avoid spending too much time outside, particularly around dusk.
"He gets sores around his legs and his face," Gillyard said of her son.
Flagler County delays aerial spraying
Aerial spraying for mosquitoes in Flagler County has been delayed by one day according to officials at the East Flagler Mosquito Control District. Originally planned for Thursday, the spraying operation has been rescheduled to take place between 8 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Saturday.
“A delayed materials delivery has put us behind by 24 hours,” Control District Director Mark Positano explained. “In the interim, we are spraying by truck to tide folks over until the real relief happens. We’ll have to keep an eye on the weather Friday night, but as long as we can work around conditions, we’re looking forward to a successful suppression mission. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll be up just as soon as conditions allow.”
The surge in the mosquito population in Flagler County is directly related to the flooding the county experienced as a result of Hurricane Irma. The decision to begin aerial spraying was made with the advisement of County health officials and in direct response to citizens’ recent requests.
At this time, there have been no reported or confirmed mosquito-borne diseases in Flagler County. Should you have any questions or concerns about aerial spraying contact East Flagler Mosquito Control District 386-437-0002.