Salisbury balks at BLSG funding increase

In early January, members of the board of directors of the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District (BLSG) visited the select boards of each town in the District. They announced that they were asking for a large increase in the funds to operate in 2019-2020 compared to the previous year. The average increase requested was $7,443 per town for a total of $37,215 or 31% more than last year. They explained that the increase was primarily to pay their attorneys who are representing BLSG in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit is an appeal of the decision made by the state to authorize BLSG to spray pesticides under Vermont’s Pesticide General Permit. Details of the lawsuit are here:

One of the towns in the BLSG District did not accept the surprise request for more funds. Salisbury, which was asked for 46% more money than last year, instead budgeted for a small increase for BLSG and created an article on the Town Meeting ballot for additional money for attorneys. On March 5, voters in Salisbury can vote for or against $5,500 to pay BLSG’s lawyers.

The Salisbury Select Board was responding to strong opposition in the town to supporting BLSG’s legal troubles. Many residents thought that accepting BLSG’s request for 46% more funds than it needs for day-to-day operations was sending an inappropriate message to BLSG and to town residents. The Salisbury Conservation Commission wrote to the Select Board that “Salisbury should not be held financially responsible for the BLSG’s legal fees. Therefore, we urge the Select Board to level-fund the BLSG in 2019-2020 town budget.”

It seems to many that the primary effect of making more money available to lawyers would be to prolong the lawsuit because the lawyers will end the lawsuit whenever the money runs out. Voting against this article in Salisbury could encourage a quicker end to the lawsuit and avoid the establishment of a costly precedent.  

For more information on mosquito control in the BLSG District see the FAQ here:

BLSG lawsuit heads to trial

On February 4, the lawsuit involving the BLSG Insect Control District (BLSG) entered a new phase. Almost seven months after the case began, Judge Thomas Walsh of the Vermont Environmental Court was notified that the parties had been unable to reach a settlement agreement. The judge set a deadline of April 1 for the submission of preliminary motions as the case moves to trial.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 by Toxics Action Center who is represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Vermont Law School. A month earlier, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation had authorized BLSG to spray pesticides under the State’s Pesticide General Permit (this permit allows the state to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act).

Toxics Action Center argues that the State should not have authorized BLSG to spray toxic pesticides because the documentation submitted by BLSG as part of the application process was incomplete. Vermont statutes are very clear about what an applicant must submit in order to be included under the state’s Pesticide General Permit. The lawsuit lists three required things that BLSG failed to include:

  1. BLSG failed to document how they evaluated the ways in which each of their mosquito management activities impacts water quality.
  2. BLSG failed to document how they evaluated the ways in which each of their mosquito management activities impacts animals and plants other than mosquitoes.
  3. BLSG failed to document how they minimize harmful discharge into waters by eventually resorting to chemical pesticides only if all other measures have been exhausted or are unreasonable.

These are not minor omissions from BLSG’s documentation. Vermont law requires anyone spraying toxic pesticides to be aware of the dangers their activities pose to the environment and human health and then to publicly document those dangers. By omitting these evaluations, residents of the BLSG District have no way of knowing whether no dangers exist, whether dangers exist and BLSG staff are not aware of them, or whether BLSG staff are aware of potential dangers but decided to downplay them.

We also don’t know why the state decided to authorize BLSG despite these gaps.  Both the state and BLSG are part of this lawsuit. If the case eventually makes it to trial, we will get answers to some of these questions.  

Toxics Action Center appeals the BLSG’s permit approval

One month ago, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved an application by the BLSG Insect Control District to continue controlling mosquitoes for another five years. Yesterday, that decision was appealed by Toxics Action Center, an environmental advocacy group working throughout New England. The lawsuit alleges that the Vermont DEC allows BLSG to spray pesticides without following state requirements designed to protect public health and the environment. Toxics Action Center initiated this legal action on behalf of its members in the region. “It’s irresponsible to allow toxic pesticides to be sprayed near homes, rivers, and farms while safer options are available,” said Woody Little, Vermont Community Organizer at Toxics Action Center. “Before we endanger the health of the community, we should be trying every non-harmful alternative possible. It’s the law, and it’s just common sense.”

Toxics Action Center will be represented in front of the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School. “The spraying authorized by the DEC violates state and federal laws designed to protect human health, water quality and endangered species,” said Mason Overstreet, an attorney and fellow at the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic. “The law requires the District to use non-harmful alternatives whenever practical. Chemical pesticides should only be used as a last resort.”

Under the federal Clean Water Act and state law, insect control districts must comply with Vermont’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Pesticide General Permit for application of pesticides. An entity applying for a permit to spray pesticides is required to minimize the discharge of chemical pesticides and consider the impacts on water, insects, and animals before using chemical pesticides. The pending lawsuit addresses whether gaps in BLSG’s application suggest that BLSG could avoid these requirements without consequences. You can read today’s press release from Toxics Action Center here.

Details of the legal complaint will be submitted to the court in about three weeks. Operations of the BLSG to control mosquitoes will likely continue while the appeal proceeds. You can stay up-to-date with their spraying activities and other news on Twitter and Facebook (see sidebar).

Pretty good press

Moosalamoo Woods & Waters was in the local paper last week. Lou Varricchio from the Addison Eagle and True North Reports asked two of our members some questions about mosquitoes, larvicides,  and pesticides. Chris Fastie and Wally Bailey are both quoted in the article. Will Mathis of the BLSG Insect Control District is also quoted, although those quotes were from an essay in the Rutland Herald authored by Mathis. Reporters have not had much luck this spring arranging interviews with BLSG members.

Varricchio asked good questions and quickly grasped the position of Moosalamoo Woods & Waters. Unfortunately, he included one very misleading statement from Will Mathis:

” Even a case of mosquito-borne Zika virus, …, has been reported in Vermont.”

It is true that in 2016 one Vermonter contracted the Zika virus, but it was not as a result of a mosquito bite in Vermont. The patient had travelled to an area where Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes. No one north of Texas and Florida has ever contracted Zika from a mosquito. The primary vector mosquito for Zika does not live as far north as Vermont. If a reporter ever gets to talk to someone from BLSG, it would be good to ask why they continue to mislead the public about the risk of contracting Zika from a mosquito in Vermont. Today, that risk is zero.

One of BLSG’s stated goals is public education about mosquitoes. They are not achieving that goal when they repeat misleading information about such an important topic.

Aedes vs. Aedes

A new approach to mosquito control is being widely deployed for the first time this year. A commercial product called the In2Care Mosquito Trap is being tested around the world to control Aedes mosquitoes which carry several tropical diseases.

The trap attracts certain mosquitoes, infects them with larvicide and fungus, and allows them to escape and contaminate natural breeding sites with larvicide. The fungus eventually kills the contaminated mosquito.

This trap is designed primarily for Aedes mosquitos which are rare in Vermont. Someday this concept could be applied to other species.

Updated BLSG policy on opting out of roadside spraying

Yesterday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District included new information about requesting that no pesticides be sprayed along private property in the district. Last week, BLSG published notices in the local newspapers that insect control operations will happen this year, and that landowners could request that their property be a “no spray zone.” Similar details about the opt-out program are posted at the BLSG website.

In yesterday’s article, very different rules were described. Instead of a deadline of “early April” for making your request, the article states that “We will accept and process requests anytime during the season.”

Instead of requiring that a letter and property map be mailed to BLSG, the article states that “Any citizen can opt out by calling 247-6779.”

These are welcome changes because they make it easier for landowners to opt out of spraying, and make it possible for new residents arriving in the summer to opt out.

When a resident opts out of roadside spraying, it creates some extra work for BLSG staff. The property boundaries must be marked along the road with “stop and start” stakes, which must be removed at the end of the season. Learning where these stakes should be installed often requires meeting with the landowner at the property.

We encourage landowners who plan to opt out to do so before early April so the BLSG staff has time to mark the properties before the mosquito season gets underway. We are just about at the end of early April, so if you have been considering opting out, this might be a good time. More information about opting out is here.

Vermont DEC wants clarification about BLSG’s pesticide plans

A new article posted by the Rutland Herald today reports that the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has asked for more information about the BLSG Insect Control District’s application to apply pesticides to control mosquitoes. “I just asked them to clarify some pieces of their pesticide discharge management plan,” said Misha Cetner of Vermont DEC.

The article also reported that Mason Overstreet of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School has asked the state to deny the permit. “We see their application as deficient,” Overstreet said of the BLSG permit request. “We are concerned that the district has arbitrary action thresholds.”

The DEC is expected to make a decision on the BLSG permit in the next month.

We have been introduced to Rutland

The Rutland Herald posted an article today about Moosalamoo Woods & Waters. Staff Writer Susan Smallheer talked to a few of us and then described our new group and our current project of providing property maps to landowners in the BLSG Insect Control District who want to opt out of roadside pesticide spraying along their property.

Malathion or permethrin are sprayed along town roads during the warm months to kill adult mosquitoes. To opt out of spraying along your property, you must mail a letter with a map of your property to BLSG. We will email you a property map for this purpose (see instructions here).

The BLSG website states that opt out letters must be mailed by “early April” every year, so there is not much time left. Today’s Rutland Herald article stated that letters should be sent before May 15, but that is when the spraying might start, so I think the time to opt out is right now.

A comment from Dr. Lawton

A few reader comments were generated by the VTDigger article about the imminent DEC decision on the BLSG Insect Control District’s permit to operate. The full verbatim text of a comment by Dr. Benjamin Lawton, the chair of the BLSG, follows with some comments.

Ben Lawton’s (B.L.) comment in italics, our response in blue.

B.L. I have some additions and corrections to the article on mosquito control first notices of intent to apply insecticides are posted at the town clerks offices in the local newspapers and through public service announcements and on our website

Residents would like to be alerted whenever spraying happens on their road. This would allow them to take the actions recommended by the EPA if they are concerned about exposure to pesticides (e.g., for malathion: closing windows, bringing in children’s toys, covering gardens). Could the BLSG district send an email to a few people who can announce (e.g., via social media) that an action threshold has been reached and spraying will occur that evening?

B.L. Any citizen can opt out of adulticiding and their property boundaries will be posted as a no sprays zone !!!

The BLSG website states that pesticide spray from the truck can drift up to 150 feet from the truck. When someone opts out of spraying along their property, does the truck stop spraying 150 feet from that property and start again only when the truck is 150 feet past the property? If this does not happen, isn’t it true that a resident cannot really opt out of exposure to pesticides?

B.L. The district uses ultra low volume applications (the minimum affective volume of a pesticide) against the flying adult mosquitoes. Both ground and Ariel ULV Applications have been the standard method of mosquito adulticiding World wide for more than 45 years

( by the way, the mosquito is the most deadly organism known to man. !)

Technically, mosquitoes have not killed anybody. Several different arboviruses and other microorganisms carried by mosquitoes have killed many. Millions of people have contracted these diseases, most of which ( malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, dengue fever, filariasis, Zika virus) are not present in mosquitoes in Vermont.

B.L. The optimum size droplet for mosquito control with field applied ground ULV has been determined to be 5 to 25 µm which is optimal for truck Based sprayers!

This contradicts published studies. Optimum droplet size for effective (≥90% mortality) mosquito control by space spraying via ground application equipment is 8–15 μm (Mount 1998), while a slightly larger droplet size (5-25 μm VMD) is most effective when applied by aerial methods (Mount et al. 1996).

Mount, G. A. 1998. A critical review of ultralow-volume aerosols of insecticide applied with vehicle-mounted generators for adult mosquito control. J Am Mosq Control Assoc 14:305–334.

Mount, G. A., T. L. Biery and D. G. Haile. 1996. A review of ultralow-volume aerial sprays of insecticide for mosquito control. J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 12(4):601-18.

B.L. The ultimate goal is targeted applications with minimal nontarget exposure. Other flying insects do not appear to be affected by mosquitocidal sprays if their body mass is larger than that of a mosquito .

So a small nocturnal mayfly, caddisfly, beetle, or moth can fly through the white cloud sprayed by the truck and be unharmed? What published study suggests that non-mosquito insect species are not harmed by the spray? In those studies, how many species are harmed?

B.L. (Lawler etal 2008,Jensen etal 1999) Found non-detectable concentrations of Pyrethrins and permethrin In water samples from wetlands, before and after truck mounted ULV applications.

I have not been able to find the Lawler or Jensen articles cited above, but other work by these same authors demonstrate the severe effect of pyrethrin, malathion, or permethrin on small insects and other arthropods. For example:

“… significantly (P< 0.001) higher diversity and numbers of nontarget arthropods were found dead on tarps in the treatment sites versus the Davis and non-Davis control sites (Table 2). All of the dead nontarget species were small-bodied arthropods belonging to >25 families in the following orders: Blattodea, Coleoptera, Collembola, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Psocoptera, Thysanoptera, Acari, and Araneae.”

The orders listed include beetles, springtails, flies, bugs, bees and wasps, thrips, mites, and spiders.

Source: Nontarget effects of the mosquito adulticide pyrethrin applied aerially during a West Nile virus outbreak in an urban California environment. Walter M. Boyce, Sharon P. Lawler, Jennifer M. Schultz, Shannon j. Mccauley, Lynn S. Kimsey, Michael K. Niemela, Carrie F. Nielsen, and William K. Reisen. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association 2007 23 (3), 335-339

B.L. Results from risk assessments (Schleier etal2009 ,Peterson’s etal2006) and the current weight of scientific evidence indicates that human health risk from residential exposure to mosquito insecticide are low and not likely to exceed levels of concern!

What does it mean that “health risk” is not likely to “exceed levels of concern?” This suggests that there is some health risk, so the above statement is false if there is not much concern. Does that mean that many people in the BLSG district are concerned about pesticide spraying?

Both of the articles cited are modelling studies. Creating the models required that someone assign relative importance to exposure to pesticides and to contracting a disease. No actual data were collected on the consequences of spraying or the consequences of mosquitoes on actual humans.

One of the authors of Schleier et al. 2009 worked for ICM Ventures, Fort Collins, CO. which might have been a petrochemical-related company.

Schleier et al. 2009    

Peterson et al. 2006

B.L. Furthermore, the results indicate that, based on human health criteria, the risk from west Nile virus and equine encephalitis exceed the risks from exposure to mosquito insecticide!

It is not clear what “human health criteria” are, but this does not seem to say anything different from the last statement.

B.L.  In 2012 there were two deaths from EEE In the local towns transmitted by mosquitoes!!!!!

From 2007 to 2016, the average annual incidence of EEE in Rutland County was less than one case per 200,000 people. In Addison County, the 10-year average was zero. This seems like an exceedingly small risk of contracting the disease. In that 10 year period, 2012 was the year of highest incidence of EEE in the US, and it has been much lower since then.

Has anything changed in the operations of the BLSG Insect Control District since 2012 that suggests that those operations will now protect residents from mosquito-borne diseases?

This map shows the distribution of Eastern equine encephalitis virus neuroinvasive disease (encephalitis and/or meningitis) average annual incidence by county of residence from 2007 through 2016. Counties are shaded according to incidences ranging from less than 0.20, 0.20 to 0.49, and greater than 0.50 per 100,000 population. Shaded counties are primarily distributed along the Gulf Coast, Eastern seaboard, and the Great Lakes. Map source:

B.L. BLSG has been providing mosquito control since 1987 to the area town’s. Unfortunately many of the newer residents of the area have not experienced the clouds are mosquitoes that once infested the area prior to initiating control !!!!!

This is a very important result. The former Vermont State Entomologist, Alan Graham, counted adult mosquitoes in the BLSG district during 1989 and in most years since 2001. I assume that is the source of the information you are referring to. It would be good to see Alan Graham’s report on the long-term trend in mosquito population density in these towns. I am not aware of population data from earlier years so there might be no scientific evidence of your suggested longer term changes in mosquito density. If there is no verified trend in mosquito populations, then there is no basis for inferring any effect of insect control treatments on those populations. If adult mosquito populations have declined over the years because of control measures, this could be due to larvicide treatments which are not a source of concern for residents. Residents are concerned about malathion and permethrin being sprayed along town roads.


Who grants permits to spray mosquito pesticides?

According to a new article by Vermont Digger, The BLSG Insect Control District does its work under the auspices of two different Vermont agencies. The Agency of Agriculture and Food Markets grants permits to both of Vermont’s insect control districts to apply larvicides on standing water to kill mosquito larvae. Although the Agency of Agriculture and Food Markets grants permits to apply many types of agricultural chemicals, it does not regulate the spraying of pesticides like malathion and permethrin to kill adult mosquitoes. It does train and license operators who spray these pesticides, but no permit is required. Instead, a Vermont insect control district must be approved by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to spray pesticides to control adult mosquitoes. In order to spray pesticides, an insect control district must obtain a Pesticide General Permit (PGP), a type of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, and comply with the provisions outlined in the PGP.

The Agency of Agriculture’s agrichemical management chief, Cary Giguere, said the Agency is likely to begin drawing up adulticide regulations this summer. Until new regulations are implemented, how the BLSG district sprays adulticides will be determined by the imminent decision of the DEC.

In advance of the DEC decision, a meeting is planned for March 27 to discuss these jurisdictional issues. Officials from DEC, Agency of Agriculture, and Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic will be present at the meeting.

Pittsford votes to become a full member of the BLSG Insect Control District

The town of Pittsford, Vermont voted at town meeting on March 6, 2018 to become a full member of the BLSG Insect Control District. For the first time, spraying will be done along town roads in Pittsford to kill adult mosquitoes.  The measure passed by a vote of 35 to 24.

Pittsford joined the BLSG district in 2016 and has participated in the application of larvicide to lowland areas to kill mosquito larvae. Before then, Pittsford contracted with the BLSG for larvicide application.

According to an article in the Rutland Herald, Pittsford will be paying more than $40,000 in each of the next four years to cover the treatments and contribute to the BLSG infrastructure.