There has been a lot of scary information about mosquito-borne diseases repeated by employees and board members of BLSG. There are two serious diseases carried by mosquitoes in Vermont, and one killed two people in 2012. That fact alone deserves our attention, but how much should we be concerned about these diseases?
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.”
This week the BLSG started roadside spraying of pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes. Pesticide application is now being done under Vermont’s 2017 Pesticide General Permit after the Department of Environmental Conservation approved, on May 15, the BLSG request to continue operation.
The two insect control districts in Vermont have submitted requests to continue their operations for the next five years. This request is referred to as a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply pesticides according to Vermont’s Pesticide General Permit (PGP). The two districts are the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District (BLSG) and the Lemon Fair Insect Control District (LFICD) which includes Bridport, Cornwall, and Weybridge. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will make a decision about both NOIs very soon.
Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a report on diseases, and last week’s report was about the rise in diseases spread by insects and ticks. This was a typically dry and technical report about trends between 2004 and 2016 in human cases of 16 diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas. The CDC also publicized this report at their Vital Signs site where the hype was cranked up by a dramatic video and some revealing graphs.
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.
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.
Thursday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District, focused on the larvicide program. Although the article was titled “Mosquito spraying program explained,” no mention was made of malathion or permethrin which are sprayed along town roads to kill adult mosquitoes. Instead, the article focused on the program to treat standing water to kill mosquito larvae before they hatch.
There is some very useful information in yesterday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District. So it was disappointing to see the group is still misleading residents about the risk of contracting the Zika virus from mosquitoes in Vermont. The article mentions that insect borne diseases are part of their justification for controlling mosquitoes, and then adds “Vermont has now recorded its first case of the Zika virus.”
The Vermonter with Zika did not get it from a mosquito bite in Vermont or anywhere north of Florida or Texas. That Vermonter had travelled to an area where Zika is present. Zika virus and the primary mosquito vector of the disease (Aedes aegypti) are not present in Vermont (more here).
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.”
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 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.
There was a lot of news about Zika virus two years ago when 17 athletes, including four top seeded golfers and some big tennis stars, pulled out of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games ostensibly over Zika fears. The Zika story fizzled after the games, although some athletes later tested positive for antibodies to other arboviruses.
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.
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.
Avoiding mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus is a primary motivation for mosquito control. Since it was first confirmed in the US in 1999, West Nile virus has infected more than 46,000 people in the US and more than 2,000 people have died. Mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been found in every Vermont county in past years, so this threat should not be ignored. However, between 1999 and 2016, only 12 cases of West Nile virus were reported in people in Vermont (Figure 1).
Eight towns in Vermont have formed insect control districts to monitor and reduce mosquito populations. Five towns are in the BLSG district, and Cornwall, Weybridge, and Bridport are the Lemon Fair Insect Control District. These contiguous towns are all in Addison or Rutland counties in the Champlain Valley.
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.
The BLSG Insect Control District sprays many miles of roads with a fog of pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes. You can learn if your property is on the mapped spraying routes at the BLSG website.