Anti-pesticide outcry bugs West Nile Virus control in Dallas

By Mike Barnett

The West Nile Virus outbreak in Dallas and attempts to control the mosquitoes that spread it show what a crazy old world this really is.

While people are dying and others sickened by the devastating disease, others petition the city to stop its insecticide spraying program because honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs may fall victim.

Make no mistake about it—this is the worst outbreak of the West Nile Virus in years. Ten people have died in Dallas from the disease and 200 are sick. The city has issued a state of emergency. The national Centers for Disease Control said there are 693 cases nationwide and 26 deaths in 43 states. Big D is the epicenter of this outbreak.

Decisions to use pesticides are not easy. I know how it works in agriculture, so I can understand the city’s decision to spray. But local residents have valid concerns, as they should. Understanding how and why pesticides are used could allay some fears.

Here’s what you should consider about pesticide use, whether it’s in an emergency situation by government to safeguard public health, use in agriculture to protect a crop, or use in your home to combat pests.

  • All approved pesticides used by municipalities, households or agriculture undergo rigorous testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These tests judge risk, tolerances and rates of use that are safe for humans and animals.
  • The pesticides used by municipalities and agriculture are broadcast by trained applicators who receive intensive instruction on their proper use. Applicators are licensed and follow label instructions established by EPA on application and rates. The same can’t be said for household use. How many of you have sprayed half a can of bug spray to kill a hornet’s nest?
  • Pesticide use is generally part of an integrated strategy to target a specific pest and leave beneficial insects alive.

So how is all of this working in Dallas? I understand the insecticide being used in the aerial spraying is Duet, which kills adult mosquitoes on contact instead of repelling them.

Duet is made out of synthetic pyrethroids, which mimic the natural insecticides made from chrysanthemums. EPA has tested Duet and says it is safe to use around humans, pets and wildlife. The dosage being sprayed is extremely low.

The City of Dallas, I understand, is spraying at night, which makes a lot of sense because mosquitoes are active at night. Most people are inside at night. Those concerned with the spraying have plenty of warning to stay indoors.

Duet breaks down quickly into carbon dioxide and water when exposed to the sun. Honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs are active during the day and should be safe.

As part of their integrated strategy, the City of Dallas is recommending residents take some common-sense measures as advocated by the Texas Department of Health.  All Texans should take note, as West Nile cases have been found across the state.

Those measures include:

  • Apply insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus when outside. Spray exposed skin and clothing, following directions on the label.
  • Stay inside at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Drain standing water in backyards and the neighborhood: old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters offer mosquitoes ideal conditions in which to breed.

Most people won’t get sick when bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile Virus. One in 150, however, can develop a severe case of the disease. Symptoms include headache, high fever, nick stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle paralysis and even death.

I wouldn’t want to be one of the 150. It looks to me like the City of Dallas is using all means at its disposal—including the use of an approved insecticide that is used in cities across the country, including Houston—to halt a devastating disease.

Some people are trying to stop it based on unfounded fears about honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs. A little education could go a long way.

It really is a crazy old world out there.

Photo © Sergejs Nescereckis | Dreamstime.com

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

14 Responses to “Anti-pesticide outcry bugs West Nile Virus control in Dallas”

  1. Another blog crafted from the finest logic this side the Mississippi.

  2. The situation in the north Texas region is not as crazy as one might think and appears to actually be addressed with a very professional and systematic approach including ongoing trapping and testing. It is interesting to note the last time Dallas sprayed was in the 1960’s. The outbreaks in Dallas County and surrounding communities and counties are being closely monitored down to the individual infection level with treatment recommendation’s being based on that data. Because aerial spraying is so controversial, expensive, has limited results and high rate of unintended consequences it is only being recommended for high density infected areas. Ground fogging is a better choice in some targeted areas. Each local government of surrounding municipalities analyzes the data and considers the recommendations with opportunity for citizen input. Another interesting fact per an article in the Dallas Morning News is the original outbreak was directly caused by the areas affluence. Because that original area is so heavily landscaped and watered it apparently created an attractive environment for the proliferation of the virus. The surrounding communities that implemented water restrictions were in better shape and could utilize ground fogging. They are monitoring the situation closely and considering appropriate treatment options as the situation developes.Standing water from heavy area rains last weekend and cooler weather may be a game changer.

  3. It is indeed a crazy world. This is also why these petitioners are not always taken seriously because there are just times when they are ranting about nonsense or about issues that are not as extreme as people getting sick and dying. These people should really try and pick their fights

  4. Well I feel that I need to respond with a comment here. I am actually one of those “crazy petitioners” who is vehemently against the spraying of pesticides in this situation. Not only is this a toxic chemical that, while it has been tested — I personally do not believe that there is enough data to fully believe that there are “only minimal unintended side-effects” from its use in this manner.

    As you said yourself Mike, aerial spraying is not a highly efficient or targeted manner of application (though I am sure that those doing the application are more than capable), I am speaking simply of the limitations caused by wind and weather.

    There are a number fo studies that show that Duet is extremely toxic to a number of insects. Some, like dragonflies and damselflies, are actually preadators of mosquitos; while others, like Honeybees, are incredibly important pollenators for all flowering plants (especially crops). Given the recent issues with Colony Collapse Disorder with bees, I personally would not like to do anything that could push them fully over the edge to complete collapse.

    I am not sure if you know this — but something on the order of 75-80% of the food crops in the world are pollenated by bees. While I know that the spraying of Duet in Highland Park and Dallas is not going to end food production worldwide, I just want to state that if the homeowners and others in the DFW are had simply worked to remove the pools of standing water and other breeding grounds; actually tried to encourage the populations of beneficial insects; and several other techniques — the sparying would never have been needed! As a resident of DFW, I have not heard ONE person (other than us “crazy petitioners”), who has even suggested that someone other than the City government should work to fix the problem. Everyone is simply expecting someone else to solve the problem for them.

    There is a simple concept that is currently ingrained in the American mind — find a quick fix to a problem, don’t just try to prvent the problem…. We have a common tendency to simply slap some tape on the break and then move on without bothering to actually fix the break.

    We need to change this mindset. Sorry for the rant.

    • Mike Barnett says:

      Adam, I am well aware of the importance of honeybees. The spraying program is part of an integrated strategy–along with the other things you suggest that Dallas residents do–to get a handle on these mosquitoes that spread a disease that has a devastating impact on many people. The insecticide breaks down during the daylight hours when bees were active, so they should not be harmed.

      The City of Dallas is relying on science, not emotion, to combat this problem. I don’t agree it’s a quick fix.

      I certainly respect your opinion though, and thanks for your comment.

  5. Gene Hall says:

    I don’t think you’re crazy Adam. You are talking about a solution based on people doing the right thing and motivating themselves to do it right away. That’s noble, not crazy. Of course, people often do neither. The effort you speak of would take weeks to organize and may even require some special permissions for private property. All that time, the West Nile mosquitoes would be flying and biting. Sometimes you have to turn to technology for the answer. Fortunately we have a safe and effective solution.

  6. Maybe it would be a good idea to turn down the name calling and alienating folks. The other side is now responding in kind. This is counterproductive and pulls us away from the real issues. I remember when agriculture people were the original ecologists. Now they seem to turn to a chemical or scientific solution as a first option to solve every problem. We have bought into the sales pitch and brain washing for an easy solution and have become slaves to the likes of DuPont, Monsanto, etc. Safe chemicals is an oxymoron. As the saying goes there is no free lunch and nature will win every time. I’m not saying that chemicals do not have their place but should be used with knowledge there are consequences. Before turning to carpet bombing Texas with chemicals, perhaps considering heavy fines and even jail time for those who arrogantly defy watering restrictions deliberately create a public health risk as part of the comprehensive plan. Draining the swamp and the infected breading grounds looks like an effective, tried and true measure to consider. There were five very prominent people identified as the heaviest residential water users in north Texas. They were all located in the original outbreak area in Dallas. Before the outbreak it was a water restriction and conservation issue and when interviewed one of these five people, a very successful TV preacher, was quoted as saying that he had plenty of money so go ahead and fine me. Just send me the bill. Their arrogance has directly caused or contributed to death and personal injury to a lot of citizens. These are unintended consequences of their actions. Sounds like the definition of manslaughter to me. Until we address the root causes of the problem man’s counter measures will never be completely successful.

  7. Gene Hall says:

    Thanks for posting “cousin JC” – just kidding, I don’t know if we’re related. I hope you did not mean on this space with name calling. We have a low tolerance for that, too. Mike said a “crazy old world,” but I’m not going to concede that as name calling. I’d also like, voluntarily to suggest we dispense with hyperbole as well. For example “carpet bombing” with chemicals. This is not happening. Professionals use chemicals by label decree and judiciously. These things are just too expensive to do anything else. They might be abused by homeowners thinking “if a little is good…” But not farmers and not professional applicators. One more thought. Our federal government has sent people to jail for draining wetlands. They take a very dim view. I would hope that in dealing with this disease we keep all the arrows in our quiver that we might need. This includes, common sense, preventive measures and our safe and proven technologies.

  8. From some of the responses others have apparently also interpreted the crazy old world comment as name calling. I certainly have seen other sites calling those who go to the chemical solution first a lot more than crazy. I myself have experienced the wrath of the ag radicals and being referred to as “you (expletive) tree huggers because I dared to asked if other more eco-friendly solutions have been considered. I have worked in and around agriculture all my life and you and I are about the same vintage so I’m sure that we have had some of the same experiences. So it is safe to say that some of the most dangerous people out there to themselves, others and to the environment have applicators licenses and abuse chemicals on a very large scale. To be clear, I am aware of the home owner abuse as well and are included as part of the problem. I hold every chemical applicator accountable licensed or not. You and I must have had different experiences as I do not have blind faith from the government and accept things without questioning. I certainly believe in what I experienced. The U.S. Government experts thought using Agent Orange in Viet Nam was a good idea also. I do not know about you, but I am former military and the term “carpet bombing” is commonly defined by saturating an area with bombs causing huge amounts of collateral damage in hopes that something hits a target. In this case, a plane flies over a large area spraying chemical in the air with a drift hoping that a droplet will hit an adult infected mosquito. Not just any mosquito but specifically the main recognized carrier of the West Nile Virus the female Culex mosquito. I still think the term “carpet bombing” as correct and directly applicable. To be very specific, my use of the term “draining the swamp” is in reference to recommendation of eliminating man made habitat and not protected wetlands. Excessive watering of large landscaped areas around the metro-plex is causing puddles, keeping the ground/grass wet, and water standing in street drains. This is the habitat that I am referring to. Being as dry as it had been this water was a magnet for all the players to come together. People are also around these breeding areas as are the disease carrying birds the female Culex mosquito prefers to bite before spreading the virus to humans. The people who are identified as creating this public health issue should be held accountable. All the so called safe and proven technologies have limited results unless we eliminate the habitat and figuratively “drain the swamp”. This should be common sense but is scientifically supported in a very detailed explanation of the situation in an article called “Why Was the Area Hit So Hard” that appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Sunday, August 26, 2012 in an interview with John-Paul Mutebi, a Center for Disease Control (CDC) specialist in insect-borne diseases. It is the most comprehensive explanation that I have read on the subject to date. It should be available on their web site. Dr. Dirt, Howard Garrett also has some very good back ground information on his web site. Finish reading and then we can discuss further equally armed with knowledge. People are dying, getting sick and getting sprayed with chemicals. This is not the time to be passive, hope that someone saves us and keep the arrows in the quiver.

  9. Another article from the Dallas Morning News entitled West Nile Infections Hit Southern Denton County Hard, Thursday, August 30, 2012 contains some interesting data particular to Denton County, TX. At the time of publication the graph shows the rates of human cases in area counties (cases per 100,000 people): Collin 6.09, Dallas 13.37, Denton 19.61, Ellis, Rockwall 3.74 and Tarrant 12.67. Denton has a smaller population than Dallas County so it’s higher incident rate puts it at the top of state according to the article. It goes into detail of how the numbers are adjusted for population. In looking at why some areas are being hit harder than others a piece appearing in the same article by Dr. Lyle Peterson, a top West Nile expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ads another piece to the puzzle. The original outbreak in Dallas County was attributed to excessive landscape watering, diseased carrying birds, female Culex mosquito’s and population density. Other carriers like horses were not considered a primary carrier. In this article about Denton County, evidence that a close proximity to a lake as an increased habitat threat is inconclusive. What is interesting is the information about horses being carriers. He states there are four licensed vaccinations for horses and non for humans. Denton County has a large population of horses so combined with population density it would make sense that the infection rate would be higher. The article is an excellent resource.

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