[permaculture] Re: Mosquito spraying

Misha Gale-Sinex mgs2369 at attbi.com
Tue Mar 5 17:42:42 EST 2002

Howdy, all--

Claude wrote regarding his county's plan to spray for "mosquito 
control" (lovely fantasy, that) to provide tourists the illusion that 
they aren't visiting part of a planet with living ecosystems:

>Ya'all have any good ammo/info web sites  you could provide for ths upcoming
>battle please ?
>I'm looking for
>1. reasons why spraying is a bad idea and
>2. Organic alternatives to "controlling" the mosquito population...

I'd go first thing pronto to the New York City Greens' No Spray 
Coalition. These folks have been 100% down for years with the citizen 
battle against the City's policy of responding to a few dozen cases 
of West Nile Virus by widespread spraying of malathion, resmethrin, 
sumithrin, permethrin, and piperonyl butoxide from helicopters and on 
the ground.

Their Web site is a bit of a mish-mosh, but there's a wealth of 
information there on their organizing, activism, and sundry research.

No Spray Coalition Hotline
P.O. Box 334, Peck Slip Station, New York, NY 10272-0334
List server: sprayno at yahoogroups.com

Mitchel Cohen is the contact, same phone as the coalition.
E-mail: mitchelcohen at mindspring.com

I communicated with Mitchel about this in the late 90s and into 2000. 
At the time I was growing food in Wisconsin and working as the 
communications director for the UW-Madison's sustainable ag research 
center. I've done pro bono research for chemically injured and 
disabled people since the 80s. At the time of the West Nile 
"outbreak" some enlightening research information was coming out of 
Madison regarding the interactive effects of pesticides and other 
chemicals on biological systems at very low doses (drinking water 
concentrations, PPBs). Let me know if you want to know more about 

Second, try PANNA

Go to the search engine (on the tabbed box, top left of home page), 
and search their archives on

mosquito control
the names of particular pesticides proposed for use by your county
West Nile

For instance, PANNA Resource Pointer #181 (10/98) focused on malaria control...

Third, be aware of the New Jersey Department of Health's Right to 
Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets:

This is an outstanding resource, and I'm kind of surprised it's still 
up on the Internet, for free. I've used it for years to educate 
myself on the demonstrated effects of various substances, as well as 
the chemistry of various substances. Note that each fact sheet is 
cross referenced to the CAS and DOT databases.

Fourth, know that you are entitled by law to ask for, and receive, 
MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets) for any product used in your 
environments. The cleaning chemicals used in your office. The toner 
in your company's photocopier. The wall-mounted stinkum in the public 
restroom designed to help people deny (?) what people are doing in 
restrooms. The pesticides sprayed in your apartment complex, your 
park, the golf course down the street, or the trees over your head. 
The carpet glue under your feet.

MSDSs detail the contents of the product, the chemical composition, 
etc. HOWEVER, be aware that these sheets are produced *by the 
manufacturer* of the substance. Once upon a time (late 80s, early 
90s) they actually contained good information about the products' 
contents, and the health effects of those. But over the years, as 
manufacturers started distancing themselves from burgeoining 
knowledge about the health effects of industrial chemicals, they've 
sanitized MSDSs till they contain pretty much only a litany of 
chemical properties (boiling point, freezing point, flashpoint, etc.) 
and a few vague, imprecise terms like "not toxic to fish and 
wildlife." ("Toxicity" as defined by classical toxicology is not a 
measure of overall effects; it's a measure of how many tested 
organisms were killed by what concentration of the substance.) Also, 
more and more, corporations are getting away with withholding 
information on the grounds that, for instance, chemical composition 
of a particular product is proprietary, or a trade secret.

Claude, one of the things to bear in mind is that mosquitos *can be* 
disease vectors. It takes very little tinkering with existing 
ecosystems to make that happen, and outbreaks can appear at any 
moment in areas where that tinkering is constant and widespread.

So I'd recommend you not push that perspective too hard--"not because 
they pose any real health hazard." I get your point. But the minute 
you get this perspective out, someone in county, state, or other 
government will come out and demonstrate that, oh look, we've found a 
case of West Nile or some other mosquito-borne illness. Aieeee! And 
those stupid environmentalists said these hideous Satanic flying 
beasts were SAFE!!!

The point, I think, is to focus on the issue that mosquito "control" 
efforts generally do nothing other than harm living creatures and 
ecosystems while creating super-resistant mosquitos who can and will 
act as vectors later on. This is one of the potential horrors of 
human-induced climate change. It's pretty clear that epidemiological 
bands of tropical diseases are spreading north and south as winters 
become less severe. Between that and strategies that foster 
super-resistance...well, I don't need to close the equation in this 

Another teachable issue is how existing human practices *foster* 
mosquito populations by

--destroying native prey species (in North America, bats, dragonflies 
and their nymphs, nighthawks, damselflies and their nymphs, 
daddy-long-legs, water beetles, caddisfly larvae, mayfly larvae) and 
their habitat.

--creating stagnant pools of water (old tires, ditches, other crap).

--not understanding the five-stage life cycle of mosquitos, and 
failing to take actions that can increase predation and reduce 
mosquito success at all five stages (people tend to think only in 
terms of destroying adult mosquitos, which of course is what the 
pesticide companies' marketing departments have taught everyone).

By the way, it's a common misconception that martins and swallows are 
good mosquito eaters. Think about it. Adult mosquitos (female) mostly 
come out at night. Martins and swallows are asleep then. Bats and 
nighthawks are your folks for that job. But even more effective is to 
encourage predation of mosquitos *before* the adult stage, and limit 
their habitat.

Finally, the thing I always recommend to folks approaching an 
education campaign or project like it sounds you're facing, is:

Don't go into it as a "battle," even though it's likely to be.

Approach this as an intensely teachable moment, one that will help 
galvanize and educate people in the community. While you're letting 
folks know about potential threats to health, and best alternatives, 
while hammering out understanding and agreements, make sure you do 
whatever you can to keep or inject a sense of healthy, centered, 
appropriate levity, if not humor. It makes the issue less threatening 
to folks, making it easier for them to get on board. You will be 
surprised, I'll bet, by how many people in the community already have 
concerns about things like super-resistant insects, pesticide use, 
children's health, asthma, etc. And what makes the county fathers 
think that tourists would want to visit a place that's been 
pesticide-saturated for their "protection"?

It's *so* easy to get sucked into bitter power struggles, 
anger-fests, and other soul-sapping dysfunctions when dealing with 
such primal issues as the right of some people to destroy life for 
cosmetic reasons. I speak as somebody who was nearly done in by 
diazinon in the mid-80s, btw. It's hard for me to have a sense of 
humor about this issue...but when I manage it, I find it's far more 
powerful than even the volcano of righteous-babe indignation gushing 
up from my soul.

In many communities in the Upper Midwest, in the summer, tourists 
aren't offered the illusion of cavorting in mosquito-free splendor in 
the northwoods. No, mosquitos are the size of birds, and rule the 
place three months a year. Period. However, tourists have ample 
chances to attend local "Mosquito Days" festivals, or to purchase 
tiny "mosquito traps," mosquito-spotting field guides, special 
commemorative calomine lotion, and other kitschy souvenirs, which 
help them laugh while swatting and trying not to scratch. It's also 
good for local markets in essential-oil-based repellents, citronella 
candles, netting hats, and other time-honored methods for living with 
that which it is folly to assume we can live without.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Michele Gale-Sinex
Olympia, WA
Home office:		360-459-5683
Home office fax:		Same as above, phone first for enabling
As crude a weapon as the cave man's club, the chemical
barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life. --Rachel Carson

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