Now that summer has arrived, many of us will find it hard to enjoy an evening outside without being attacked by mosquitoes or, worse, threatened by mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus. It’s a good time to find out how your community handles mosquito control, says Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. Otherwise, you could end up being exposed to toxic pesticides. And you might end up being plagued by skeeters anyway, since mosquito abatement programs that rely on spraying aren't as effective as they're cracked up to be.
"There's too much misleading information being distributed by officials on the safety and effectiveness of mosquito control, and the range of possible approaches," says Feldman. Government officials and industry representatives all too often assume that if a pesticide is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it's safe. Which is what they then tell their constituents. "Unfortunately, you don't have to dig deep into the scientific literature to see that the level of information we have on pesticides that are widely used is totally inadequate," Feldman says.
For instance, the most common chemicals used to kill adult mosquitoes are synthetic pyrethroids, which research shows are possible hormone disruptors. This means they may interfere with how your body produces estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones. And it's not just a matter of what pesticide is used, he adds, but how it reacts with other chemicals in the environment. Also, people and pets can track these chemicals into homes, where they settle on surfaces.
"Everyone knows that the best way to control mosquito populations is through larval control and reduction of breeding sites," says Feldman. But communities still spray harmful chemicals from trucks and airplanes, which is the least effective way to control mosquitoes. "To kill mosquitoes that way, you have to hit the mosquito in flight,” he says. “But when you consider time of day, changing weather patterns, wind, and so on, there are so many factors that can reduce the effectiveness of this method," he says.
"Once people know these details, they have a better chance to sort through the best options,” says Feldman. “But when an official simply says they're using pesticides registered by the EPA and they're safe, people can't see the downside of spraying." In other words, you often don’t have enough information to lobby for a better alternative.