Here’s Sore Thumb.
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It is one of the dozens of saltwater marshes that Suffolk County sprays each year via Vector Control, which tasked with the duty, ostensibly, is to combat mosquito borne diseases.
However, what most people don’t realize is that West Nile and Zika are both carried by freshwater mosquitoes, ones spawned normally within eighty feet of where you’d be bitten, like in your back yard. These species are weak fliers. The ones we spray in our saltwater marshes are entirely different. They are strong fliers, but do not carry these diseases. They are nuisances, to be sure, but this has nothing to do with controlling a disease vector (or source). [ Caveat: Vector Control has some lab evidence that Aedes sollicitans, or the Eastern Salt Marsh Mosquito CAN carry West Nile, though this has never been verified in the wild ]. What happens is this — People complain about being ‘eaten alive,’ the copters go out. With that bit of diversion, the public remains uninformed as to how in fact they can lower the risk of West Nile and Zika — by getting rid of any pools of standing water around the house — Clogged gutters, bird baths, tires, puddles.
But its not just that we are killing a nuisance instead of dealing with the real health problem. When you kill mosquito larvae, what else are you killing? Does this trigger crab kills, as some claim? Is it a good idea to take out a key part of the food web — larvae — that fish, turtles and other bugs feed on? What if the marshes were healthy enough to support dragonflies and other natural predators, like fish fry, rather than degraded in part by spraying and mosquito ditches, as they are now?
Further, if these pesticides are so safe, why do they warn us about the sprayings? Children, pets, pregnant women?:
“Although your chances of experiencing any health effects from spraying are quite low, the following common sense steps will help you reduce possible exposure to pesticides before, during or after spraying.
Steps you should take: Children and pregnant women should take care to avoid exposure when practical. If possible, remain inside or avoid the area whenever spraying takes place and for about 30 minutes after spraying. Close windows and doors and close the vents of window air-conditioning units to circulate indoor air or, before spraying begins, turn them off. Windows and air-conditioning vents can be reopened about 30 minutes after spraying. If you come in direct contact with pesticide spray, protect your eyes. If you get pesticide spray in your eyes, immediately rinse them with water. Wash exposed skin. Wash clothes that come in direct contact with spray separately from other laundry. Consult your health care provider if you think you are experiencing health effects from spraying.
Steps you may want to take: The materials used by Vector Control do not leave significant residues on surfaces, but exposure can be reduced even further. Pick homegrown fruits and vegetables you expect to eat soon before spraying takes place. Rinse homegrown fruits and vegetables (in fact all produce) thoroughly with water before cooking or eating. Bring laundry and small toys inside before spraying begins. (Wash with detergent and water if exposed to pesticides during spraying.) Bring pet food and water dishes inside, and cover ornamental fishponds during the spray period to avoid direct exposure.“
Why are people only told of the sprayings the day before, or the day of, and good luck hearing about it or finding it on the web? If you do happen to sign up to be on the email list that but it’s horribly formatted. You can’t easily pick out the dozens of locations because the columns are all jumbled together. As a public service, however, Save The Great South Bay has disentangled the list of locations below, and created live maps for them on the web, so if any homeowner / resident in the area wants to get on the No Spray Registry, you can do that by CLICKING HERE and following Suffolk County’s instructions. This will mean that you will be notified if spraying is to be done, and curtail what kinds of spraying can be done. Unfortunately, this would not prevent helicopter spraying.
Here is what Suffolk County sends out with each email blast notifying people of the impending spraying, generally done over several days, beginning with the day the email is sent:
“The products used by Vector Control are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and are applied in accordance with the required state and federal permits.
No precautions are recommended to prepare for this spraying, as the helicopter will be flying at a very low level over marsh areas and taking other precautions to control drift into inhabited areas. Human exposure from this operation is unlikely and the products involved have no significant human toxicity.
For current and future notices and/or further information:
• Suffolk County Division of Vector Control 631-852-4270
• Vector Control and Wetlands Management Long-Term Plan [link added]“
Yes, they have the necessary permits, but that doesn’t mean it should be permitted. I’d also be real skeptical about how well they can control spraying from a helicopter. And I think we should not take at face value that the spray has no “significant” human toxicity. Beyond that, destroying ecosystems can’t be good for local communities, nor even mosquito control in the long run. A sick marsh, devoid of frogs, fish fry, dragon flies, is going to breed a lot more mosquitos than a healthy marsh. We should absolutely repurpose funds now used to kill the wrong mosquitos on marsh restoration. That would be in accordance with the Wetlands Management Long-Term Plan, which was enacted some twelve years ago, and which was put under the authority of Vector Control (!). This is from The Suffolk County website:
Vector Control & Wetlands Management Plan (2004)
“The Suffolk County Department of Health Services and Suffolk County Department of Public Works oversaw the development and early implementation of a Suffolk County-wide long-term vector control and wetlands management plan. The overall goals were to: protect public health while minimizing pesticide usage; and to develop a long-term plan to preserve and restore wetlands managed by Vector Control. The management plan and accompanying generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) have been developed by a consultant team, with support from other entities, including the County, at a contracted cost of approximately $4 million. Highlights include the elimination of routine ditch maintenance, a larvicide reduction goal of 75% and reductions in chemical adulticide usage, and restoration of 4,000 acres of ditched wetlands over the next 12 years. The risk assessment specifically evaluated human health and ecological risks associated with the pesticides considered for use and concluded that Ultra Low Volume (ULV) insecticide applications for mosquito control do not pose a significant threat to human health. In addition, no risks were found for mammalian, avian or reptilian wildlife. Potential ecological risks were limited to non-target terrestrial insects from adulticides which can be mitigated or eliminated by Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies and possible short term impacts to some aquatic invertebrates if it becomes necessary to apply Malathion. The success of Open Marsh Water Management (OMWM) [link added, now rebranded Integrated Marsh Management (IMM)] practices was demonstrated at a 40-acre wetland on the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. The parcel was routinely subjected to larvicide applications, but none were needed in 2005 following OMWM implementation.“
This paragraph raises a number of questions:
- Was routine ditch maintenance (mosquito ditches in marshes) eliminated as a practice since the plan’s putative enactment?
- Did we reach the larvicide reduction goal of 75%, as stipulated in that plan? What about chemical adulticide usage?
- If the Open Marsh Water Management (OMWM) practices implemented in 2004 on 40 acres in The Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, where no larvicide was used, was so successful, why weren’t these practices adopted elsewhere? Where are the peer reviewed studies to back this claim?
- Why are we spraying a National Wildlife Preserve literally TODAY September 8th, 2016 as I write this? Here’s a link to a National Fish and Wildlife study detailing the hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides sprayed onto Wertheim and Seatuck, both National Wildlife Preserves, from 1990 – 2006. Why this amount of poison on public lands going after the wrong bug?
- Does OMWM, which involves effectively destroying marshes in order to save them by digging out ponds in the middle of them, carry any weight as a policy with anyone outside Vector Control — say, among the marsh ecologists scientific community?
- Since a sick marsh breeds mosquitos, where is Suffolk County investing seriously in marsh restoration, guided by environmental experts rather than by an agency that kills bugs?
- Does Vector Control have any data at all on the effectiveness of all this spraying? What good has spraying done to combat marsh mosquitos, by contrast, without even bringing up how pointless and destructive it is?
Embedded in this post at the very bottom is an interactive map of Sore Thumb. We have also listed the remaining locations, with links to their corresponding maps. If you live nearby, you can zoom right on to your property. Through this post, and via these maps, we now have the ability to post pictures / add comments regarding the spraying. How healthy is the marsh before and after? How accurately, in fact, are the helicopters applying the pesticides? Save The Great South Bay will go where the science takes us. Right now, it looks like Suffolk County needs to seriously revise its vector spraying policy. They are killing the wrong mosquitos (and much more), those that live in our marshes, while staying silent on the real danger — the mosquitos that spawn in the standing water in our yards.
Here’s a contact form should you wish at all to reach us regarding anything related to Vector Spraying.
You can also post to our Facebook Group Page to reach us there.
The Suffolk County Department of Public Works’ Division of Vector Control sprays from among the locations listed below.
Here’s how they spray, generally: Low altitude, large droplet liquid application.
Here is what they spray, generally: VectoBac 12AS Liquid Concentrate (Bti – Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) & Altosid Liquid Larvicide Concentrate (Methoprene), Anvil (sumithrin). [I will let those who know these pesticides better speak to their potential toxicity]
Here is where they spray, generally:
Town of Smithtown
Town of Babylon
Town of Islip
Heckscher State Park
Robert Moses CG Station
West Sayville GC
West Oak Recreation
Town of Brookhaven
Manor of St. George
Johns Neck Creek
Pine Neck Ave. (Swan River)
Roe Ave. (Mud Creek)
Town of Riverhead
Overlook – Aquebogue
Crescent Duck Farm
Town of Southold
Great Hog Neck
Pipes Neck Creek
Town of Southampton
Dune Rd (Overton)
Town of East Hampton
Again, if this is something you want notifications on, and if you want to limit what kinds of spraying they can do around your property, you can get on the No Spray Registry by CLICKING HERE and follow Suffolk County’s instructions.