Cases of Zika and West Nile Virus have made headlines around the world over the last several months. And recently, some of those headlines have focused on instances of the mosquito-borne diseases in Southern California: 24 cases of Zika have so far been reported in LA County and 23 in San Diego county. That means Orange County is sandwiched between two Zika-positive places. So how do we protect ourselves?
Officials from the Orange County Vector Control District (OCVCD) believe the best way to control Zika is by spraying Duet, a synthetic pesticide designed to kill mosquitos, from planes above OC. The agency hopes to make happen by mid-September. Here are some reasons why aerially spraying Orange County with Duet is a bad idea and why you should care.
Albert Einstein's Bee Theory:
The physicist once said, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." The reality of using Duet is that it isn't just going to kill mosquitos— it's going to kill other insects, including bees and other pollinators. Dr. Bruce Blumberg, the developmental and cell biology and pharmaceutical sciences professor at University of California Irvine, says that pesticides don't discriminate— they're designed to kill everything. "Aerial spraying of this toxic pesticide over all of Orange County for mosquito control is likely to harm more than the intended target," says Blumberg. "Bees and aquatic life are particularly at threat."
Between April 2015 to April 2016 beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their bee colonies, which is an increase from previous years. The reason is believed to be because of the insecticides, like neonicotinoids, used in commercial agriculture. This is a problem because honey bees pollinate crops and without the pollination process, the crops wouldn't exist. Most fruit, vegetables, coffee, nuts, beans, cactus and cotton will become a memory if honey bees continue to perish. Thus, it's important to protect the bees and other pollinators as best we can because humans rely on them more than we realize. Dropping Duet over Orange County is surly going to impact the bee population here.
Application of Duet is harmful to children and pets:
OCVCD's Duet FAQ says "People and pets can be outdoors during the application...The low application rate and wide area dispersal of the spray ensure that exposures are minimal." Dr. Blumberg, however, disagrees. "In my opinion, this statement is outrageous in its callous disregard for public health," he wrote in a letter to OCVCD. "Neither sumithrin or prallethrin (the chemicals that make up Duet) are recommended for direct exposure to humans and sumithrin is considered to be an endocrine disruptor (chemicals that interfere with hormone systems) by the European Commission."
Blumberg goes on to say that occupational exposures to sumithrin and prallethrin are reportedly harmful to workers. Dropping the adulticide from planes, then, puts more people in danger of chemical exposure. "Levels of exposure to individuals as a result of aerial spraying are inherently unpredictable," says Blumberg. "Therefore, exposure to all pesticides should be minimized or avoided, rather than encouraged. Children are much more sensitive to chemical exposure (because of their developing systems and desire to play outside) and require extra protection compared with adults."
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On a physiological and anatomical level, according to Blumberg, animals and humans are remarkably similar. "We have all of the same organs and organ systems, which perform the same functions in nearly an identical way." If Duet is toxic to humans, then it's going to be just as toxic to animals.
OCVCD Distorts the Facts:
The FAQs are ridden with blatant factual distortions. One question asks whether people have to close their doors and windows during application of Duet. If pesticides are falling from the sky, common sense says yes: Closing doors and windows lowers the risk of allowing Duet to waft into your home. But OCVCD states that you don't have to close your doors and windows because the "spray will dissipate in five to 30 minutes." Blumberg says that this is particularly "outrageous" because it takes closer to one to two hours at minimum rather than within 30 minutes for the spray to dissipate—and that's only if it's degraded by sunlight. If Duet breezes into a home, where direct sunlight is often minimal, it can take days for residues to dissolve. And let's face it: If pesticide residues are in your home, the chemicals will likely spread everywhere. "In my opinion, this is an unsupportable statement," says Blumberg. "It is never prudent to encourage pesticide exposure and there is no 'safe' amount to be exposed to. It's all dangerous...Doors and windows should always be closed during times of pesticide application to avoid prolonged exposure and future health issues."
Duet Is Toxic to Everything:
We know that Duet is toxic to humans, animals and insects. But the pesticide is also particularly lethal to aquatic life, even in extremely small amounts. In the FAQ it asks: "Do I need to cover my pond prior to spraying?" And OCVCD's response: "No. The spraying should not pose a risk to a healthy pond." It's funny that the very next question asks: "How does Duet affect the environment?" And their answer: "Duet may be toxic to some aquatic organisms, including fish and invertebrates; however the small amount of product and the manner in which it is applied reduces this risk." Not only does the second answer contradict the previous one, but it's also completely misleading. According to Blumberg, Sumithrin is more toxic to aquatic life than it is to insects— and the pesticide was created with the intention to kill insects.
There Are Other Alternatives:
Aerially spraying for mosquitos isn't the logical option for mosquito control in OC because the mosquito populations are small to modest, at best. According to Blumberg, there are far more prudent, less harmful options that should be tested first. For instance, deploying mosquito traps in the areas where sufficient water is present would help reduce the mosquito population in OC. Encouraging the reduction of standing water (in old tires, still fountains, etc) where mosquitoes breed is another way to help reduce the population as well. But what OCVCD should focus on is thoroughly educating the public on what can be done to help reduce the mosquito population and, thus, protect from mosquito-borne illnesses, instead of exposing an entire population to unnecessary risks associated with Duet.