Peconic Great South Baykeeper
Let Nature Work by Sean O'Neill, SH Press, 01/05/17

December 14, 2016

Dear Editor,

Spraying into the wind

On December 12, 2016, the Suffolk County Legislator once again voted to fund the continued use of the pesticide Methoprene by the Department of Public Works Vector Control unit to control mosquito populations. Methoprene, an insect growth regulator that is used in larvicide applications, is a known toxin of fish and shellfish. Impassioned arguments have been made to ban or limit its use in the county by the environmental community over the years, and have sadly, fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps a different argument is needed.

Prior to becoming the Peconic Baykeeper (PBK) in May, 2016, I served as a pesticide control specialist for the New York State of Environmental Conservation for 6+ years, regulating the very vector control activity described above through permitting, site inspections of both ground and aerial sprays, along with writing violations when they occurred. I can state Suffolk County Vector Control (SCVC) always treated me with respect during these interactions, and made their very best effort to comply with all environmental regulations.

SCVC’s position is that methoprene, a known toxin that has been severely restricted in its use in our neighboring states of Connecticut and Rhode Island due mainly to lobster toxicity concerns, should continue to be used to mitigate human health concerns and the nuisance mosquitoes pose. They argue scientific literature does not exist that directly correlates methoprene’s use to lobster or other shellfish die offs. Furthermore, they state much of the public thinks mosquito spraying is an important part of disease and nuisance control, and requests its continuation. It is a logical and science based conclusion, that unfortunately leads to bad policy decisions.

Suffolk County has spent decades, and millions of dollars, on mosquito control, with little demonstrable success. Coupled with previously poor decisions to disrupt marshland with mosquito ditches and bulkhead, we have created the very stagnant water conditions that lead to larger mosquito populations. Coupled with spraying that also indiscriminately kills mosquito larvae predators, our vector control policies themselves have led to dying marshes unable to control mosquito populations naturally.

PBK prescribes to the precautionary principle, which states in the absence of complete scientific knowledge, we should not participate in activities that may cause harm. We know our marshes are in danger, and under a broad assault from development, wastewater pollution, storm water runoff and other pollutions. We know methroprene is toxic to marsh inhabitants that prey on mosquitoes. We know decades of spraying have done little, if anything to control our mosquito problems. How about we try and let nature work.

Recently, SCVC has made great strides in marsh remediation as part of a holistic approach to vector control. Still, SCVC mainly is an entity armed with spray trucks and contracts for spray helicopters. What if, instead of appropriating money for spraying, we instead equip them to drastically increase their remediation of marsh habitat crucial for mosquito predators to reduce mosquito populations. This would have the added benefits of reducing erosion, increasing coastal resiliency to flooding, improving wildlife nursery habitat, creating more recreational opportunities for residents, combating sea level rise, and improving water quality. In fact, this very work is given priority in SCVC’s own “Vector Control and Wetlands Management Long Term Plan”. Give SCVC the tools to solve the root of the mosquito problem, unhealthy wetlands, rather than continue to spend on the ineffective band-aid of spraying toxics.

Sean O’Neill

Peconic Baykeeper

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