Health experts treat question of harm in mosquito spraying

John Sonderegger; St. Charles Post Editor
Copyright 1998 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 29, 1998

When a subdivision is sprayed for mosquitoes, are the chemicals harmful to residents?

The city of St. Peters brought in two health experts to discuss the issue on "Upfront," the cable channel news program.

Mike Duvall, deputy director of environmental services for St. Charles County, and Bruce Hammond, a board certified toxicologist, appeared on cable Channel 7 recently and agreed that adult mosquito spraying will always be necessary in St. Charles County.

Duvall said that even though the county attempts to control mosquito infestation through larviciding and by controlling mosquito-breeding habitats, adult mosquito spraying is still necessary as a last line of defense.

The geographical composition of the county will always make adult mosquito spraying necessary, Duvall said. The county is bordered by two major rivers, and the county has many smaller water courses and basins. As a result, 40 percent of the acreage in St. Charles County is in a flood plain, which provides an ideal habitat for mosquito breeding.

Duvall said adult mosquito spraying would continue to be necessary because "it's impossible to bring the vast breeding areas in the county completely under control."

Hammond pointed out that an aggressive approach is necessary because of the diseases that can be transmitted by mosquitoes. Two diseases most commonly associated with mosquito infestation are malaria and encephalitis.

The most serious form of viral encephalitis is St. Louis Encephalitis, which was discovered in the St. Louis area in the 1930s. Effects from St. Louis Encephalitis can range from mild to life threatening. Children and the elderly are the most severely affected by the disease, which can have a mortality rate of between 2 and 12 percent. The last serious outbreak of St. Louis Encephalitis in the Midwest was in the mid-1970s.

Hammond said that if local communities don't continue to fight mosquito infestation, it's possible that these diseases could come back. Malaria is growing in Third World countries, and each year 1 million people die from the disease, he said.

Hammond said that every year about 1,000 people in this country are diagnosed with malaria. In most cases, they come in contact with the disease while traveling abroad. But some get the disease here, and one theory suggests that a small population of mosquitoes in the United States carries malaria. Because of that threat, he said, it is important to keep mosquitoes under control.

Ron Darling, environmental coordinator for St. Peters, also was a guest on "UpFront," and he outlined the city's four-part Integrated Pest Management System. He said the city attacks the mosquito problem through public education, larviciding and employing natural controls. But the city still has to use spraying for adult mosquitoes as a last resort.

Mayor Tom Brown said, "We owe it to our residents to protect the public health and safety of the community. To do that, we have to combat mosquito infestation at all levels. We rely on adult spraying as a last resort, but we are located between two major rivers and a change in the wind direction and velocity can bring adult, disease-carrying mosquitoes out of the river bottoms and into our subdivisions in a matter of a few hours."

City officials hear complaints about "fogging" or spraying for mosquitoes all the time. This year, they even faced a challenge in the courts.

Susan Carroll of St. Peters felt that her 7-year-old son, Louis, was being harmed by the spraying. She said he has been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, and she filed a motion in St. Charles County Circuit Court asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the city from spraying pesticides in a subdivision next to her home on Claim Jumper Court.

Earlier this month, St. Charles County Circuit Judge Grace Nichols denied her request. City attorneys argued that higher courts have not recognized multiple chemical sensitivity as a valid disease.

The "Upfront" show in which Hammond, Duvall and Darling are guests airs on cable Channel 7 through Monday. The shows are on at noon and 8 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. Monday, 2 p.m. Tuesday, 1 p.m. Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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