Mosquito fogging begins, renewing concerns
Citizens say they aren’t being warned; county promises more notice
For four years, Matt Ball spent his summer evenings driving a large truck down the middle of neighborhood roads in Paradise and Magalia, leaving a fog of chemicals in his wake.
For those who didn’t expect the mist, it could be a frightening vision. And last summer, a number of Chico residents raised concerns about the mist, and the lack of warning about those trucks rolling through town.
But for Ball, who took over as district manager for the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District last month after Jim Camy’s retirement, the response was overwhelmingly positive. To replicate that reaction, the district is looking to give neighborhoods more warnings this season.
Tuesday (July 29), the district started spraying insecticide to reduce the population of adult mosquitoes in southern, eastern and central Chico.
Central Chico is the district’s primary concern, with the recent discovery of three dead birds that tested positive for the potentially fatal West Nile virus. (There have been no human cases so far this year in Butte County.) Other components that triggered the spraying are high populations of adult mosquitoes with the ability to transmit the virus and the state’s virus-modeling program, which identified Chico as a high-risk area.
Some might find it necessary, then, to spray insecticide to ward off mosquitoes. Others say it’s a cause for concern.
Maggi Barry has come together in opposition with other citizens concerned about the potentially harmful effects of spraying. Their group is called Safety Without Added Toxins (SWAT). While the group of six core members cannot stop the spraying, Barry insists: “If you’re going to poison us, at least let us know.”
Ball, who since driving those trucks served as full-time operator for mosquito control and an entomologist, said he has noticed the attendance of SWAT members at the Board of Trustees’ monthly meetings and said the group has had an impact on the district.
“It’s definitely made us look at the notification system more in depth,” he said.
Currently the district can only post a limited amount of information on the Butte County Health Department’s Web site, with the maximum warning time being the morning of spraying (the trucks spray at dusk).
That will change when the district gets its own Web site at the end of August. Ball hopes that with the new site, the district can give the public a 24-hour notice, thus allowing people to make arrangements if needed.
The agency has been working “hours on end” according to Ball to construct the Web site that has a “fogging advisory” button citizens can click on that tells the dates and times of fogging, weather permitting.
If the public would like to receive fogging notices and location maps directly via e-mail, they can contact the district office at 533-6038 or 342-7350 to be added to the district’s e-mail notification list.
In all of the 60 years that the district has been fogging, Ball said there have been no reports of problems with humans or nature connected to the chemicals. “There’s a science to spraying for adult mosquitoes. We don’t just spray chemicals around,” he said.
But Barry is concerned about the chemicals used to spray for adult mosquitoes and their potential harmful effects. The insecticide fog is composed of pyrethrum, piperonyl butoxide (PBO), and oil. Pyrethrum is derived from the chrysanthemum flower and exterminates mosquitoes and other insects. PBO acts as a synergist that allows pyrethrum to act faster and last longer.
Large amounts of pyrethrum can be harmful, but the amount of the chemical used in fogging is small and will not cause much damage, Ball said. Nonetheless, people with asthma and weak immune systems such as small children and the elderly should remain inside during spraying according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barry has seen the effects of this and said a close friend had “an acute asthma attack and an acute migraine headache” as a result of the spraying.
Barry said another one of SWAT’s main goals is to get the district to focus more on how to prevent mosquitoes from developing into the adult stage so that spraying of adult mosquitoes can be eliminated. “Our focus is beefing up the education and prevention component,” she said.
The district is doing this by going to public classrooms, the Silver Dollar Fair in Chico and the Butte County Fair in Gridley, and it is looking into putting a booth at the Thursday Night Market in Chico to educate the public. Ball said that some ways the public can reduce mosquito numbers are to eliminate standing pools of water in yards, clean dirty swimming pools, run the sprinklers less, and wear repellent.
Ball says that lmost all of the people in the county greatly appreciate the spraying. During his days as a truck driver, people would clap or offer him food to show their appreciation.
“It’s nice to know you’re protecting public health,” he said.