SWAT aims to stop fogging

Group says chemicals are greater threat than West Nile virus

Chico State senior Erin Dacayanan doesn’t use an air conditioner and keeps her bedroom window open most nights. She understands the threat of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus—yet she is more nervous about the pesticides being sprayed by the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District.

“I want to live a chemical-free lifestyle—it’s really hard to do that when a truck comes by and sprays my neighborhood,” she said. “It scares me, too.”

Dacayanan has joined the newly formed Safety Without Added Toxins (SWAT) group, which held a community meeting Tuesday (Aug. 26) at the Chico Grange. A few dozen people turned up to learn about pesticide fogging and the risks that may be associated with the practice.

SWAT member Amy Miller says she doesn’t think everyone knows that Chico has neighborhood pesticide foggings, or that the risks associated with the pesticides may be worse than the risk of contracting West Nile virus.

Keynote speaker Paul Schramski, state director of Pesticide Watch, said more than 3 million pounds of pesticides are used in Butte County yearly. He questioned whether the chemicals used to kill mosquitoes should be added to this “toxic soup.”

The fogging insecticide is a mixture of pyrethrum, piperonyl butyl oxide and oil. Pyrethrum is derived from the chrysanthemum flower and acts to immobilize mosquitoes and other insects, such as flies and crickets.

While there isn’t a lot of research showing the longtime health effects associated with the pesticides, or their true effectiveness, Schramski said they are not the only choice and are not the most effective in killing adult mosquitoes. In fact, they may actually make the problem worse.

“Every year we have to use stronger pesticides, or it won’t work,” he explained, since mosquitoes that survive the fogging build a resistance, leading to a resurgence of mosquito-borne disease. The most effective way to tame mosquito populations is at the source, by eliminating larvae sites. “Anything that holds water and is stagnant tends to be a good breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he explained.

SWAT is also concerned about the county’s notification process. This month the mosquito abatement district launched its new Web site (www.bcmvcd.com), which offers general information about the fogging, neighborhood maps and a fogging advisory for the day—spraying is always done at dusk. Still, SWAT members say, the only direct method of notification is an e-mail list that sends messages out the day of the fogging.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people with asthma stay indoors while pesticides are being sprayed, as well as small children.

“Even when the truck is driving down the street, shouldn’t it sound like an ice cream truck so you know it’s coming?” Schramski asked.

Scott Gruendl, a Chico City Councilman and Glenn County’s public health director, attended the SWAT meeting.

In Glenn County, he said, the fogging trucks have orange lights and blinking arrows, as well as a beeper that can be heard two blocks away. Gruendl noted that the health department and mosquito abatement district aren’t separate entities, as they are Butte County, and also said they are surveying birds and studying the effect pesticides may have on honey bee populations and how landscapes may affect mosquito activity.

SWAT encourages people to avoid being outdoors or taking precautions during prime mosquito biting hours (usually at dawn and dusk), such as using insect repellent, ensuring window and door screens are in good condition and getting rid of bodies of standing water.

SWAT will hold a second community meeting Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. The location is yet to be determined. For more information, call 891-6424 or e-mail swat@pesticidewatch.org.