News & Bulletins

Fact Sheet 12
Mosquito Spraying and West Nile Virus

Excerpted from No Spray Coalition Website

In 1999 and 2000, New Yorkers were exposed to massive amounts of toxic pesticides by the Giuliani administration in a panicked overreaction to the alleged threat of West Nile Virus (WNV - a disease that the Department of Health´s own press releases admit is extremely hard to become infected by and is very rarely fatal. We were repeatedly sprayed by helicopters and trucks in our homes, in public parks, while shopping, while playing in schoolyards, while eating in outdoor restaurants and while traveling to and from work and school.

Now the possible spray area for mosquitoes said to be carrying West Nile Virus has been extended to cities up and down the entire east coast, and as far west as the Mississippi River, even though there have been no human fatalities in the US from West Nile encephalitis apart from eight people in New York in the last two years. Spraying has taken place in almost every county in New York State, as well as in New Jersey, parts of Connecticut (which used Scourge/Resmethrin), Maryland, Massachusetts and along the entire eastern seaboard from Maine all the way to Florida.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the hazards of indiscriminate pesticide use, plans are underway to extend the broadcast spraying for West Nile-carrying mosquitoes to urban areas such as Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan. On the west coast, massive indiscriminate spraying of urban areas is already underway for other insects.

New York City remains the epicenter, and what happens there will dramatically affect what happens everywhere else. Public health experts, mosquito control technicians, and scientists who specialize in studying the effects of pesticide exposure warn that this unprecedented use of chemicals on densely packed urban populations will not only be ineffective for mosquito control but pose a far greater health risk than West Nile Virus.

The main chemical used in 1999, Malathion (Fyfanon ULV), is described by the NYC Mayor´s Chem-Bio Handbook - the City´s official guide to handling chemical and biological emergencies which is distributed to every police precinct, ambulance and fire truck - as a toxic nerve gas directly related to those used in WWII. Anvil (Sumithrin + Piperonyl Butoxide + Petroleum-related byproducts), the synthetic pyrethroid nerve gas sprayed from trucks in 2000, is known to cause asthma, disruption of sexual hormones and various other health disorders, and has been linked to breast cancer in women and diminished sperm counts in men.

During 1999 and 2000, NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer repeatedly warned the Mayor that it was illegal for any company to describe these toxic pesticides as `safe.´ The AG admonished Mayor Giuliani, as well as spokespeople for the Department of Health and other officials, to stop making such false claims. Giuliani has repeatedly ignored those reprovals. `There´s absolutely no danger to anyone from this spraying... There are some people who are engaged in the business of wanting to frighten people out of their minds,´ he said. (Newsday, 9/14/99) The Mayor continues to portray those of us concerned with the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide spraying as `environmental terrorists´ who `like to get you angry because it gets them on television.´

In actuality, the City has disregarded virtually all the directions and warnings included with these chemicals by their manufacturers. Contrary to both the directions on the labels and existing environmental law the sprayings were done directly on humans, over bodies of water, without sufficient warning and more often than not at times when it is known to be completely ineffective for killing mosquitoes. Many observers, including some of the mosquito control experts directly involved in the spraying, believed it was being done more for public relations than for public health.

New York City´s indiscriminate spraying of malathion, resmethrin, sumithrin, permethrin - along with their `inert´ ingredients and synergists (piperonyl butoxide) - has put the public´s health and natural environment in great danger. The precautions that were taken to warn asthma sufferers, people with compromised immune systems, cancer survivors, people with allergies, and those facing repeated exposure (homeless people, subway workers, spraytruck drivers, etc.) - let alone everyone else - have been virtually non-existent. Not even a hotline was established by any NYC agency for people to call who were made sick from the spray. (The WNV ≥hotline≤ set up by the NYC Department of Health was answered by non-unionized, ill-informed operators in Pennsylvania, who had no idea what was going on and had no knowledge or instructions concerning people calling in who had been exposed to pesticides.) To top it off, pressures have been brought to bear on scientists and health professionals to remain silent in public concerning evidence of the dangers of pesticide spraying on densely populated urban areas. As a direct effect of the pesticide exposure, thousands of people suffered impaired respiratory and neurological health, including many of the workers who were temporarily hired by the City to do the actual spraying. Thousands more are expected to experience long term health problems which may not manifest as symptoms for many years including cancer, hormonal imbalances, neurological damage and possible genetic mutations.

Though the environmental impact of WNV spray operations in the Tri-State area over the past two years has yet to be fully tallied (and no official Environmental Impact Statement has yet been issued), these pesticides are known to severely impact many aquatic species and nontarget insects. There is a pending lawsuit regarding the impact of these pesticides on the widespread die-off of crabs and lobsters in Long Island Sound.

Thousands of fish, lobsters, birds and beneficial insects like butterflies and bees were killed by the spraying. Our waterways were polluted. Even the Connecticut Sea Grant (Sea Grant is a Federal Agency which sponsors regional projects on coastal marine problems usually tied with industry)notes with alarm that pesticide spraying is implicated in the lobster die-off. Repeated spraying has severely impacted vital ecosystems, and the offspring of mosquitoes that survived the spray are likely to now be growing increasingly resistant to the pesticides applied.

For more information, contact:

PO Box 334
Peck Slip Station
New York, NY 10272-0334

Hotline: (718) 670-7110
Phone: (718) 670-7110
Media: (212) 343-2209

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