Mosquito spraying plan opposed in Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen bug district
BRANDON — Efforts to renew a notice of intent to spray for mosquitoes in the local insect control district are being met with resistance.
The Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Insect Control District recently issued a notice of intent, or NOI, to spray the insecticides Malathion and Permethrin in the member towns next season. The NOI is issued under the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Vermont Pesticide General Permit and, if approved, is good for five years.
The BLSG has been using the same two insecticides to control mosquitoes in the district for roughly 20 years.
But a letter to property owners along the spray routes in Leicester and Brandon issued in the last few weeks was urging property owners to submit public comments on the NOI to the Agency of Natural Resources in an effort to prevent the permit from being issued.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group was also involved in the cause, urging property owners in a separate letter to submit comments by the Sept. 25 deadline “to make Vermont toxic free.”
But BLSG Board Chair Dr. Ben Lawton said that the letter to “neighbors” along the spray routes contains a host of misinformation and untruths that he addressed in an interview with The Reporter on Monday.
Lawton said he believes one property owner, Lesley Wright of Leicester, is behind the letter. Wright brought suit against the district three years ago with the Vermont Law School. Wright’s property is on the district’s “no spray” list, claiming she has an organic farm.
Lawton said Wright’s testimony was taken at the DEC rules committee meeting and many of her concerns were incorporated into the new permit guidelines for the BLSG, particularly as it relates to spraying insecticide near waterways.
A man who answered the phone at Wright’s residence on Fern Lake Road Tuesday morning confirmed that Wright drafted the letter to neighbors regarding the BLSG Notice of Intent, but Wright did not return a call for comment by press time Tuesday.
Malathion is a pesticide used widely across the U.S. to combat nuisance insects around homes, orchards and cropland since the 1950s.
As a pesticide, Malathion and Permethrin are not without their drawbacks. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, Malathion is highly toxic to bees, some fish and birds, but is considered lowly toxic to mammals. There is no known cancer risk to humans, and the risk to pregnant women is considered low as well.
Permethrin is more toxic to fish than insects or mammals, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, but offers little threat to pregnant women. If eaten in large quantities, it can cause cancer, but there is no evidence that limited exposure from spraying causes cancer.
But the letter to neighbors claims that exposure to the pesticides used by the BLSG “during pregnancy and early childhood has been associated with developmental delays, neurological disease, leukemia, and lowered sperm count,” among other afflictions, but cites no sources for this information.
The letter’s first claim is that the BLSG does not properly notify residents when insecticide spraying will occur.
“That’s not true,” Lawton said. “It’s posted on our website. In fact, now we’re even posting more specifics as to when and where we’re going to be spraying. That was a requirement of the permit.”
The letter also claims that the BLSG does not operate the adulticide spraying based on scientific data, but on complaints or the BLSG administrator’s judgment call.
“That’s not true,” Lawton said. “It’s all part of the Pesticide General Permit. We have thresholds we have to meet that are set by the state.”
The letter goes on to say that the BLSG “does not recognize the need for formal buffer zones for schools, summer camps, state parks, organic farms, or the homes of chemically-sensitive individuals.”
“Wrong,” Lawton said. “First of all, anyone with a sensitivity, all they have to do is notify the district that they don’t want to be sprayed. We put a notice in the newspaper every spring asking people with sensitivities or those who don’t want to be sprayed to notify us. And schools and parks generally want to be sprayed because there are mosquitoes and kids playing. We’ve generally always treated those areas but at nighttime when there is nobody there.”
Lawton added that the BLSG does not spray state parks since those areas are under state jurisdiction.
People who do not want to be sprayed must notify the BLSG in writing every year, regardless of how many years they have been a no-spray area. The district says that’s because people move, property changes hands and the district, an all-volunteer organization, can’t keep track from one year to the next without something in writing.
As for honoring the buffer zones, Lawton said that BLSG spray truck drivers are required to honor those zones and do so.
The letter goes on to claim that the BLSG is not required to do any water testing of local water bodies to back up the claim that the pesticide is not affecting those lakes and streams.
“That’s what this whole permit is about,” Lawton said. “Water quality. We don’t spray water or water areas.”
As for concerns about drifting pesticides toward the lakes and streams during spraying, Lawton said the pesticides being used are designed not to drift.
“There is no residue with the fogging pesticides we use,” Lawton said. “It’s an ultra-low volume form of pesticide. Nighttime spraying dissipates before morning. We don’t spray when it’s raining or if there is a chance it will rain, or if it’s breezy or windy to also reduce the chance of any drift.”
Lastly, the letter claims that the BLSG’s primary responsibility is nuisance control of mosquitoes, and although their NOI suggests that chemical sprays can deter EEE and West Nile, they offer no supporting evidence to indicate that spraying adulticides will impact these diseases—if and when they emerge.”
In 2013, Brandon and Sudbury were both ground zero for the state’s first two cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, a disease carried by mosquitoes. Both cases resulted in fatalities, and led the state to perform aerial pesticide spraying over the area in an effort to prevent more cases. No new cases of EEE have been reported in the area since 2013.
The same cannot be said for West Nile Virus, which is also carried by mosquitoes. Cases come up in Vermont every year. In fact, just this week, the state Department of Health announced that the first case of West Nile in the state this year was confirmed in Addison County last week (see story, pg. 2).
A visit to the Department of Health website urges Vermonters to prevent mosquito bites and the threat of contracting mosquito-borne illnesses by covering up exposed skin and wearing insect repellent.
Lawton said the BLSG has spent more money this year on mosquito control than any other time since it began in the 1970s, roughly $350,000. He said $286,000 came from the state to buy and apply larvacide to the swamp areas and keep mosquito hatchings to a minimum. An additional $70,000 of the BLSG budget was spent on the spraying of adulticides, Malathion and Permethrin. Towns in the district pay into the BLSG to have their towns sprayed each year.
“In an ideal world, we’d love to have unlimited funds to control mosquitoes with just the larvacide,” Lawton said, ‘but they aren’t all killed that way, and the ones that hatch and mature are the ones that can carry EEE and West Nile.
“We are dedicated to protecting the public health of the residents of our area who enjoy the outdoors and to not have an adverse effect on the environment,” Lawton said.
For more information about the BLSG, visit the website, blsgmosquito.wordpress.com. Click on the “Menu” box in the upper righthand corner of the home page for information regarding public notices, applying for “no spray” status, maps and pesticides.
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