Pesticide spraying plan draws concerns; BLSG district readies for mosquitoes

BRANDON-LEICESTER-SALISBURY-GOSHEN — Resistance that emerged last fall over the local mosquito district’s intent to spray pesticides and the permit needed to do it has resurfaced.
Officials from Vermont Law School and one Salisbury resident were quoted in a recent VTDigger news story saying they had concerns about the mosquito adulticide being sprayed by the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen Insect Control District. As the BLSG awaits a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the law school in South Royalton is pressuring the department to include in the permit more restrictions on spraying the pesticide.
As required by law, the BLSG issued a notice of intent to spray last fall in the member towns next season regarding the insecticides Malathion and Permethrin. If the DEC issued a Vermont Pesticide General Permit to BLSG it is good for five years.
The BLSG has been using the same two insecticides to control mosquitoes in the district for roughly 20 years, and the battle between property owners who do not want to be sprayed and the quality of life issues for those who do has been going on just as long.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is the sole permitter and regulator of pesticide application in the state. The DEC’s main concern is waterways and water quality with regard to pesticides.
Agency of Agriculture Agrichemical Management Chief Cary Giguere acknowledged that insect control districts must obtain permits from his agency to apply larvicide treatments (which kill mosquitoes before they hatch), but that permits are not required to spray the adulticide (which kill flying adult mosquitoes). The contractor who actually sprays the adulticide must be licensed by the Agency of Agriculture — meaning that person must demonstrate the ability to properly apply the substances.
Giguere said that, in response to concerns the agency received from within the Rutland County district, the Agency of Agriculture is likely to begin drawing up adulticide regulations this summer.
But Dr. Ben Lawton, who heads up the BLSG Insect Control District, took issue with the VTDigger story. He particularly criticized one part where the DEC’s Misha Cetner was paraphrased saying that a person or entity seeking a pesticide application permit must provide some public notice of spraying and provide a plan to deal with the effects of discharging the pesticide into state waters.
But, Lawton complained, the story did not note that the BLSG does conform to that law with public notification on the district website when mosquito spraying is planned. Nor does the story include the BLSG policy for property owners to opt out of spraying, creating “no spray zones” near organic farms or near property owners with health problems that may be exacerbated by the adulticide.
In fact, a required legal notice regarding the intent to spray adulticides appears in last week’s edition of The Reporter with information on how to opt out of the spraying and where to find more information.
Lawton included his corrections in the comments section below the VTDigger article online:
“Notices of intent to apply insecticides are posted at the town clerk’s offices, in the local newspapers and through public service announcements and on our website, blsgmosquito.wordpress.com.
“Any citizen can opt out of adulticiding and their property boundaries will be posted as a no-spray zone!!!”
Lawton went on to say that the district uses ultra-low-volume applications (the minimum effective volume of a pesticide) against the flying adult mosquitoes.
“Both ground and aerial applications have been the standard method of mosquito adulticiding worldwide for more than 45 years,” Lawton wrote. “The ultimate goal is targeted applications with minimal non-target exposure.”
Lawton also noted that other flying insects do not appear to be affected by mosquitocidal sprays if their body mass is larger than that of a mosquito, and that the amounts of the adulticide found in local waterways are almost undetectable.
“The current weight of scientific evidence indicates that human health risk from residential exposure to mosquito insecticide are low and not likely to exceed levels of concern,” Lawton said. “Furthermore, the results indicate that, based on human health criteria, the risk from West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) exceed the risks from exposure to mosquito insecticide.”
EEE is a rare but often-deadly virus carried by a specific breed of mosquito that was found in the Whiting swamp. Two area men died of EEE in 2012, and a number of cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in the area over the last 20 years, although there have been no fatal human cases.
The 2012 deaths were the first two cases of EEE ever in Vermont and led to aerial spraying by the state Health Department. EEE was detected again in mosquitoes in Whiting in 2013 and 2014, as well as in Grand Isle in 2014, but there have been no other human EEE cases since 2012.
Malathion is a pesticide used widely across the U.S. to combat nuisance insects around homes, orchards and cropland since the 1950s.
Brandon, Salisbury, Leicester, and Goshen lie in an area of Vermont prone to mosquitoes due to low-lying swamps that stretch from just north of Sudbury through Whiting to Cornwall. It is a breeding ground for mosquitoes to the degree that swarms of the insects have plagued residents and visitors alike for decades. The BLSG was formed in 1987 in an effort to combat the issue.
Larvacides are placed in areas of the swamp to kill the mosquito larvae laid there before they can mature. Adulticide is applied from sprayers mounted on the back of BLSG trucks that follow certain routes around Lake Dunmore, Brandon and Goshen.
Pittsford residents voted on Town Meeting Day to join the BLSG as a full member town to be sprayed for mosquitos in addition to having wetland areas treated with larvacide. The measure increased the town’s contribution to the BLSG from $15,000 to $24,638. There will also be four annual installments of $17,750 to buy into the equity of assets owned by the BLSG District.
Taxpayers in each of the district’s member towns approve an annual BLSG buy-in in their towns’ budgets in order to control the mosquito problem.
Like most pesticides, 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. There is no evidence that limited exposure from spraying causes cancer.
Giguere was set to meet with DEC and Vermont Law School officials last week to discuss the adulticide issue, but results of that meeting were unavailable at press time.
In the meantime, a bill has moved through the Vermont Senate that would lay significant liability on groups or companies that use chemical applications. S.197 “proposes to hold any person who releases a toxic substance strictly, jointly, and severally liable for any harm resulting from the release.”
The bill also proposes to establish a “private right of action for medical monitoring damages incurred due to exposure to a toxic substance.”
The bill was significantly amended, however, before the Senate approved it and it moved to the House Judiciary Committee on March 23.
A key sentence was added that freed the BLSG and any other insect control district from any future liability:
“‘Toxic substance’ shall not mean: (i) a pesticide regulated by the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets.”
Aside from the cost of the larvacide and adulticide, insurance is one of the largest expenses within the BLSG’s budget. Some say that opening the district to liability for perceived damage from pesticide spraying likely would have spelled the demise of the BLSG altogether.

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