Group fights mosquito permit
BRANDON, LEICESTER, SALISBURY, GOSHEN — Environmentalists seek to block the state permit allowing the local insect control district to spray pesticides to control mosquitoes.
The Boston-based Toxics Action Center and the Environmental Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School on June 13 filed with the state Environmental Court an appeal of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s May 16 Pesticide General Permit for the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen Insect Control District.
The permit allows the BLSG to spray the pesticides Malathion and Permethrin along the district’s roadways to kill adult mosquitoes. As required by law, the BLSG issued a notice of intent (NOI) last fall to spray in the member towns this season regarding the insecticides. 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, 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 appeal comes as no surprise, since property owners in Salisbury have gone public with their concerns over the last few years and gave public comments about the pending DEC permit during the public comment period in March. They enlisted the help of VLS to help fight the spraying of pesticides near their organic farms and local waterways. The BLSG sprays around Otter Creek, Fern Lake and Lake Dunmore.
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.
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.
A CLOSER LOOK
Woody Little is the Vermont and New Hampshire Community Organizer for Toxics Action Center, a Boston-based environmental action non-profit that addresses air and water pollution issues across New England.
In a press release accompanying the appeal, Little writes that “Neighboring areas have developed successful programs to reduce mosquitos that do not include spraying chemical pesticides, and Toxics Action Center is calling on the DEC to force the (BLSG) District to consider safer alternatives instead, as is required by the law.”
When asked, Little cited the neighboring Lemon Fair Insect Control District, which comprises Bridport, Weybridge and Cornwall. He said officials in that district only use the organic larvacide that the BLSG uses, and does not spray any pesticide to kill adult mosquitoes.
“No one living there is saying that the mosquito problem is so much worse because of that,” Little said.
But it was noted that the BLSG is not only a larger district, but also a more populated one, with thousands of visitors flocking to Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake at this time each year.
Little conceded that point, adding that the purpose of the appeal is clear.
“(The appeal) is not going to lead to the BLSG not using adulticide,” Little acknowledged, “but based on talking to folks in the area, there are lots of things the DEC can do to improve the impacts.”
Little suggested expanding buffer zones and more strongly enforcing the “No Spray” operations in those areas, as well as improving the BLSG’s public notification process, and better alerting residents to spraying.
“There is a lot the BLSG could do to run a better program,” Little said. “I haven’t been convinced that adulticide is really helping the mosquito issue in the district.”
Little said that the appellants would also like to see a more thorough evaluation of impact the Malathion and Permethrin have on non-target organisms, meaning other insects that are not mosquitos, and fish and wildlife, as well as public health.
“The BLSG just has not done the evaluation of those impacts,” Little said. “The DEC requires the evaluation and use of the least harmful approach possible, and we don’t think the BLSG has done that.”
INSECT CONTROL DISTRICT
For its part, the BLSG says that as a volunteer organization with limited funding from member towns and the state, it is taking a responsible approach to combatting the local mosquito issue.
Mathis did make one comment on this issue when reached by phone on Monday:
“It’s not really our battle,” he said. “It’s between the appellants and the DEC.”
The BLSG does currently conform to the law regarding public notification on the district website when mosquito spraying is planned. There is a 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.
While there are a number of factors that play in the severity of the mosquito problem in the BLSG district, most residents would agree that problem has improved since 1989, when the issue made national news. An Associated Press reporter that year interviewed local residents, who complained that backyard barbeques and other outdoor activities were almost out of the question because of the mosquito issue. The following year, the Agency of Agriculture appropriated $140,000 to help the BLSG.
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. The adulticide, which kills fully grown, flying mosquitoes, is applied from sprayers mounted on the back of BLSG trucks that follow certain routes around Lake Dunmore, Brandon and Goshen.
Voters in the town of Pittsford 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 town’s budget in order to control the mosquito problem.
More recently, the public health issues associated with mosquitos have become increasingly dire. The rise first in cases of West Nile Virus and more recently Eastern Equine Encephalitis have made mosquitoes a public health issue over the last 20 years.
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 two decades, 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.
But VLS attorney Mason Overstreet in a press release said the appellants want the state and the BLSG to treat pesticide spraying as a last resort.
“The spraying authorized by the Department of Environmental Conservation violates state and federal laws designed to protect human health, water quality and endangered species,” Overstreet said. “The law requires the District to use non-harmful alternatives whenever practical. Chemical pesticides should only be used as a last resort.”
Toxic Action Center’s Woody Little said that a statement of questions specific to the appeal would be issued soon.
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