The Mast-Head: Troubling Spray

I can tell that it is spreading a mosquito-control pesticide on the salt marshes at Napeague Harbor or at Accabonac

On early, still mornings at this time of the year I often hear the sound of a helicopter near where I live. It is a small chopper, and from its repeated passes, I can tell that it is spreading a mosquito-control pesticide on the salt marshes at Napeague Harbor or at Accabonac.

Quite a number of people I respect, including Biddle Duke, who founded The Star’s East magazine last year, and Kevin McAllister, the former Peconic Baykeeper and the head of Defend H20, an environmental group, say that what the helicopter is doing is far from benign. They say the airborne methoprene used to kill mosquito larvae is having devastating environmental effects.

Suffolk Vector Control, which runs the mosquito program, insists there is no risk at all and laughs at its opponents. The thing is, there is no counting the many times have we heard government tell us that there is no harm from something it is doing only to find out later it was dead wrong.

Why Vector Control is so sure of itself is a bit of a mystery. Longstanding product information about methoprene says it is fatal for frogs and salamanders. It can bioaccumulate in certain fish and is known to be toxic to crustaceans, such as the bottom-of-the-food-chain grass shrimp found in the salt marshes where methoprene is broadcast. Suspicions are that the pesticide may have played a part in the region’s sharp decline in in-shore lobster landings.

Biddle and Kevin are far from alone in their bid to stop methoprene application on marshes. It has been banned in Connecticut for use in coastal areas. The East Hampton Town Board and Town Trustees want it discontinued. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. supports efforts to cut its use. The Perfect Earth Project, based in Springs, is among the stronger voices against it. County officials remains resistant, though there has been discussion of a limited trial ban next year over portions of Accabonac.

The case against methoprene is laid out in a petition at change.org, which, the last time I looked, had about 880 signatures on its way to a 1,000-supporter goal. The actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Alec Baldwin have signed on, as have members of both the local Republican and Democratic political committees. On the fair chance that they are right — and the county is wrong — you might want to sign on as well.