With summer approaching, the Division of Vector Control in Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works will soon resume its battle against mosquitoes.
“We’ll basically be conducting surveillance for mosquitoes and primarily treating breeding sites,” said Dominick Ninivaggi, superintendent of the county’s Division of Vector Control. It’s an approach similar to previous years and conforms to a long-term plan passed by the County Legislature in 2007, over objections of environmentalists and the county’s Council on Environmental Quality.
In 2007, the East Hampton Town Board adopted a resolution asking the county to discontinue use of methoprene, but state law prohibits local municipalities from enacting their own laws with respect to pesticide use, Mr. Ninivaggi told the board last year.
The county rarely uses adulticides in East Hampton, Mr. Ninivaggi said. “The only community where we’ve had to use them is Beach Hampton, where we’ve had severe problems in the last couple years. We try to control in the larval stage.”
Last year, despite several cases of West Nile virus in humans in the county and positive tests of mosquitoes in East Hampton, some residents and officials on the South Fork objected to the spraying of methoprene, a larvicide, and resmethrin, an adulticide, citing potential health hazards to humans and non-target species including lobsters and crabs. A 2012 study by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also reported the existence of residues of both pesticides in lobsters harvested from Long Island Sound, though Mr. Ninivaggi stated that that could not have resulted from Suffolk County’s application, citing its minimal use and the distance between application sites and the Sound.
Deborah Klughers, an East Hampton Town Trustee, has had discussions with Mr. Ninivaggi about vector control that she said included concerns about the pesticides’ potential health effects on humans and nontarget species. But a lack of information dispensed to the public, she said, is another serious concern. “Not only are people misunderstanding what the program is, they’re not being given an opportunity to take any precaution,” she said. “They just get sprayed. If the public knew what was going on, maybe they’d be more outraged. Notify the public, and seek alternatives,” she said.
She wants the town to adopt a more aggressive and preventive approach to vector control. “This town can do a lot of things on the municipal level. I’ll try my best as a trustee, but there’s not enough time in the day for me,” she said. The Highway Department, she suggested, should examine catch basins, and the Sanitation Department should eliminate any standing water from its property.
Public service announcements in the media advising residents as to steps they can take would help, she said. “Birdbaths, dog bowls — they need to be empty. No standing water, in tires, buckets. They should drill holes an inch off the bottom of garbage pails so the water can drain out. They shouldn’t be out at dawn or dusk, or [should] put on long sleeves. If people have ponds, they can use killifish or eastern mosquitofish,” she said.
Locally, there is a large population of killifish, which feed on insect larvae, said Mark Abramson, a senior environmental analyst in the town’s Natural Resources Department. “We have closed off some vector ditches in Accabonac [Harbor] and Northwest Creek, which would keep vectors from stormwater input into the bays,” he said. “We’re also trying to keep the killifish that will eat the larvae in those areas.”
But, Mr. Abramson added, “The complaints on mosquitoes outweigh the complaints from people who want to protect anything besides mosquitoes. If they don’t spray, they’re going to get a lot more complaints than from people who are concerned about wildlife or health. But they use the least amount of invasive chemicals to try and specifically target the larval mosquitoes.”
Above all, Ms. Klughers said, “The public has a right to know what the government is doing to them and their environment. Whether it’s good or bad is another discussion, but if the public can know they can take precautions.” Fishermen, she said, have complained about aerial spraying directly above them, as have people kayaking in local waters. “People don’t know what to do. I get people constantly telling me this. They’re just not informed,” she said.
Informing the public is challenging, Mr. Ninivaggi said, because it is difficult to predict precisely when a helicopter will reach a particular area. Wind conditions are also a factor in when and whether aerial spraying will be conducted at a given time. When an adulticide is to be applied, he said, “We use the county’s code red system to phone telephones in the area. For the aerial treatment of salt marshes, we have an e-mail list. We’re always looking for ways to improve public notice.”
Residents can join a “no-spray” registry by downloading a form from the county’s Division of Vector Control Web site and submitting it by fax. The county will “make a good faith effort,” according to the site, to exclude registrants’ property by stopping adulticide spraying from trucks within 150 feet of either side of their property. The registry does not apply to larvicide, nor will it be in effect in the event that the Commissioner of Health declares a public health emergency.