More Tests Could Lead to Less Mosquito Spraying

The aerial application of mosquito larvicide over marshlands in East Hampton Town could be reduced if a proposed new protocol demonstrates less need for it.

The East Hampton Town Trustees and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming are working to persuade vector control officials at the Suffolk Department of Public Works to reduce or eliminate the use of methoprene, a larvicide the county insists is safe but many believe harms non-target species, including crustaceans. A trial ban on methoprene had been proposed for a portion of Accabonac Harbor in Springs; the new protocol would replace that plan.

At the trustees' meeting on Monday, however, Francis Bock, their clerk, told his colleagues of a new plan, under which county officials would train interns from Stony Brook University or staff from the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department to collect samples from the harbor. The county would provide the necessary equipment, analyze the collected samples for mosquito larvae, and treat the area based on that analysis.

"It's not going to eliminate spraying of methoprene," Mr. Bock said. "What they want to do is multiple testings per week . . . The idea is that more testing, on a regular basis, will give them more accurate information as to what's going on." Should conditions allow it, he said, "they can spray less often, theoretically; they can target where they spray more accurately, and they may be able to use a lower dose of the methoprene in the process." The Nature Conservancy, which owns land around Accabonac Harbor, will allow the program on its property, Mr. Bock said.

Details are yet to be determined, but Mr. Bock asked his colleagues if they would agree to shoulder part of the cost, which he said could be between $5,000 and $10,000. The trustees were generally supportive, pending more details of the proposal.

Ms. Fleming credited Tom Iwanejko, who recently took over as director of the Vector Control Division, with the more flexible approach. "From my perspective, you need to do what Director Iwanejko has done, which is to listen to the folks on the ground," she said yesterday, "and bring his expertise in terms of controlling the vectors, and the natural environment, into this conversation, and then listening to what the trustees are saying about what they know on the ground. That combination of knowledge leads to a solution that no one at the start could have outlined. You've got to keep adjusting to the field conditions, with the common goal of reducing or eliminating the application of larvicide to the extent it's possible."

The Department of Public Works does not have adequate staff to conduct the sampling itself, Ms. Fleming said. "That's why it's such an important partnership. We need to marshal all these resources to meet that need. Vector Control folks are delighted we have these resources to provide that data and then they can make the adjustment."

The program is unlikely to resolve the debate over methoprene's effect on non-target species, but that is unnecessary in the short term, Ms. Fleming said. "Everyone agrees it just makes good sense to reduce any chemical application to the extent you can," she said.

"We would like the testing to be done in an effort to reduce the methoprene spraying," said Bill Taylor, a deputy clerk of the trustees, "with the hope that it eventually proves that it's safe to stop the spraying."