PITTSFIELD -- The Health Board has reaffirmed support for the mosquito control program in Pittsfield, despite comments from residents staunchly opposed to the ongoing efforts.
The board heard from opponents and from ardent supporters of the program this week. Lynn Wallace spoke against spraying for mosquitos and also read a letter from Kathy Lloyd, who has spoken against the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project program at prior board meetings but could not attend Wednesday.
The insect spray used here, called Duet, has been shown to be harmful to the environment and to children, Lloyd contended in her letter, and to be ineffective in halting the spread of diseases like West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
Lloyd urged the board members to "educate yourselves" on research on the insecticide and vote to halt spraying in the city. She said it should be up to individuals to hire services to spray their property if they so choose.
Another resident, Nicki Kubek, also challenged the effectiveness and safety of spraying and said the city is "not making a good trade-off." She urged alternative methods of controlling mosquitos, such as installing bat houses because they consume insects.
Christopher Horton, superintendent of the countywide control program, reiterated that the insecticide used has been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and has been in use since the 1980s, so that any problems with its use would have surfaced by now.
Horton said very small amounts are sprayed from slow-moving trucks, at a rate of a tablespoon over several football fields of area. The spraying is done after dusk, he said, to avoid bees and other wildlife.
The county program, which also tries to eliminate standing water where mosquitos breed, treats water in catch basins with levacide tablets and regularly tests for disease in captured mosquitos, uses methods that have been proven effective nationally for about a century, Horton said.
At this point in the season, "we are getting a lot of requests for spraying, about 120," Horton said. The areas are primarily in neighborhoods near floodplains and around water bodies, he said, adding that only problem areas are targeted and residents can opt out on spraying for their property.
Sharon Shields of Kenilworth Street, who attended the meeting, said mosquitos are swarming throughout her area. "I am begging you to come spray in those neighborhoods," she said.
She described going to her car and having more than 20 mosquitos fly inside as she opened the vehicle's door, and neighbors who cannot enjoy their swimming pool because of the insects.
Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell said many constituents have contacted him to request spraying. "I have not had one email or phone call in favor of not spraying," he said. "They are asking me, ‘When is it going to be done?' ‘'
In discussing the comments, board member Dr. Cynthia Geyer said she had researched the effectiveness of spraying and found reports that it has reduced the number of mosquitos and resulted in fewer cases of disease -- and has not been shown to have any long-term toxicity.
Horton said the program will map the next area to be sprayed with the goal of spraying next week. Information on the targeted sites will be available on the city's website, www.cityofpittsfield.org, along with additional information and instructions on opting property out of the treatment.
Board Chairwoman Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi said health officials have carefully researched the mosquito program and constantly review its progress. "Spraying is not ever our first option," she said.
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