Mosquito spraying in Pittsfield will continue, but change recommended

PITTSFIELD — The city Committee on Public Health and Safety stopped short Thursday of discontinuing the use of adulticide mosquito spraying, but unanimously recommended to the Board of Health that spraying only take place when there is an assessed health risk posed to the public, rather than accepting requests by residents.

During the more than two-hour meeting at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center, city councilors heard concerns about the chemical spraying from residents and expressed their own to Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project Superintendent Chris Horton.

"I'm all good for spraying when there's an overwhelming health benefit," City Council President Peter Marchetti said. "I'm not convinced that just because there's a lot of mosquitoes, we should be spraying."

Along with other preventive measures, like the treatment of larvae, the Berkshire Mosquito Control Project uses adulticide spraying to mitigate summertime mosquito numbers in certain parts of the city, which has prompted pushback from residents concerned about the potential danger to the environment and risks to humans.

Marchetti and City Councilor Helen Moon petitioned the board to discontinue the use of the chemical spray. The councilors settled instead on limiting the use of the chemical spray to when the state Department of Public Heath declares that there is a moderate risk level for probability of locally acquired human disease, or when there is a declaration of low risk but there are also high trap counts of certain types of mosquitoes.

Moon, a nurse, said she does her research based on evidence and is not convinced that the potential risks associated with the chemical spray is worth its benefits.

Horton insisted to the councilors that while the chemical spray is toxic to consume, it can be sprayed over wetlands and will not affect humans or animals in the area.

But Moon pointed out a document on the state's website that indicates "pyrethroid adulticides are considered to be highly toxic to fish and bees. Therefore, these products are not permitted to be applied to or near open water bodies or in sensitive environments such as wetlands."

The language in that document needed to be addressed on a state level because the chemicals Horton uses are permitted for application near water and wetlands, Horton said.

The councilors also were skeptical that continuing the spraying might be sending a false sense of security to residents that they are protected against West Nile virus and other diseases, when, in reality, the spray is localized and is not guaranteed to catch every one of the infected insects.

Each year since 2015, Horton has sprayed for mosquitoes in 1-mile-radius portions in the city when a mosquito collected in one of its traps tested positive for a transmittable disease and the state deemed there to be an elevated risk to the public.

In 2015, there were two public sprayings, in 2016 there was one, and last year there were four, he said.

But the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project also responds to dozens of requests each summer from property owners with large numbers of mosquitoes, to apply localized chemical spraying to their lawns. When Horton responds to the homes, he will judge whether to spray based on how many of the insects land within a certain time frame.

Under the Committee of Public Health and Safety recommendation, which will have to be voted on by the Board of Health at its next meeting, the Mosquito Control Project will no longer be able to spray private properties simply because of the high number of mosquitoes there.

Going forward, every spraying will ultimately have to be approved by the Board of Health.

Horton will be able to continue his collection of data from homeowners, but will need to examine traps to determine whether a spray is necessary.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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