Pittsfield Board of Health OKs proactive mosquito-control spray for flooding events

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project can spray proactively to combat mosquito breeding, the Board of Health agreed on Wednesday.

The new protocols, which require a more formal vote during the board's next meeting, would allow project crews to spray proactively in predetermined areas after flooding events and at certain times of the year to cut back concerning mosquito species when they're breeding.

Wednesday's preliminary vote signals a diversion from protocols agreed upon last year after a swarm of residents questioned the toxicity and effectiveness of the spray. City officials at the time eliminated a provision that had allowed crews to spray upon request when a resident reported high volumes of mosquitoes, deploying instead a protocol that prohibited spray without a demonstrated health risk.

As currently written, protocol requires the control project to either trap a mosquito infected with a virus before spraying or, after flooding events, trap 400 mosquitoes. But Health Director Gina Armstrong said Wednesday she would draft new language reflecting proactive measures agreed upon by the board.

The language, if granted formal approval by the board, would give the project clearance to spray around Wahconah Park, along Elm Street near the Dalton town line and along Holmes Road when river levels rise up the banks. It would also allow crews to spray at certain times of the year, when concerning species — ochlerotatus canadensis and coquillettidia perturbans — are repopulating in southwest Pittsfield near Richmond Pond, near Holmes Road, along Elm Street near the Dalton line and in northeast Pittsfield near Cheshire Road.

Project Superintendent Chris Horton said both offending species serve to "bridge" mosquito-borne illness from animals to humans.

Under the new guidelines, crews could spray without first trapping any mosquitoes. The Board of Health would still need to authorize the spray each time, Horton said, meaning members would verify circumstances meet the new criteria.

Horton said residents near flood-prone areas complained of high mosquito numbers last year, after the city eliminated spray upon request. Mosquitoes invariably lay eggs along river beds during flooding events, Horton said, and demonstrating the risk and waiting for the go-ahead can take a week or more before spraying can happen.

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"The earlier the intervention, the more successful," Horton told the board.

The board unanimously approved Horton's proposal.

Horton told The Eagle he's trying to respond to complaints from residents, which he says track back to flooding events and breeding times that produce high mosquito counts.

"These are what people complain about," he said.

It wasn't a problem in previous years, he said, because residents in flood-prone areas would call and request spray. Then, he said he would identify the high-volume area and would spray to bring down the numbers.

Before last year's controversy, he said, "I had pretty good latitude."

"We kind of lost that preemptive aspect of it," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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