Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 20 August 2010 00:00
Last week, much of Nassau County was sprayed with a pesticide known as “Scourge” for West Nile Virus. In Port Washington, the spraying was carried out through targeted ground spraying by trucks. The Nassau County Department of Health made the decision to spray for West Nile virus after a much higher number than average of mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile virus. Additionally, two people in Nassau County have contracted West Nile virus this summer – a 74-year-old woman from Massapequa Park and a 66-year-old woman from New Hyde Park. Both women have been treated and released from the hospital and are now recovering at home.
Many people expressed concerns over the spraying to the Port Washington News for several different reasons, the main reason being that the county only provided four days to alert residents that the spraying was going to occur, which some people felt was not enough time to properly alert people. (Editor’s note: this was not enough time to include an alert in the Port Washington News, since the spraying was set to occur on Tuesday and the newspaper comes out on Thursdays). Other concerns that were expressed to Port News dealt with environmental and health issues, considering that Scourge is classified as a harmful, carcinogenic pesticide; and whether there were other options to prevent West Nile virus that would not be potentially harmful to people and the environment.
State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. issued a threat declaration for West Nile virus in Nassau County on August 5, which allows the county to more easily implement mosquito control measures in otherwise protected wetland areas and simplifies the public notification process. According to the New York State Department of Health, the threat declaration will provide enhanced reimbursement payments if the county exceeds its allocation for the season. Additionally, the State Department of Health noted that the threat declaration was issued in response to Nassau County’s request, since the West Nile virus was found in mosquitoes at higher levels than is normally seen at this time of the summer.
“A warm, dry summer is triggering an increase in West Nile virus in the mosquito population earlier than expected. Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as New York City, recently have detected West Nile virus in mosquitoes at much higher rates than they have seen in the past several years at this time of the summer,” Commissioner Daines said. West Nile virus usually increases in mosquitoes through the summer, said the State Department of Health, so these early-elevated levels are raising concerns that levels could become higher in the next few weeks, leading to increased risk of disease in people.
Mary Ellen Laurain, spokesperson for the Nassau County Department of Health, said that the county’s decision to spray was influenced by the high number of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus. At this current time, 71 mosquito pools have tested positive for West Nile virus in Nassau County this year, which Ms. Laurain said is the highest number reported in any year since West Nile virus surveillance began in 1999. Of the mosquito pools that have tested positive, some were located in Plandome Manor and Sands Point. Ms. Laurain said that the decision to spray is not based on human cases – only the high incidence of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus. The Nassau County Department of Health said that spraying controls the disease and prevents the spread of disease. Ms. Laurain added that the county would never spray mosquitoes for nuisance, but only for the presence of disease.
The threat declaration gives support to the county from the state, Ms. Laurain said. She added that the public notification process is simplified by allowing the county to give at least 48 hours notice to the legislature and to the public.
When the Nassau County Department of Health determines that a pool or “sample” of mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus in a certain area, Ms. Laurain explained that the Department of Public Works inspects these areas to identify the breeding ground and treat it. The Nassau County Departments of Health and Public Works will continue their mosquito control efforts by inspecting breeding sites and, when necessary, applying larvicide. Mosquito surveillance will continue at 42 trap sites located throughout the county and will be intensified in those communities where positive mosquito pools were identified.
Additionally, the Nassau County Department of Health is looking toward birds as to why there is a higher rate of West Nile virus this year, since mosquitoes get this disease from birds. Ms. Laurain said that their theory is that the birds have been lacking water this year due to a dry summer, and this might cause stress for them, leading to a higher rate of disease.
As for environmental and health concerns, Grassroots Environmental Education (“Grassroots”), an environmental health non-profit based in Port Washington, is advising families to take extra precautions to protect themselves from exposure to the pesticides being sprayed by the county in response to the threat of West Nile virus.
“The public deserves to be fully informed about the pesticide product being used in an attempt to reduce the mosquito population,” says Grassroots’ Executive Director Patti Wood. “I understand the enormous pressure on the Department of Health to take action when we have human cases of the virus, but the widespread use of pesticides is not without risks and has yet to be proven effective. I’m especially concerned that many people don’t even know about the spraying and won’t take any precautions at all.”
Ms. Wood notes that the main chemical components of Resmethrin - the product being used for mosquito control in Nassau County - have all been identified by either the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP) or the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as likely, probable or possible human carcinogens. More information on pesticides is available on the group’s website at www.GrassrootInfo.org.
In a conversation with Port News, Patti Wood noted the potential environmental effects, since the chemicals in the pesticide that was sprayed are listed as carcinogens. Normally, areas such as wetlands are traditionally protected from pesticides, she said, but through the declaration threat from the state, they are no longer protected. Scourge is highly toxic to fish, which definitely creates concern over spraying this pesticide on an area that is near the water. She noted that people could lose their vegetable gardens over the spraying (if the gardens were not covered) and that “drift” can occur with this type of pesticide, which could affect organic farmers on Long Island.
Ms. Wood said that more work should have been done preventatively at a “Herculean effort” and preventative work should continue through the middle of October. This preventative work includes source reduction, which is the removal of standing water or treatment of standing water, and larvaciding, which kills thousands of mosquitoes in one spot instead of trying to kill them from an airplane, she said. In particular, she noted it is a much more effective option to get rid of the larva in order to prevent them from becoming adult mosquitoes that could carry the West Nile virus.
Many people were concerned that there was not enough time to notify everyone about the spraying, due to the “simplified notification process” from the state declaration threat. However, area residents who were signed up for the NorthShoreAlert system, which was recently launched by the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management (PWM OEM), found that they were properly notified about the spraying.
Peter Forman, commissioner of the PWM OEM, said that the NorthShoreAlert system (NSA) now covers all of the incorporated villages in Port Washington and Manhasset as well as the unincorporated areas of Port Washington. While not perfect, with the support of the villages, the NSA is now the most comprehensive database of contact info for this peninsula, Commissioner Forman said.
The NSA system can target a radius that virtually matches the map of intended spraying areas. Commissioner Forman explained, “In this past event, there were two one-mile circles on the peninsula. One was centered at Sands Point Preserve and the other was near Stonytown and Manhasset Woods Road. The spraying was done by truck, which sprayed a fog/dense mist in 150 feet in every direction from the truck.” He added, “If the spraying were to occur again, the PWM OEM would target messages to those homes that were targeted to be sprayed.”
At this current time, Commissioner Forman said that the NSA system has over 1,500 registrations (covering about 5,000 residents) through the website, which also include multiple email addresses, SMS, and phone numbers for each registration. Additionally, there are about 16,000 phone numbers in the NSA system for area residents, he said.
“With the support of the villages and the town, the NorthShoreAlert.org mass communication system represents the best way for residents to be notified of local and regional emergencies. We strongly encourage residents to sign up and encourage their friends to do so as well,” Commissioner Forman said. He noted that it is also important for residents to add their email addresses to the system, in addition to their phone numbers.
The Nassau County Department of Health urges residents to continue to take these precautions for safety and protection from West Nile virus:
• Remove or empty standing water from children’s outdoor toys, flowerpots, garbage cans, pails, old tires, or any object that can hold water.
• Make sure roof gutters drain properly; clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
• Keep swimming pools chlorinated and their covers free of stagnant water.
• Change the water in birdbaths every two or three days.
• Install window and door screens and keep them in good repair.
• Consider wearing long sleeves, pants, socks and mosquito repellent (according to directions) if outdoors when mosquitoes are active, especially in the late afternoon and evening hours.
• Decorative ponds and water features should be circulated or chlorinated if they do not contain fish to prevent mosquito breeding.
For mosquito, stagnant water, or drainage problems, call the Nassau County Department of Public Works at: (516) 572-1166, weekdays from 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For additional information, call the West Nile Virus Spray Hotline at 1-888-844-8657 or visit the Nassau County Department of Health website at www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/health/.