May 17, 2011

It's That (Itchy) Time of Year Again...

Spring has sprung, and our crops are growing, and as such our back door is seeing tons of activity as Justin and I travel from inside to outside, and vice versa, with gardening tools, plants, and other items.  However, we're not the only two coming in and out of the house; mosquitoes are, too.  Last night, for instance, I managed to swat a half dozen blood suckers.  Although, swatting with my hand is as far as I'll go to kill these pests.

As residents of St. Louis County, our local government routinely sprays for mosquitoes from the months of May through October.  However, the mosquito tucks don't spray down our block.  That's because we're on the do-not-spray list.  Yes, it's true, people have a right to opt-out of mosquito spraying!

But what's the problem with mosquito spraying, you ask?  Plenty.

(keep reading...)

Nationwide, the go-to chemical for government mosquito fogging is a mix of pyrethroid/permethrin and piperonyl butoxide.  Authoritative agencies will claim that pyrethroid/permethrin is natural and non-toxic, but it's not.  While pyrethrum/pyrethrin naturally occurs in nature (think: chrysanthemums),  pyrethroid/permethrin is synthetic - a neurotoxin, in fact - and classified by the EPA as "likely" carcinogenic. 

In lab rats, it causes hyperactivity, tremors, salivation, urination, defecation and liver damage - with baby rats being much more susceptible and exhibiting more severe symptoms. Other animals tested experienced numbness, diarrhea, nausea, convulsions, aggression, seizures, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

Not only that, but mosquito fogging kills indiscriminately - meaning it kills beneficial insects, too, like dragonflies, honeybees, and lady bugs.  The substances used are also highly toxic to domestic animals and birds.

To make matters worse, the half life of permethrins in soil is 30 days - meaning that it could take nearly six months for the chemicals to completely break down!  So much for growing your own pesticide-free tomatoes, eh?

And no, we're not worried about suddenly contracting West Nile virus because we're plagued by mosquitoes.  You can search WNV incident rates at the CDC and through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.  Way more people die from the flu than WNV.  We much prefer to roll the dice and breathe pesticide-free air, thanks.

If you live in St. Louis County, you can put your address on the do-not-spray list by calling:  (314)727-3097.  You can also call (314)615-4BUG nightly to see where St. Louis County is scheduled to spray on that particular evening.  If you live somewhere else, try contacting your local vector control department to see if they have a way you can say "no" to mosquito spray. 

Yes, you may wind up a bit itchier, but you'll be breathing a lot easier.


  1. Respectfully, your arguments against the use of pyrethroid/permethrin are nonsensical.

    The question is about concentration and levels of exposure.

    My guess is you drink wine in spite of the fact that it contains alcohol, an entirely toxic substance that, when consumed in large quantities, causes all manner of health problems, including death. However, exposure to alcohol in small quantities is not only non-toxic, but, in fact, may be beneficial to one's overall health.

    Likewise, pyrethroid/permethrin is spayed and dispersed in very small quantities. For pyrethroid/permethrin to be truly toxic to humans, it must be present in far larger quantities than would ever result from mosquito spraying.

    Also, one must consider the lifestyle benefits created by the use of pyrethroid/permethrin. We live in an area of St. Louis county that has very high level of mosquitoes. Although we very much enjoy an outside lifestyle, it is nearly impossible to enjoy the outdoors in the spring and summer once evening arrives. Over the years, we've tried a variety of so-called "natural" alternatives to ward them off, but none have been effective.

    Consequently, this year we have been working with St. Louis County officials on an aggressive mosquito fogging schedule and the problem has improved significantly.

    While we are generally not proponents of the use of pesticides, we believe they do, from time to time, have a proper role to play in supporting the overall quality of our lives. But, as with anything in life, a cost-benefit analysis that must be made.

    The risk posed by the use of these pesticides is fairly insignificant compared to the lifestyle benefits provided.

    Heart disease is, by far, the leading killer of human beings. Death by pyrethroid/permethrin poisoning, on the other hand, isn't even on the radar screen.

  2. Killer comment, thanks! ...but I guess for us, we'd rather be a little itchy than have the county mindlessly pump chemicals into the air. It's not about humans enjoying summer evenings free of bug bites, it's about taking care to tread lightly on the planet. We've gotten loads of positive feedback from people stopping by our farmers market booth to say "thank you" for providing them with this information. I suppose there are plenty of people on both sides of the issue.