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By Ekaterina Pesheva
Of the Suburban Journals


St. Louis, Missouri --
Spraying with powerful chemicals to kill mosquitoes and prevent the spread of
West Nile virus is like using a cannonball to shoot a bird, say local Green
Party activists.

Not only are health officials in St. Louis City and St. Louis County using
the heavy artillery for a relatively small problem, but they might be causing
more harm than good in the process, activists charged at a news conference

"We are asking for the City of St. Louis and County of St. Louis to halt the
spraying for West Nile until we can assess what the true risk of the spraying
versus the virus is," said Don Fitz, spokesperson for the Green Party of St.
Louis. "We feel the spraying has been done indiscriminately without adequate

Public health officials began a mosquito control offensive this spring after
the first reports of West Nile virus in the area. The plan includes using
chemicals to kill mosquito eggs in standing water outlets, as well as using
chemicals to kill adult mosquitoes by spraying.

Health officials say they are acting under the guidelines of a
multi-jurisdictional West Nile action plan, as well as under recommendations
from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC
recommends that spraying be done when cases of infected birds and humans are

Environmentalists, concerned about long-term effects of the insecticides, are
asking the city and county to halt spraying for the time being.

"We would like a moratorium on the spraying until we can have a public
hearing where different people can bring in all the facts," Fitz said.
Not a chance, public officials say.

"They need to have good scientific documentation to show that the harm
exists," said Larry Kettelhut, director of environmental health for St. Louis
City. "To ask us to stop spraying, to me, would make no sense. If we are
effectively eliminating some of the cases of West Nile, which I think we are,
my question would be why would you stop spraying?"

Opponents say spraying can cause allergic reactions, exacerbate asthma and,
in the long run, lead to nervous system damage, kidney damage and liver

"There is mounting evidence that the spraying itself may be more dangerous to
people than the problem we are trying to attack with it," said Dr. Daniel
McKeel, professor of immunology and pathology at Washington University.
"Insecticides are being sprayed with aerial techniques so large plumes of
these materials are falling in very large doses along streets."

McKeel also says spraying might eventually increase mosquitoes.
"If you spray long enough what you are actually killing more of is the
predators that keep mosquito population down," McKeel said.

Jason Murphy, a candidate for St. Louis City license collector running on the
Green Party ballot, suggested that health officials should tackle the problem
by eliminating standing water and educating the public and physicians on

But public health officials shake their heads saying these would not be
sufficient weapons in the war against the mosquito-borne disease.

"If we didn't have people raising mosquitoes in their backyards, we wouldn't
have to spray," said Joan Bradford, director of vector control for St. Louis

In addition, health officials say, the dose used for spraying is so small
that it doesn't affect people, comparing it to a drop of water applied to an
area slightly smaller than a football field.

"It's calibrated at a fraction of an ounce per acre," Bradford said. "It's
formulated to kill mosquitoes, and we only do it at times when mosquitoes are
active. This spray is short-lived, and there is no residual."

The city uses Anvil 2 Plus 2, an insecticide with an active ingredient called
sumithrin. The county uses an insecticide with the active ingredient
permethrin, both of which occur naturally in marigolds and chrysanthemums.
"The products we are using are approved by the EPA and by the Missouri
Department of Agriculture," Kettelhut said.

Dr. Becky Tominack, a toxicologist at St. Louis University, says the strategy
used so far is completely safe.

"There is an old saying in toxicology that the dose makes the poison,"
Tominack said. "Insects are sensitive to very tiny doses that don't bother
people. In excess-if you drank it or drenched yourself in it-you could have

Tominack agrees that in a very few people, the insecticides can cause
allergic reactions but says that more serious, long-term effects have not
been studied well.


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Email: mitchelcohen@mindspring.com