Communities to ask for mosquito control

October 02, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County communities that want the state to provide mosquito control next year will have to ask for it, a reversal of a policy that opponents of the controversial pesticide malathion protested.

For the past two years, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has sprayed more than 600 communities in Anne Arundel with malathion to control mosquitoes unless community leaders asked to be taken out of the program. Under the new policy, communities will have to ask to be included in the program.

Agriculture officials announced the change in a letter that some community leaders received Friday.

"It means that automatically people aren't going to be sprayed without their knowledge. Communities are going to have to make a conscious choice," said Ruth Berlin, an Annapolis psychotherapist who is spearheading the movement to change the mosquito control program.

Ms. Berlin has been diagnosed with permanent health problems attributed to malathion exposure.

"There are two issues here, one malathion, and the other the right to know," she said.

The program sprays malathion to kill adult mosquitoes -- those that have not been touched by larvicides, larvae-eating fish and a false hormone.

Malathion, widely used for more than 40 years to control insects, is undergoing re-registration with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and required studies on its safety have not been completed. Its detractors say repeated exposure can cause central nervous system damage. Ideally, opponents said, its use should be halted until health questions are resolved.

Anne Arundel is the sole jurisdiction in the state where communities automatically receive mosquito control unless they notify the department that they wish to opt out.

Two years ago, the county and Annapolis turned over mosquito control to the state. The jurisdictions pay the agriculture department about $52,000, which the state matches. The program includes stocking ponds with environmentally friendly fish that eat mosquito larvae as well as having malathion sprayed in residential areas.

Cyrus Lesser, who heads the state mosquito control program, said the change was made "because of the problems we ran into this year in Anne Arundel County with the number of people who were contacting the department who said they were not aware of the program until it was operating and they had no say in it."

Only communities that ask for mosquito control in 1995 will automatically receive application forms next fall for 1996 mosquito control. The department will advertise the availability of the program so that other communities and individuals can request it, Mr. Lesser said.

The department was criticized at a July meeting attended by Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley for not publicizing mosquito prevention. It will work on a brochure this fall telling homeowners how to avoid attracting the biting insects to their property. Mosquitoes can breed in as little as a gallon of stagnant water.

Additionally, Mr. Lesser said, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will work with the department to increase public education, and much of that work will be in Anne Arundel County.

The department will hold a meeting on mosquito control for county and city residents at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at the state agriculture building on Truman Parkway.

"The state has talked to the county about two weeks ago. They mentioned that they were planning to make the change," said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for the county's land use office. But the county has not been formally notified.

The state Department of Agriculture has mosquito-control programs in all cities and counties except Garrett County. Last summer it spent $1.8 million to control the 53 kinds of mosquitoes in Maryland and used 7,900 gallons of malathion.

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