Maryland Department of Agriculture officials, criticized over the summer for using the controversial pesticide malathion to kill mosquitoes, won praise from those same critics last night for their decision to use less of the pesticide during next year's spraying program.
"I think they made some important changes," said Ruth Berlin of Annapolis, a psychotherapist who said she suffers health problems that doctors have attributed to malathion exposure.
"I think it's because we said, 'Hey you guys, what are you doing?' "
Alarmed at the use of the controversial pesticide in the spraying program, Ms. Berlin arranged community meetings in which residents complained about malathion.
"They got the message," said Mindy Allanson of Severna Park, who said malathion spraying in the area gave her headaches and made her irritable.
Agriculture officials, at a meeting to explain changes in next year's mosquito control program, said next year they expect to use one-third the amount of malathion used this year.
This year, about 405 gallons of malathion were sprayed in Anne Arundel County, including Annapolis, said Kevin Sweeney, an agriculture official who is in charge of the local program.
The officials said they will take the money saved by using less malathion and expand the program to kill mosquito larvae.
"People are just not going to live in a mosquito-free environment around the bay," said Cyrus Lesser, who runs the nearly $2 million state program to curb the mosquito population.
Agriculture officials also said they hope to step up what has been a low-key public education effort to get homeowners to rid their yards of items that hold even small amounts of standing water -- such as old tires and buckets.
Mosquitoes will breed in less than a gallon of stagnant water.
Nevertheless, activists said they wished the state would go further in trying to introduce to the county insects and wildlife that eat mosquitoes.
Critics said they plan to make a strong statement on malathion at an Oct. 26 meeting of the Governor's Pesticide Council, which is scheduled to hear discussion on the pesticide.