Delegate seeks warning on pesticide

October 27, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Del. Marsha Perry is asking state mosquito control officials to tell communities that the pesticide sprayed to kill adult mosquitoes may cause serious health problems.

Ms. Perry, of Crofton, made her request at yesterday's meeting of the Governor's Pesticide Council in Annapolis. She was among several people who questioned the use of malathion, which is in the midst of testing for likely reregistration by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The pesticide is used in most states to kill mosquitoes. It is also used in California to kill the Mediterranean fruit fly. Use of malathion in California became controversial after reports that it caused optic nerve damage, headaches and other health problems.

"People have to make an informed decision," Ms. Perry said. "They think if the government is spraying something, it's safe."

The EPA has not determined if malathion is completely safe. Studies are being done to find out if it causes cancer, neurological damage, genetic defects, immune disorders and other problems, Lawrence Schnaubelt, an EPA official, told the council yesterday.

For the first time, communities in Anne Arundel County will have to tell the Department of Agriculture if they want to be in its mosquito control program for next summer. Communities also can choose a more environmentally sensitive treatment for mosquito larvae, instead of the spraying.

This year, communities had one option: to tell agriculture officials they did not want the program at all.

Ms. Perry suggested the state could print a pro and con sheet on the pesticide using information from the manufacturer's warning label. Any such label must spell out health risks and include the manufacturer's warning that malathion is toxic to aquatic life, she said.

"We will consider her suggestion," said Cyrus Lesser, who runs the nearly $2 million state program to curb the mosquito population.

Mr. Lesser said his division already has planned to send a second mailing to county community groups and could include some of the information suggested by Ms. Perry.

However, he said, malathion is one of several preparations used for mosquito control. Larvicides, mosquitofish and hormone disrupters are also used.

Mailing community groups several pages on each method probably is not practical, he said.

His office does send manufacturer's information to any group that asks.

Ruth Berlin, an Annapolis psychotherapist who suffers health problems her doctors have attributed to malathion exposure, said the state should do a better job of telling people how to prevent mosquitoes. She told the council the mosquito control program should be revamped.

At an Oct. 19 forum, agriculture officials said they were changing the program next year and expected to use one-third the amount of malathion sprayed this year.

About 405 gallons of malathion have been sprayed in Anne Arundel County, including Annapolis, this year, according to Kevin Sweeney, who is in charge of the local program.

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