Areas don't swarm to join anti-mosquito program

January 30, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Only one-third of Anne Arundel County's communities want any part of the state's mosquito control program, which uses the controversial pesticide malathion.

Less than a week before the deadline Wednesday, only 214 of more than 600 communities have told officials that they want their neighborhoods included in the county's mosquito control program. One of those said it wants only half the program -- the part without malathion.

This is the first year that Anne Arundel County has offered communities a choice of participating in the state Department of Agriculture program. Last year, 679 subdivisions automatically were included in the $52,000 program. Of those, 491 were sprayed with malathion, some as many as 29 times.

The county changed the program after Annapolis psychotherapist Ruth Berlin, who said doctors linked her chronic health problems to exposure to malathion, led a campaign against the pesticide last summer.

Now, communities must tell the state if they want any mosquito control and if they want it to include malathion spraying to kill the adult insects.

Ms. Berlin said she welcomed the changes. But she said they did not go far enough. She and others plan to pursue their efforts to halt spraying.

Critics of malathion cite studies that suggest that the pesticide and similar ones harm unborn babies. In an October brochure, the Environmental Protection Agency called malathion a "moderately toxic organophosphate," one of a group of poisons that kill by impairing the nervous system.

Deale Beach, where crews sprayed malathion 18 times last summer, was among the communities that chose the full mosquito treatment again.

"We've really been very pleased with our mosquito control and see no reason to get rid of it," said George Prenant, a past Deale Beach Citizens Association board member.

Frequently, when winds from the east carried mosquitoes across the Chesapeake Bay, the community has sought extra spraying. Without spraying, Mr. Prenant said, many summer evenings would be intolerable outdoors.

"At sunset, you can really get eaten up by them [mosquitoes]," he said. "I think it is a good program, especially if it is voluntary."

Reports that some researchers listed the pesticide as a potential carcinogen prompted Hillsmere Shores residents to tell the state's mosquito control program they wanted everything but malathion, said Wesley Strotman, community association president.

Anne Arundel County has the highest cancer rate in the state, Mr. Strotman said, and residents did not want to take what they considered unwarranted risks. "They were concerned for their health," he said.

After seeing spray trucks on their streets twice last summer, Sherwood Forest residents decided that they would rather take their chances with mosquitoes. The community runs outdoor environmental programs for children and feared the effects of malathion, they said.

To reduce the amount of malathion used, county officials said they plan to use more larvicides, predatory fish and chemicals that disrupt mosquito growth cycles to keep the population down next summer.

State officials also plan to inform communities when spray trucks will be in their areas and have published 250,000 copies of a mosquito prevention flier, said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the state's mosquito control program.

Mr. Lesser's office also is drafting a flier about malathion.

Although scientist Liz Zucker of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised the mosquito prevention flier, she said she may offer a pamphlet with an environmental and health perspective.

"I want to have a fact sheet on malathion to describe the potential hazards," she said. "I think the public might want to hear from the CBF on what the effects of malathion are."

Depending on the concentration, she said, malathion can kill moths, butterflies and honeybees -- considered beneficial insects -- and fish.

Pesticide manufacturers, the EPA and mosquito control officials say the amounts used for killing mosquitoes have negligible effects on people. Also, residents of some low-lying communities say mosquitoes can breed so fast that they never would get outside during the summer without the spraying program.

"With anything we do, there is a risk. We have to try to balance out what the risks are with the benefits," Mr. Lesser said.

Mosquitoes carry malaria and encephalitis, but malaria was wiped out in Maryland years ago. There has not been a case of mosquito-borne encephalitis in Maryland since 1989, according to state officials. Mosquitoes harboring the encephalitis virus were found last year along the Patuxent River.

Opponents of the malathion program say those who fear diseases borne by mosquitoes have options.

"What about using an insect repellent?" Ms. Berlin asked.

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