New York begins West Nile battle

Larvicide spread on ponds and other mosquito breeding sites

April 29, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - The city has quietly started its war against the deadly West Nile virus, using workers to spread larvicide in ponds and other mosquito breeding sites.

Meanwhile, a contract for extensive larvicide application in all five boroughs is on hold while the city seeks bids from companies other than Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management.

Clarke, the sole bidder for the city's mosquito control contract, recently was slapped with a six-figure fine by state environmental officials for using untrained and unsupervised workers to spray pesticides in the city last summer.

9 deaths reported

The deadly virus, which claimed seven lives in 1999 and two last year, is transmitted to people by mosquitoes.

Scientists expect the virus to return with the warm weather, even though it has not yet been detected in birds or hibernating mosquitoes.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is working out the details of the fine against Clarke and investigating the company's operations in other parts of New York last year.

City Health Department officials said the investigation won't derail its aggressive plan to track and contain the West Nile virus.

"We are planning to begin our larviciding, as originally scheduled, in early May - certainly by mid-May," said Health Department spokeswoman Sandra Mullin.

"We are already doing some larviciding now whenever we go to large areas of standing water.

"We are going to be using Health Department workers while a company comes on board."

Epicenter of outbreak

For two years in a row, New York City was the epicenter of a West Nile virus outbreak.

The virus was detected in 12 states along the Eastern seaboard last year.

The city's West Nile surveillance and control plan has not been released, but it's expected to mirror recent state and federal guidelines that frown upon wide-scale pesticide spraying.

Using larvicide, which destroys immature mosquitoes in ponds and other breeding areas, is a vital first step to slashing the city's mosquito population.

"Given the fact that it's a potentially fatal disease, you really want to start early," said Joe Conlon, technical adviser at the American Mosquito Control Association.

"If you hit them hot and heavy and hit them earlier, you can reduce many of the breeding habitats."

The state action came after Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez revealed Clarke workers complained of ailments ranging from breathing difficulty to sexual dysfunction after being exposed to Anvil, a pesticide spray used to kill adult mosquitoes.

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