Pesticide spraying planned on Montgomery Co. island

Workers on 400-acre site being tested for malaria

October 11, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Health officials took steps yesterday toward spraying pesticide on the uninhabited Montgomery County island where malaria-infected mosquitoes have been found, as medical personnel tested workers employed on the island for the disease.

Pesticide could be sprayed as early as Wednesday over Selden Island, a 400-acre tract where researchers found malaria-infected mosquitoes in traps, said Lynn Frank, chief of public health services for Montgomery County.

Frank said health officials are meeting with environmental groups this week to alert them to plans by Maryland and Virginia to spray the pesticide naled from a Maryland Department of Agriculture plane.

The pesticide will be sprayed on Selden Island and in Loudon County, Va., where two teen-agers were diagnosed with malaria in August, according to Frank and authorities in Virginia. The teens have recovered, officials said.

Frank said the exact date for the spraying will depend on the weather. The spraying should be done when there is little wind and on a relatively warm night, which ensures mosquitoes are active. "If we don't eradicate these mosquitoes, people in that area are going to continue being at risk," she said.

Dr. David Goodfriend, Loudon County's health officer, said that medical personnel from Loudon County, Montgomery County and the Virginia Department of Health went to the offices of Virginia Beef Corp. in Haymarket and Sterling yesterday to determine the risk of infection of employees who worked on the island.

Virginia Beef raises grasses on the island for sale to golf courses, nurseries and private corporations for lawns.

Medical personnel drew blood from 31 employees. The blood will be sent to the Virginia State Department of Health Lab in Richmond for testing, he said.

"All of them were feeling fine, and there's a very low likelihood that the tests will come back positive for malaria, but we owe it to them to do the testing," Goodfriend said.

Cy Lesser, head of the Maryland agriculture department's mosquito-control program, said the department's twin-engine Piper Aztec is used frequently to spray for mosquitoes on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

He said to be effective, the plane will fly about 100 feet above the ground, dropping about 1 ounce per acre of naled in "microscopic droplets."

"If you're on the ground and the plane flies over spraying, you really can't see anything coming down," said Lesser, who has watched several spraying operations.

Naled is approved by the EPA and is commonly used in aerial spraying, according to Lesser and other experts.

But environmentalists in Montgomery said that spraying pesticide could harm the Potomac and should be avoided.

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