The cure is worse

  While it is always compelling to hear individual anecdotes of the suffering caused by West Nile virus, the danger posed by this disease has been blown out of proportion in the United States (HCN, 11/12/07). In Colorado in 2006, for example, there were 724 suicides, 609 deaths due to influenza and pneumonia, 226 deaths from drunk driving, and 1,888 deaths from accidental injuries. These certainly overshadow the six fatalities and few dozen disabling cases of West Nile virus. Yet, because of fear, partly magnified by the news media and pesticide companies, the response is often out of proportion and unhelpful. Take Sacramento, Calif., where a few cases of West Nile virus in 2005 prompted wholesale, repeated aerial spraying of permethrin over large areas of the city. Permethrin kills only adult mosquitoes - often a futile tactic, as the adult population rebounds within a few days. Permethrin, classified as a possible carcinogen, has been increasingly identified as an immune, nervous and endocrine system disruptor in mammals. It is likely that more people will be sickened by preventative adulticide sprayings than would be in danger of suffering the more severe forms of West Nile disease. Measured, integrated pest management programs that rely on larvicides, public education and the removal of breeding habitat are a much better and more reliable method of combating West Nile.

Claude Ginsburg
Director, No Spray Zone
Seattle, Washington
Anonymous says:
Dec 19, 2007 03:44 PM

"It is likely that more people will be sickened by preventative adulticide sprayings than would be in danger of suffering the more severe forms of West Nile disease." So writes Claude Ginsburg in his letter.

This is undeniably true, but ... we are dealing with humans here, and they are not always so rational.

Anyone contracting West Nile knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was caught through a mosquito's bite. A mosquito represents a very small, but obvious visible threat. There is a direct known 100% cause-effect relationship there.

Not so with carcinogenic chemicals. A person suffering from cancer is almost never aware of how exactly he got it. Even if an omniscient God knows it came from exposure to Permethrin on such and such a day, causing a specific cell to go awry, no one, not even the most knowledgable scientist can verify that. For all anyone knows, it could have been triggered by any of dozens of events. Likely we will never know this to the detail that this God can.

And so, irrational man will take out the thing he knows while ignoring that which he does not. We're stuck with that, especially in a democracy where our elected officials do what the masses choose them to do. If they don't spray, they'll be replaced by those who promise to do so.

Education will help, but it took 50 years to get us where we are with respect to tobacco and the threat it poses to our health. But let's keep at it - in time we'll get it right.



Anonymous says:
Jun 10, 2009 02:34 PM
This individual is wrong on many facets. First, Pyrethrin products were sprayed in Sacramento, not permethrin. Second, to suggest it is "likely more people will be sickened by adulticide sprayings" is unfounded and not supported by any of the scientific evidence. Third, does he even know what the program in Sacramento is all about? Is he aware the district has twice been awarded the IPM award meaning they have a comprehensive control program that uses spraying as a last resort? He should make sure he knows what he is writing about before he makes these statements.
Anonymous says:
Dec 03, 2009 12:37 PM
The four pesticides listed by the Yolo County Mosquito Control District as available for aerial spraying are Evergreen 60-6, Pyrenone 25-5, Pyronyl Crop Spray, and Suspend. Suspend contains permethrin. It is always difficult to ascertain exactly what was sprayed when, as public officials often use interchangeably (maybe deliberately) the terms "permethrin," "pyrethrin," and "a natural pesticide from chrysanthemum flowers." The others do consist of pyrethrin (which, despite its "natural" origin from pyrethrum flowers bred to produce high levels of pesticide, may or may not be less harmful) with added piperonyl butoxide. Piperonyl butoxide is used is to make the pesticide an order of magnitude more effective and, no surprise, is suspected of increasing the harmful neurological effects of whatever pyrethroid it combined with on humans. It has also been implicated in collateral environmental damage and is classified as a possible carcinogen.
Anonymous says:
Dec 03, 2009 01:05 PM
There is plenty of evidence now emerging that pyrethroids can cause neurological damage in humans. A cursory Google search, let alone a more extensive literature search, will show this.

It is not acceptable if an IPM plan (even an award-winning one) leads to spraying pesticides on large numbers of people. Mosquito adulticides simply don't work very well and could harm a lot of people and the environment, so it isn't appropriate to use them in gross applications over cities, and the Yolo IPM plan is therefore flawed. In fact, it is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the US is a signatory.