Every now and then I decide to bury my head in the sand and pretend I don’t notice the headlines. Invariably, this approach doesn’t work because dozens of people will ask my opinion until I’m more or less coerced into saying something. Then, the something I say is dissected, splintered, and ridiculed until, once again, I think deep sand is the best alternative.
So, caution aside, what do I think about wholesale spraying for zika virus? Well, as someone who cares deeply about our environment, it almost goes without saying.
Was the use for the greater good?
First, let me clarify that I am not completely against pesticides. I believe pesticides have legitimate uses and are necessary in certain situations. What I am strongly against is improper use of any pesticide, whether it is designed for insects, weeds, fungus, or arachnids. In my opinion, the South Carolina case was an improper use. It clearly demonstrated what happens when politicians are allowed to make decisions about biological systems.
The situation is not unique. Time and again I’ve seen doctors adjust medical care based on a patient’s insurance coverage. The insurance coverage is based on statistics and government guidelines. So even if your doctor thinks you should have a certain test once a year, if the guidelines say once every two years, the insurance won’t pay and the doctors won’t prescribe. So who is deciding your health care? Not you. Not your doctor. Nope. It’s the government. Some politician who never met you is deciding your fate.
Just doing their jobs
I’m absolutely sure the South Carolina decision makers were not malicious. Most likely they actually believe that the aerial spraying of mosquitoes to prevent the spread of zika was in the public interest. But I’m not convinced. I’m willing to bet that at least some of those people have no idea what an ecosystem is, yet they are perfectly willing to destroy one to protect a minority of people who may or may not come down with the zika virus.
I’m not belittling the heartbreak and devastation of the disease. It is treacherous, scary, and sad. What I am questioning is the method of control. Any time we fool with an ecosystem, it becomes easier and easier for diseases like this to reappear. That’s because a spray like Naled affects not just the target mosquito, but things that eat those mosquitoes. Creatures like toads, frogs, snakes, birds, fish, spiders, and other insects all eat mosquitoes and keep their numbers in check. An insecticide like Naled is harmful or fatal to some of those creatures. For others, it destroys their food supply until they perish from starvation.
History is fated to repeat itself, and we know from past experience that wholesale killing usually results in an unbalanced ecosystem where the “bad guy” is more likely to proliferate in the future. Once sprayed, an ecosystem may never recover. In a balanced system all organisms keep the others in check as each species competes for natural resources. In a balanced ecosystem, there wouldn’t be enough mosquitoes to provide a rapid conduit for human disease. We see rampant disease in places where humans have destroyed the natural system of checks and balances.
When poison falls from the sky
Whenever the issue of wholesale spraying comes up I think of Silent Spring. In her book, Rachel Carson says humans have a right to be free from poison dropped from the skies. She says the only reason it is not specifically stated in the Bill of Rights is that the authors could not have conceived of such a thing.
Aerial spraying is particularly pernicious because it affects so many aspects of our lives. I’ve heard people say, “It’s just a few beekeepers. So what?” But the damage is much greater. The bug eaters I mentioned are injured or killed, as well as the pollinators, including hundreds of species of native bees, moths, and butterflies. The entire line-up of beneficial insects such as ladybugs and mantids are killed as well, as are innocent fish, amphibians, and birds.
It’s about people too
And how about people? How about the conscientious mom who decided to raise organic vegetables for her family? The retired folks who built pollinator habitat so they could watch and enjoy and pollinate their crops? How about the household pet who had poison rain down on its fur and the children who give it a big bear hug? Do the parents even realize their kids may have Naled on their fingers? The ones they stick in their mouths?
When you spray from the sky you hit gardens, ponds, swimming pools, swing sets, picnic tables, and laundry left on the line. You hit the fruit on the tree, the berries on the vines, the porch rail, and the car door. You hit the tricycle on the driveway, the trampoline in the back yard, and the baseball bat. Is anyone thinking about these possibilities?
Safe for humans?
The politicians say Naled is safe for humans. What does that mean? A quick look at Extoxnet shows “Naled is highly to moderately toxic to birds…Naled is toxic to most types of aquatic life…Naled is toxic to bees.” And for humans? Extoxnet shows “Naled is moderately to highly toxic by ingestion, inhalation and dermal adsorption. Vapors or fumes of Naled are corrosive to the mucous membranes lining the mouth, throat and lungs, and inhalation may cause severe irritation. A sensation of tightness in the chest and coughing are commonly experienced after inhalation. As with all organophosphates, Naled is readily absorbed through the skin. Skin which has come in contact with this material should be washed immediately with soap and water and all contaminated clothing should be removed.” And there is much, much more.
Of course I don’t know the particulars of Dorchester County, South Carolina. Perhaps, all things considered, it was the best choice for this county at this time. But my bet is that all things were not considered. If the beekeepers didn’t see it coming, imagine all the other residents who were caught unaware. All those who didn’t prepare. All those who didn’t bring in their pets or clean their picnic tables.
So what instead?
No matter what decision is reached, we need to remember Silent Spring. A decision with so much fallout needs to be a community decision and not a behind-the-desk decision, and all those affected need to be warned in advance and told how to prepare. Anything else is just plain wrong.
Honey Bee Suite