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Wheatfield officials oppose spraying pesticide against mosquitoes

WHEATFIELD – Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe told residents last week that he doesn’t think the town should spray pesticide to combat mosquitoes this summer, and the Niagara County Health Department agreed with him.

Environmental Health Director Paul R. Dicky said Friday. “Spraying would give you some short-term relief, but it’s not a long-term solution.”

Southern Wheatfield contains numerous subdivisions that were built in low-lying areas where drainage has been a perennial problem – and so have mosquitoes. Now, the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has caused much public concern – even though no mosquitoes of the type that carries Zika have been found locally – has raised the anxiety score.

Cliffe said that there’s $25,000 in the town budget for insect control but that he doesn’t want to spend it.

“Mosquito spraying is a short-term, feel-good fix for the nuisance factor of mosquitoes,” Cliffe said at last week’s Town Board meeting and in a news release later. “It makes a difference for four or five days.”

The supervisor said he has been told that Amherst, also home to a number of low-lying residential areas, is the only local town with a full-scale spraying program. Cliffe said a mosquito-control program of that type would cost $200,000 a year.

“We cannot spray into any woodlands, wetlands or any creeks with a DEC permit, and we cannot get a permit without expensive professional monitoring, which shows there is a public health hazard,” Cliffe said, referring to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Dicky said that aerial spraying “may knock down the mosquitoes that hatched and are flying around. It won’t do anything for the larvae. This spray breaks down in the environment rather quickly, so it doesn’t have residual effects. The spraying wouldn’t be done for public health reasons. It would be done to reduce an annoyance or a nuisance.”

The key to mosquito control is “habitat removal,” Dicky said, which means getting rid of standing, stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. That means actions such as cleaning out birdbaths weekly, making sure that there are no containers around that might hold water, and ensuring that gutters aren’t blocked in a way that would leave water in them.

“It is said that mosquitoes are seldom found more than 300 feet from where they germinate, so you don’t have to look far,” Cliffe said.

Retention ponds, often seen in subdivisions, aren’t favored by mosquitoes because the water is too open, Dicky said. They prefer shallow, stagnant water near the edges of ponds.

“Nobody can lawfully tell you the mosquito sprays are safe,” Cliffe said. “There are good reasons for telling you to go into your home and stay there while such sprays are being applied from the air.”

Dicky said, “We’ll never get rid of mosquitoes. Even things like storm water catch basins in roads can have enough water for … breeding.”

Cliffe said that if mosquitoes become a public health issue, he’ll consult with the county about a response.