Despite assurances, aerial mosquito spraying plan leaves some concerned

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, MI — Safety assurances from public health leaders about Sunday’s planned aerial mosquito spraying — in parts of 14 Michigan counties — has not calmed everyone’s fears.

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell late Friday said he could not support such a blanket approach because of “too many unanswered questions and concerns.”

All of the city would be sprayed under the plan. The goal is to stop the spread of mosquitoes carrying the Eastern equine ecephalitis virus, which has killed three people in Michigan this year.

Since Friday, others also have come forward to share concerns, many taking to social media to voice their worries.

Workers with a Portage business called Top Hat Cricket Farm, in a Facebook post, said the spraying makes them uneasy.

“If they spray our farm, it could potentially wipe out our crickets. No crickets means no business. Our business sells upwards of 5 million crickets weekly. We have about 2 dozen employees that rely on our business as income for themselves and their families!,” according to the post.

Top Hat’s managers already have asked the state to opt out of the spraying — a request that needed to be made 48 hours prior to Sunday night’s planned start time of 8 p.m. — but they were still worried about areas around them being sprayed.

If a resident or business opts out, the aerial application would bypass an area of 1,000 feet by 1,000 feet around the property, according to information provided by local officials.

Kalamazoo County health officials were not encouraging people to opt out, saying it would diminish the overall treatment’s effectiveness.

The state released a map Friday of the planned aerial treatment areas, with spraying to begin at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, and ending at 4:30 a.m. Monday.

The spraying, conducted by low-flying aircraft, is weather-dependent and could be rescheduled for Monday instead, state officials said. For updates on the plan, they pointed residents to a page on the state’s website devoted to the outbreak.

A more detailed map of the planned Kalamazoo County spraying area is posted on the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Facebook page.

Mike Quinn, a Kalamazoo County commissioner, has joined Hopewell in opposing the idea of spraying insecticide on large areas.

He’s more concerned about the effectiveness of spraying.

“It only affects adult mosquitoes and it won’t get all of them,” he said.

Quinn said he’s heard from many others concerned about the spraying and it feels like the state moved too quickly without getting public comment. He said few knew about “opt-out” options until after the deadline to do so expired Friday evening.

“What really bothers me is the way the state and county health department accomplished this,” he said.

The solution being applied is an ultra-low volume spray containing Merus 3.0, an organic pesticide containing 5% pyrethrin, chemicals found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers.

Health officials say the spray is “safe for people, animals and the environment and has successfully been used in the United States for decades to reduce mosquito populations.”

They say no health effects are expected for people, pets or farm animals outside during the spraying.

Merus 3.0 may be harmful to bees if they come in direct contact with it, but honey bees will be inside their hives when the spraying begins and should not be effected, health officials say.

Still, some beekeepers say they’re worried about other insect “pollinators” being killed in the spraying.

Todd Smith, a board member of the Kalamazoo Bee Club, voiced mixed emotions about the spraying in a post on the Bee Club Facebook page.

“While I love my bees, my mentors bee hives, and the clubs, I really don’t want to see a neighbor, neighbors child, spouse, aunt, uncle or whoever become sickened either,” he wrote.

He said he spoke with beekeepers in Rhode Island following a recent Merus 3.0 spraying and they reported few problems.

Nine human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis have been confirmed in Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties. As of Friday, the disease had been connected to the deaths of three people and 27 animals, including horses, deer, a donkey and two wolf pups at Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek.

On Saturday, Allegan County health leaders announced their first confirmed cases of EEE in a deer found in Trowbridge Township, bringing the number of animal cases in the state to 28.

An area of Trowbridge Township has been added to the state’s spray plan because of the deer discovery.

For those concerned about coming into contact with the spray, including those who have known sensitivities to pyrethrins, state officials urge them to remain indoors, close windows and doors, shut off fans and air conditioners, bring in laundry and children’s toys, cover items left outside, wash outdoor surfaces with soap and water after the treatment and to wash any garden produce before cooking it.

Even with the planned spraying, state health officials say risk for contracting EEE from mosquitoes in the affected areas remains until after the season’s first “hard frost.”

State health officials continue to encourage local officials and residents in the affected counties to consider postponing, rescheduling or cancelling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, particularly activities that involve children.

People in the affected areas are encouraged to:

  • Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes that carry the EEE virus are most active.
  • Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Empty water from mosquito-breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.