Mosquito spraying raises concerns among beekeepers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While likely no one will be upset to see mosquitoes go, Sunday’s aerial spraying in parts of 14 West Michigan counties has sparked concern for bees and butterflies.

The
plan is to use an ultra-low concentration of the insecticide called Merus 3.0. 

Its
Illinois-based manufacturer says the spray is Pyrethrum, an extract allegedly
from the flowerhead of the chrysanthemum plant. It
is supposed to be sprayed by a plane traveling about 175 mph from 300 feet
above, delivering about a tablespoon of the active ingredient over an acre.

A map provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows the areas (shaded in blue) aircraft will spray pesticide to kill mosquitoes.

While the treatment is expected to be about 85% effective in killing mosquitoes, health officials have admitted the spray can harm bees that come into direct contact with it. 

>>MDHHS: FAQs for aerial mosquito spraying

While
the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says the impact on the
bees will be minimal, beekeepers like Betsy O’Neill are on edge.

“I’m
just worried more about the residual effects — what’s gonna be there in the morning, what are they gonna get into,” she said. 

O’Neill
has her hives in Caledonia and has been raising bees and gathering honey for
about five years. She takes an organic approach she refers to as “pro bee.” 

She’s
worried about bees and butterflies, as well as the bats that eat the insects
and the impact on water they drink. 

“Definitely
what we want to first go to is the humans. But as humans, we need all these
integral parts of nature and it’s there for a purpose,” she explained. 

West
Michigan’s beekeeping community called on its members Friday to contact their
health departments at the state and local level. 

Health
officials did their best to allay fears, pointing out the organic nature of the
mosquito spray being used and the extremely low dose that they say will
dissipate in the air as it falls and poses no risk to humans and animals. 

“This
isn’t something you see on TV or out in the more rural communities — a crop
duster for agricultural pesticide. This is different,” said William Nettleton, a medical officer for Kalamazoo and Calhoun
counties. 

“The
application is not expected to have an impact on bees. Like most insecticides,
Merus 3.0 could be harmful to bees if they come into direct contact, however
the insecticide application will occur after dusk when bees are expected to be
in their hive,” Kalamazoo County health
officer Jim Rutherford emphasized
Friday.

O’Neill
understands the balancing act between human health, and she appreciates the
fact that spraying is being done from dusk until dawn when bees are usually
inside. 

But she’s still considering precautions.

“I’m
probably going to lock my bees in their hives. We’re gonna put a little screen over their entrance and
keep them in for a couple of days,” she said. 

Health
officials say that beekeepers can use wet burlap to cover bee enclosures as an
additional measure. 

The MDHHS has said property owners in the spray
area can opt out by emailing their name and full mailing address to eee@michigan.gov at
least 48 hours before spraying begins.

However, state health warned that opting out
would reduce the overall effectiveness of the treatment and neighbors upwind of
the opt-out area would not see mosquito numbers drop.