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Synthesis/Regeneration 31   (Spring 2003)

My Mosquito Control Project

by Tess Lauren, Glendale Neighborhood Health Watch

[The author began studying pesticide sprays as a home school project in 2000, when she was 10 years old. —Editor.]

About two years ago, I saw Glendale’s mosquito spray truck coming down our street. I asked my mom what the spray was, how it worked, and what was in it. She told me she didn’t know and suggested we find out. I had an interview with Ed Visie, the Head of Glendale’s Public Works at the time, and found out a few things such as the name of the spray (Bio mist), how much it cost the city to spray for mosquitoes ($4,000), and why Glendale started spraying (residents requested it). I learned that Glendale has sprayed for about 20 years. I got the name of the company that provides the Bio mist (Clark Outdoors). I called them and asked for the ingredients and the nice woman on the phone offered to send me a label of Bio mist, which I received within a few days. After reading the label several times with my parents to try and understand it, I looked for information on the chemicals in it and how they work.

Most of my research comes from the Internet. I found a great website called “Beyond Pesticides” run by the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP). They have tons of information including facts on permethrin, the main active ingredient found in the spray. The information I found was very surprising. There were many websites linking cancer to pesticide exposure. I found that permethrin and the group of chemicals called pyrethroids, which permethrin is part of, produce cancer in many studies.

Here is just some of what I found: “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), now ranks permethrin as a class C, or possible human carcinogen. It will not be until 2002 or later that EPA expects to complete its review of permethrin and synthetic pyrethroids…Many pyrethroids have also been linked to disruption of the endocrine system which can adversely affect reproduction and sexual development, interfere with the immune system and increase chances of breast cancer…Other studies of its effects show enlarged livers and at high levels decreased female fertility.” (from NCAMP Chemical Watch Fact sheet.) “Cancers diagnosed in children younger than 15 are increasing at about 1% a year in the US. Cancers are now the second leading cause of death among children (after accidents).” (Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly #588, “Children’s cancer and pesticides.”)

Even more surprisingly, I found information that the spray may not have any effect on the mosquito population. “The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention state that spraying adulticides and pesticides intended to kill adult mosquitoes is usually the least efficient mosquito control technique. Aside from adverse health effects posed to humans, adulticiding may actually increase the number of mosquitoes by destroying their natural predators. Additionally, mosquitoes that survive the spraying may become resistant, longer-lived, more aggressive, and have an increased prevalence of the (West Nile) virus within their bodies. Despite these problems, adulticides are often used in the battle to control mosquitoes” (NCAMP).

I told one of our neighbors about the information. She and her husband were very interested and decided to help talk with our other neighbors. All seven neighbors on our street that we talked with agreed that the spraying should stop and several helped us. I talked with experienced activists about our situation and found great support and helpful information. My mom and one of our neighbors and I went to the board of aldermen’s meeting in our city of Glendale and presented each alderperson with 35 pages of information. We also read some quotes out loud and told them that we wanted the spraying stopped and we would like them to inform our residents about the risks and precautions associated with the spray through our city’s regular newsletter. I received a letter from the Mayor in response to our plea. It was not the response I was hoping for, but at least it got their attention.

...the chemical companies have greater access to our elected officials than the citizens who elect them.

The Mayor says that the reason the city sprays and the reason they spray weekly is because this is what the residents have requested. Yet many residents believe that government has ownership of responsible mosquito control and wouldn’t do anything that might be harmful, not knowing that the citizens themselves are the ones responsible. The Mayor cites the fact that permethrin has been registered by the EPA since 1977. Well, the EPA states that, “most pesticides—despite having an EPA registration—have not been adequately tested to determine their effects on people or the environment.” (Yard for Kids, at http://www.uni.edu/yardforkids/).

What I have found so far is that the chemical companies have greater access to our elected officials than the citizens who elect them, through the millions of dollars they spend in self-promoting leaflets, powerful lobbyist groups and other forms of advertisement. We have found a need for more public interest research by both groups and individuals.

Reading the writings of successful activists, including Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Ralph Nader, has really inspired me. I’m learning that standing up for yourself and the rights of others can be a lot of work. Activism is fun and constructive and it helps the environment and the people. The thing I like most of all is that I have the satisfaction of helping to stop cancers, air pollution and more. It feels good knowing that I am helping my community and I am going to continue to fight against this spraying, to make it known to all the residents how hazardous this product is. I plan to continue in my efforts to educate people about the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals. The following quote from Gandhi reminds me that this is an evolving process: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”

I’ve learned and sharpened a lot of skills by doing this project. I think there should be a home-schooling method called Activism Schooling!

[18 apr 03]

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