"Everyone knows that the best way to control mosquito populations is through larval control and reduction of breeding sites," says Feldman. But communities still spray harmful chemicals from trucks and airplanes, which is the least effective way to control mosquitoes. "To kill mosquitoes that way, you have to hit the mosquito in flight,” he says. “But when you consider time of day, changing weather patterns, wind, and so on, there are so many factors that can reduce the effectiveness of this method," he says.
"Once people know these details, they have a better chance to sort through the best options,” says Feldman. “But when an official simply says they're using pesticides registered by the EPA and they're safe, people can't see the downside of spraying." In other words, you often don’t have enough information to lobby for a better alternative.
What You Need To Know
Knowing which pesticides are being sprayed in your neighborhood, and the method being used, allows you to advocate for more effective mosquito-control methods. This ultimately can lead to lower exposure for you and your family. The federal government doesn't monitor or regulate mosquito control. Rather, each state develops its own rules regarding which chemicals are applied, how they're applied, and how the public is informed about it. Unfortunately, finding out your state’s methods isn’t always easy, considering the patchwork of public agencies that sometimes monitor mosquito control. Some states operate mosquito-control programs through the agriculture department; others do so through the department of natural resources. In states where mosquitoes spread diseases, such as West Nile virus or dengue fever, the health department may also get involved.
Feldman recommends first finding out if your state has a mosquito-control or abatement district. Not all do, but you can check by logging onto the American Mosquito Control Association's website. Your mosquito-control district can tell you which chemicals are used and what the laws are regarding notification of spraying. If you don't have a mosquito control district, call or email any of the aforementioned statewide departments to find out who handles mosquito control in your area. Ask questions, and voice your concerns. You may want to attend the next public meeting on the topic.
Depending on what you find out, you may need to push your public officials to use less-toxic "larvacide," which is much more effective than spraying to kill mosquito adults. Various larvacidal methods kill mosquito larvae before they reach adulthood. These range from eliminating pools of standing water in public areas to adding larvae-eating fish or larvacidal bacteria to local ponds and fountains.
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If officials insist on spraying, Feldman says, you can usually opt out of such programs. This way, when trucks come down your street to spray, they’ll be required to stop when they get to your house. This won't eliminate pesticide “drift” from your neighbors’ yards, but it will reduce your exposure. You can also organize your neighbors. If enough people oppose spraying, the trucks or planes will skip your neighborhood altogether.
In the end, the healthiest, most effective way to protect yourself from mosquitoes, mosquito-borne disease, and pesticides is with chemical-free mosquito-control methods, such as eliminating standing water, attracting natural mosquito predators by providing bird and bat houses, and wearing protective clothing or natural mosquito repellent when mosquitoes are active (at dawn and dusk).