Monday, July 27, 2009

Pesticides, or not?

I've waited almost a week to write this post to give myself time to calm down. One evening last week, I was sitting in my living room watching television at about 9:30 pm when I started coughing and gagging and generally having trouble breathing. As I stood up to get some help, I saw a truck coming down the street spraying something all over the neighborhood. A quick call to the sheriff's office confirmed my suspicion that it was a pesticide coming out of the back of that truck. Twenty-four hours later, after several emails and phone calls, I had a promise from the county and the private contractor that our street would never be sprayed again and that I would be notified if neighboring streets were to be sprayed.

This was a very scary experience. Never, in the eight years we have lived in this house, has this happened. Nor has anyone ever intimated that it COULD happen. Apparently, back in 1976, a mosquito abatement district was established in our area. However, according to the contractor, this is the first time our particular neighborhood has been sprayed, and it was done only because someone called the county and complained about the mosquitoes. I have written a letter to the county commissioners urging them to find better methods of mosquito control than the use of toxic chemicals (malathion, in this case). If they still deem it necessary to spray occasionally, I have urged them to adopt a written policy for notifying residents in advance and for informing them of the content and dangers of the chemical being used.

There are alternative ways to control pesky insects. The most important is to eliminate all standing water (a necessity for mosquito promulgation). There are several plants, such as marigolds and Thai lemon grass, which, when planted in a yard or garden, serve as natural mosquito repellents. Along the same line, there are a number of natural repellent sprays and creams available which are safe and effective for personal use. Staying inside when the bugs are at their worst, usually in the evening, is also a good strategy. And, above all, don't wear anything with a fragrance (which, of course, no one reading this would do anyway, right?).

I know that mosquito-born illnesses are nothing to laugh about. We do have West Nile Virus here in Montana (though the season hasn't started yet this year) and I have a son-in-law who contracted malaria while in Mexico. In some parts of the world, these diseases kill large numbers of people, so mosquito control is essential. However, I see no need to apply a tourniquet when a simple Band Aid will do, or, better yet, an ounce of prevention. In the case of our neighborhood, it all comes back to residents taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own property. Here and now, the dangers presented by the use of chemical sprays are much greater than any potential danger from mosquitoes.

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