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West Nile, Pesticides, and Effects on Children

Crop DustingAs parents in Sacramento, CA, put children to bed earlier this week, planes flying overhead doused a 30,000-acre area with blanket of pesticides. The target of the repeated aerial spraying: mosquitoes.

An increasing number of mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus, but many citizens, environmentalists and health advocates are alarmed about hazardous exposure to synthetic chemicals – potentially resulting in cancer, disorders in brain development, hormone disruption, respiratory problems  – that likely outweigh dangers of West Nile itself.

West Nile is commonly transmitted through mosquito bites, and usually causes only mild flu-like symptoms. On rare occasions, however, it can be deadly.

“The cure is worse than the disease,” said Kim Glazzard, director of the nonprofit Organic Sacramento. “You’re spraying poison over thousands of people for the potential of maybe helping a handful of people. And kids are especially susceptible.”

Similar arguments are emerging in other parts of the U.S. including Boston, New Orleans and Mobile, Ala.. Officials there claim these are precautionary measures in light of of predictions of more West Nile due to an unusually mild winter and a warm spring (which have fortified mosquito populations).

“We’ve already found a lot of West Nile virus in dead birds and mosquitoes this year. We usually don’t see this until August,” said Luz Rodriguez, a spokesperson with the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, which supervises the spraying. “We felt it was necessary to move forward quickly to reduce the number of adult mosquitoes to protect public health.”

Two kinds of pesticides are being used in this year’s treatment: Anvil, a synthetic pyrethroid, and Dibrom, an organophosphate. Less than an ounce of each was applied to every acre, costing the county about $120,000 for two nights of spraying. More spraying could occur in West Nile continues.

Confident that the “low doses” of pesticide usage is safe, county officials did not tell residents to take precautions during the spraying. “Generally, there is no need to relocate or stay inside,” said Rodriguez. “If it makes people feel more comfortable, they can close windows or cover furniture. But there’s no list of specific recommendations.”

Yet according to John Wargo, an environmental health professor at Yale University, “The chemicals they are using are not benign. They are both known to be toxic by different routes.”

Pyrethroids are known endocrine disruptors, a class of chemicals that researchers have recently found can mix up critical hormonal signals even at extremely small amounts.

Another ingredient in Anvil, added to boost the effectiveness of the pyrethroid on insects, is called piperonyl butoxide (PBO). The chemical, according to a study published in Pediatrics can disrupt brain development in the womb, as well as interact with other pesticides in the environment to increase their toxicity. PBO is listed among the top 10 chemicals in indoor dust, a significant route of exposure for young children.

Many of these effects aren’t noticed until year later, which is why experts suggest that many toxic chemicals slip through the regulatory cracks.

“We tend to study acute exposure,” said Mike Somers, spokesman for the Sacramento-based nonprofit Pesticide Watch, which has battled aerial insecticide spraying program. “But what happens when you get exposed for several years in a row from the spraying? And what happens when you combine two different types of pesticides together?”

For the most part, the answer is unknown.

Some say the aerial spraying may not really curb the spread of West Nile. It potentially could poison birds and insects that naturally decrease mosquito numbers, said Wargo, or spur resistance to the chemicals, requiring more or stronger pesticides to maintain the same control.

If you have been exposed to chemicals in the workplace, or suffer any kind of occupational illness or workplace injury, a Seattle Workers Compensation Attorneys at Emery Reddy can help with your L&I Claim through and negotiate with the Department of Labor and Industries.  We also represent workers who are required to complete an independent medical exam or who want to appeal a denied L&I claim.

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