When bees die from the shortsighted actions of a few, we must speak up. As you may already know, millions of honey bees were immediately annihilated in an aerial spraying against Zika on August 28 in Dorchester County, South Carolina. They used the chemical Naled, (which is commonly used in mosquito spraying), and is known to be highly toxic to honey bees. One beekeeper, alone, in Dorchester County lost 46 of her hives and her livelihood, about 2.5 million bees.
Because Naled is destructive to insects (no insecticide kills just mosquitoes), we can assume that native bees, beneficial insects, butterflies, and moths were killed in large numbers as well. I wonder if anyone has explained to the Dorchester County decision-makers that we need pollinators (and we need a lot of them) to eat. We need pollinators to feed our wildlife. We need pollinators to ensure the next generation of plants that produce the oxygen we breathe. And over time we simply do not have enough pollinators to sustain these major losses.
Dig a little deeper and their actions become even more misguided and reckless. Consider:
- There were no cases of Zika contracted from mosquitoes in Dorchester County, South Carolina. All but one of the 46 cases in the state came from other states. The one exception was transmitted sexually.
- The spraying occurred between 6:30 am and 8:30 am, a time when honey bees (and other insects) would be very active and out of the hive. Mosquitoes are not active between 6:30 and 8:30 in the morning; they are most active from dusk through the night. Adults and children in the area, outside at the time, would have been exposed to the chemical Naled.
- Dorchester County notified their citizens about the planned Sunday spraying on Friday afternoon via newspaper and Facebook. They notified some beekeepers, but not all. There simply was not enough time for residents to learn about the planned spraying and respond. Perhaps that is what the county planned on.
The Toxic Effects of Naled
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Naled sprayings to prevent the spread of the Zika virus and maintains that it is safe for people at low doses. Let’s take a closer look at Naled’s potential toxicity.
Naled is a fast-acting, organophosphate (OP) insecticide that has been banned in Europe since 2012. Naled is a neurotoxin that interferes with the nervous system. In people, Naled can cause a range of symptoms, such as confusion and weakness. Severe poisoning can cause paralysis and death from respiratory failure. (Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University)
Part of a hazard statement from the manufacturer of Naled (AMVAC) reads, “HAZARDS TO HUMANS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS. DANGER: CORROSIVE. Causes irreversible eye damage. Causes skin burns. May be fatal if swallowed. Harmful if inhaled or absorbed through skin. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Prolonged or frequently repeated skin contact may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Do not breathe mist/vapors/spray.”
Naled can also cross the placenta. Repeated exposure may cause future behavioral problems, as well as issues with neurodevelopment, growth, and respiratory health in children.
Naled is known to be highly toxic to bees and toxic to birds, aquatic life, and wildlife. Many of these creatures eat mosquitos or their larvae.
And we are dropping this chemical from the sky? One U.S. island recently rejected the aerial spraying of Naled.
Puerto Rico Rejects Naled Aerial Spraying
Puerto Rico, which has a serious on-going Zika crisis, rejected a Naled aerial spraying over their island this past July. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pushed to conduct Naled aerial spraying to control Zika. Puerto Rico government officials debated whether to pursue spraying, while also holding public hearings. There was public protest.
Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla ultimately rejected the idea and declared that spraying would “pose a significant risk to the well-being of several species of fish, wildlife, and plants”, as well as “a serious risk to the general health” of residents. The CDC backed down. They have plans to distribute another insecticide called bti, or bacillus thuringiensis israelensis.
Pesticide Sprayings Not Working
Had Dorchester County acted more thoughtfully and cautiously, perhaps they would have considered Miami’s experience with pesticides to fight Zika. Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, recently said of their experience in Florida,
They’ve been applying chemicals that kill larval mosquitoes and adult mosquitoes every day. It isn’t working as well as we had hoped. That could be because some of the mosquitoes are resistant to those insecticides.”
Insects becoming resistant to an insecticide over time is a common occurrence. The CDC is now looking into alternatives, such as bats to kill the mosquito populations.
What You Can Do
The only way to make sure this doesn’t happen again–either in your county or somewhere else–is to speak out.
To protest Dorchester County’s handling of the aerial spraying in South Carolina, see a petition at change.org.
As we saw in the example of South Carolina, the time between the announcement and the spraying, can be short. Your dialogue about this issue may need to happen before the decision has been made.
To prevent this from happening in your area, I recommend beginning at your town’s administrative offices. Ask to opt-out of any drive-by spraying. (In my town you have to opt-out before March of the year they intend to spray.) Ask lots of questions. Find out who you should contact about aerial spraying. County health officials perhaps? Then find out if plans are underway for aerial spraying. If so, what chemicals will they be using? Communicate your opinion about aerial spraying. Share any news you find out with neighbors and your town. Then begin the political pressure if necessary. Here in my northern state, Massachusetts, Zika is unlikely, but we are still at risk for mosquito spraying because of West Nile.
General pesticide spraying is a practice that kills our pollinators and puts our own health in jeopardy. Yes, Zika is a serious health concern, but we need to be much smarter about how we fight it. Please speak up in your community if you agree. You may just save millions of bees.
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