Bergen Beach

Aerial spraying for West Nile virus Thursday night

You may be asking: What’s in that mist, and is it safe to breathe?

September 5, 2019 Mary Frost
The NYC Health Department will be spraying for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus in Brooklyn and Queens Thursday night. But what is in that spray, and is it safe to breathe? AP file photo by Rick Bowmer

City Department of Health trucks will be out again Thursday night spraying pesticide mist in parts of Brooklyn and Queens to kill mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. Spraying will take place between the hours of 8:30 p.m. Thursday night and 6 a.m. Friday morning, weather permitting.

This is the sixth time this summer the city has sent out the pesticide trucks.

Brooklyn neighborhoods being sprayed include Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands, Georgetown, Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Mill Island, Paerdegat Basin, Sheepshead Bay, Spring Creek and Starrett City (ZIP codes: 11207, 11229, 11234, 11235, 11236 and 11239).

With that in mind, you may be asking: What’s in that mist, and is it safe to breathe?

DOH says they will be spraying “very low concentrations” of Anvil 10+10 or DeltaGard insecticide. The risks of these pesticides, when used for mosquito control, “are low to people and pets,” the agency says. However, some people “may experience short-term eye or throat irritation, or a rash. People with respiratory conditions may also be affected,” DOH says.

The active ingredients in both brands of pesticide are chemicals known as pyrethroids.

EPA says pyrethroids can be used for mosquito control “without posing unreasonable risks to human health” when applied according to the label. The low doses sprayed in NYC neighborhoods likely have few negative consequences, especially if people avoid ingesting it by washing off garden vegetables and fruit that might have been sprayed.

The risk from infected mosquitoes is probably worse than breathing in a small amount of the pesticides, at least for humans and other mammals. However, “At high exposure levels, such as those resulting from accidents or spills, [the chemicals] can affect the nervous system,” EPA says.

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And the chemicals are highly toxic to fish and to bees. Bees are already in danger across the country, and EPA worries about harm to fish from runoff into bodies of water. EPA is currently reexamining the pesticides as part of its normal review process.

A study published by the National Institute of Health also found that low exposures to the pesticide are reasonably harmless to adults. In addition, one low exposure doesn’t seem to have much of an affect on unborn children. A study examining 196 women in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy exposed one time with a 4 percent dose of the chemical on their skin found no adverse effects.

However, eating the chemicals could have detrimental effects on children, the study found. The use of these pesticides in households is “often associated with allergies and asthma, especially in children,” and ingesting the chemicals through breast milk or food could lead to cancer, learning disabilities and other ailments.

To stay safe, DOH advises that people stay indoors during spraying, whenever possible, and for about 30 minutes afterward. Air conditioners can remain on. While “unnecessary,” you may wish to close air conditioner vents, or choose the recirculate function, DOH says. Children and pregnant women should take care to avoid exposure to the spray if possible.

Detected in 22 pools in Brooklyn

Mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been detected in 22 pools of water tested in Brooklyn by the NYC Depart of Health so far this summer. This is the sixth “adulticide” (which targets adult mosquitoes rather than larvae) the city has carried out this summer

The situation is worse in Queens, where the mosquitoes have been found at 130 sites tested, and Staten Island, with 93 sites testing positive. Testing found infected mosquitoes at 18 sites in the Bronx and three in Manhattan so far.

Is West Nile serious?

While most people infected with West Nile suffer no long-term damage, about 20 percent do come down with West Nile Fever (associated with moderate illness) or more severe West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease, with effects ranging from headaches and convulsions to encephalitis, meningitis or death.

In 2018, six Brooklyn residents came down with West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease, and one caught West Nile Fever. (One Brooklynite also was infected via a blood donor.) Horses are also vulnerable to West Nile, but no horses caught the disease last year in Brooklyn.

To reduce mosquitoes, eliminate any standing water, and take precautions when spending time outdoors. Use an approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (not for children under 3), or products that contain the active ingredient IR3535.

Report standing water by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov/health/wnv.

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