In Case You Missed It: Senate Inaction on H.R. 872 Jeopardizes Public Health in California

MEDIA CONTACT:
Tamara Hinton, 202.225.0184
tamara.hinton@mail.house.gov

WASHINGTON – The Contra Costa Times of California published an article today on the increased danger of West Nile virus facing Bay Area residents this year. Mosquito control authorities may have to cease spraying this season because of a misguided court order that went into effect November 1, 2011 requiring duplicative permitting requirements for the use of pesticides that are already regulated.

As Deborah Bass, spokeswoman for Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control, states in the article:

"This is not the time to not allow us to control the mosquitoes…. The new rules requires agencies to monitor water quality before, immediately after and again a week after spraying, even though the pesticides are already approved federally to be used in water. This will be moving manpower and money away from public health."
 

The House Agriculture Committee took action to prevent the redundant regulations from taking effect, and H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, passed the House on March 31, 2011 with a bipartisan vote of 292-130.  But, the Senate has failed to take action.
 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas continues to call upon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring H.R. 872 to a vote and remove this unnecessary regulation. 
 

"This would have an effect on every citizen in the state of California if it doesn't get taken care of. Mosquitos don't care whether you're a Republican or Democrat, they are just looking for their next blood meal," according to an official interviewed for the article. 

The full text of the article follows and can be accessed online here

Mosquito fogging in jeopardy after new environmental regulations
January 30, 2012
By Matthias Gafni

As fears grow that an unseasonably warm winter could lead to a severe West Nile virus season in the Bay Area, statewide vector control agencies may lose their chief weapon in fighting the mosquito-borne illness.

Mosquitoes already have awakened from their hibernation, and a late rain could create the perfect breeding ground for West Nile, just as a federal court ruling imposes strict regulations on the use of mosquito-abatement pesticides.

The ruling, which took effect last fall, requires that pesticide use adhere to the Clean Water Act, meaning seasonal fogging may cease in parts of the Bay Area, increasing the chances humans will get infected by the potentially fatal virus, experts say. A bill that would free vector control agencies from the rules is stuck in Congress.

In addition to the regulatory and biological perfect storm, an Asian tiger mosquito infestation in Southern California threatens the rest of the state with the dangerous species, which carries not only West Nile but also dengue fever, known as "break-bone fever" because of the accompanying joint and muscle pains. This mosquito was found in Santa Clara County six years ago but was quarantined before it could spread.

Most people bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile experience no symptoms; however, 20 to 30 percent will contract West Nile fever and flu-like symptoms, including possible paralysis, and less than 1 percent will get a brain-inflammation illness, according to the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District. Since 1999, California has had more than 30,000 reported human cases, with 1,228 deaths.

On Monday and Tuesday, scientists from the state's 65 vector control agencies will meet at their annual conference in Burlingame to discuss two of the biggest issues to hit them in decades.

"This is not the time to not allow us to control the mosquitoes," said Deborah Bass, spokeswoman for Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control.

"We could definitely see an increase in the number of human cases of West Nile virus," said Dr. Steve Schutz, scientific program manager for the Concord-based agency.

In 2001, an herbicide spill into an Oregon creek killed 92,000 steelhead, sparking a lawsuit over pesticide use in waterways. Since then, court rulings and the Environmental Protection Agency have flip-flopped on the question of requiring federal permits for pesticides used in water.

A 2009 federal appeals court ruling finalized the regulations and gave states two years to prepare. The court order went into effect Nov. 1.

Vector control agencies use two chemical types -- pyrethroids and organophosphates -- to kill adult mosquitoes. The new rules forbid them to use either type near a waterway designated as "impaired" by the federal government if that water pollution stems from the same chemical family.

For instance, five Sacramento creeks federally declared impaired by both chemical types means the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District can no longer spray in those areas, which happen to be residential neighborhoods and historic hotbeds for mosquitoes and West Nile.

In Contra Costa, Kirker Creek in Pittsburg is impaired by pyrethroids, and numerous creeks in the West Nile hotbed of East Contra Costa, including Marsh Creek, are impaired for organophosphates. Contra Costa mosquito abaters will not be able to rotate the chemicals, meaning the mosquitoes will have a higher chance of building a resistance, Bass said.

A second implication from the court ruling is what some vector control officials call "duplicate" monitoring of the pesticides. The new rules require agencies to monitor water quality before, immediately after and again a week after spraying, even though the pesticides are already approved federally to be used in water, Bass said.

"This will be moving manpower and money away from public health," Bass said.
Not everyone is upset by the new rules.

"There are many ways of targeting West Nile virus without doing widespread fogging, and we believe nontoxic practices are more effective and healthier," said Dana Perls, Northern California community organizer for Pesticide Watch.

Fogging can cause a far greater medical risk, she said.

"There are a lot of ingredients we don't know about in the fogging cocktail," she said. "We don't want that mixed into our groundwater."

A vector expert says the pesticides are proven safe and extremely effective.

"Our goal is to protect the public health," said Gary Goodman, assistant manager for the Sacramento-Yolo agency, stressing that the products are sanctioned by the EPA. "It's the only known way to reduce adult mosquito populations."

With months before the fogging season begins, mosquito vector control agencies are crossing their fingers and lobbying legislators to halt the regulations.

HR 872, which would reduce the regulatory burdens, passed the House of Representatives but has stalled in the U.S. Senate. The bill has enough votes to pass, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has put a hold on it, said Sacramento-Yolo manager David Brown.

A Boxer spokesman referred questions late Friday to the environmental and public works committee, which Boxer chairs, but an email was not immediately returned.

"This would have an effect on every citizen in the state of California if it doesn't get taken care of," Brown said. "Mosquitoes don't care whether you're Republican or Democrat, they are just looking for their next blood meal."

 

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