In response to two cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), including one fatality, the Vermont Department of Public Health has authorized aerial spraying of pesticides across parts of Addison and Rutland Counties.
Aerial spraying of pesticides is a last resort in the state’s response plan for EEE and West Nile Virus, and this is the first time the state has invoked this measure. EEE is rare, but approximately one third of severe cases prove fatal.
“This terrible situation brings to mind the old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ – and prevention is critical for a disease like Eastern equine encephalitis which has no known cure,” said Lauren Hierl, environmental health advocate at VPIRG. “Unfortunately, Vermont has cut its surveillance efforts for diseases like West Nile Virus and EEE as federal funding has dried up. This is a trend that must be reversed in order to protect public health.”
“In order to reduce the threat of diseases like EEE and West Nile, and avoid the need for potentially risky pesticide applications in neighborhoods across the state, we urge full funding for prevention and education programs,” Hierl added. “We know that climate change increases the likelihood we’ll see even more mosquito-borne diseases, so it’s critical that Vermont officials do everything possible to detect and stop potential disease outbreaks at the earliest stage.”
In addition to improving monitoring programs to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses and the need for broad-based chemical pesticide applications, the Vermont Department of Health provides a number of recommendations for preventing mosquito bites, including:
- Limit the amount of time spent outdoors at dawn and dusk.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside when mosquitoes are active.
- Cover baby carriages or outdoor play spaces with mosquito netting.
- Fix any holes in the screens in your house and make sure they are tightly attached to the doors and windows.
- Remove standing water around your house.
- Dispose of, regularly empty, or drill holes in the bottom of any water-holding containers (including trash cans and recycling bins) outside on your property.
- Clean clogged roof gutters of leaves and debris that prevent drainage of rainwater.
- Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
- Change water in birdbaths every three or four days to prevent stagnation.
- Keep swimming pools clean and properly chlorinated. Remove standing water from pool covers.
- Use landscaping to keep standing water from collecting on your property.
“It’s important to note that chemical pesticides are designed to kill living things. We shouldn’t assume they’re safe, but instead should avoid them whenever possible,” said Hierl.
The pesticides used in aerial spraying pose potential environmental threats – including toxic impacts on numerous types of insects and aquatic species – and human health threats, such as exacerbation of respiratory conditions like asthma, plus irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat or lungs. Potential longer-term health effects are also possible, but are not yet well understood.
In communities with aerial spraying scheduled, VPIRG encourages people to take precautionary steps to reduce their family’s exposure:
- Stay inside or out of the area during spraying and for at least 30 minutes after spraying. Keep pets inside too, if possible.
- Close windows, doors and outside vents before spraying begins to circulate indoor air.
- Bring toys and laundry inside before spraying. Cover outdoor tables and wash them off with soap and water after spraying.
- Bring pet food and water dishes inside, and cover fish ponds.
- Pick fruit and vegetables you expect to eat soon before spraying begins. Wash all produce before cooking or eating.
- If you come in contact with pesticide spray:
- Protect your eyes. If you get spray in your eyes, rinse with water immediately.
- Wash any exposed skin.
- Wash clothes that come in direct contact with spray separately from other laundry.
- Consult your health care provider if you think you are experiencing health effects from spraying.
“We urge Vermont leaders to adequately fund surveillance and other prevention efforts so aerial spraying of pesticides is not necessary to deal with mosquito-borne diseases in the future,” said Hierl. “In the short-term, we encourage Vermonters – particularly those in Addison and Rutland counties – to take the recommended steps both to prevent mosquito bites and to protect their families and pets from exposure to pesticides.”