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This article was published 13/7/2010 (3729 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On matters of health and environmental safety, citizens expect decisions to be informed by solid science and reasoned public input. Unfortunately, this balance has not been achieved so far on the issue of mosquito control. Winnipeg city council, in a last-minute motion, voted last month to ask the city administration to develop plans for what would amount to an overhaul of the city's insect management policy including: changing or removing registered buffer zones, adjusting when adult mosquito fogging takes place, and examining alternative pesticides.
The insect control department is to report back on all these issues within 30 days, before city council breaks for summer on July 21.
There is good reason to consider revamping our mosquito control policy. Mosquitoes are potentially deadly vectors of diseases like West Nile virus, and some individuals have serious allergic reactions to their bites.
Our current control program uses toxic chemicals like malathion. Many residents have concerns about the long-term effects of this chemical, and some report having immediate nausea and respiratory reactions.
Statistics Canada reports almost 650,000 Canadians suffer from multiple chemical sensitivities. These citizens may be most at risk. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has urged the city to find non-toxic alternatives. All Winnipeggers can share the goals for a balanced insect control policy that effectively limits pests while maintaining maximum safety for humans and the environment.
Good policy should be guided by peer-reviewed research, with time and opportunity for public comment. Recognizing that new or expanded uses of pesticides may be costly, damaging to the environment, and harmful to human health, a wide range of alternatives should be examined and evaluated for their effects and effectiveness. Since each of us is in the best position to decide for ourselves our willingness to balance the risks posed by chemicals and by mosquitoes, space must be allowed for personal choice.
City council seems to be rushing towards increased fogging. Fogging is a popular alternative for politicians because it is highly visible. However, the most visible solution is not always the best. Expanding fogging will reduce the funds available for other options that may be more effective and environmentally benign. The city has repeatedly failed to fund an expanded biological larvicide program it approved in 2005. Increased fogging could further delay its implementation.
In 2004, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Helen Fallding was unable to conclude from evidence available to her that adult mosquito fogging is an effective method of mosquito control. She found trap counts fell equally in areas sprayed with malathion and those not sprayed. "One explanation -- and obviously the most obvious -- would be that the fogging didn't work," Joe Conlon, entomologist with the American Mosquito Control Association told Fallding at the time.
More research needs to be done on this matter before adopting fogging as a solution.
Some of the research that led to our current mosquito control program has not been updated for 20 years or more. In 1991, Winnipeg city council conducted a public review of its pesticide program. A committee sought input from stakeholders across the city. Former city entomologist, R.A. Ellis submitted a series of instructive reports as part of that process. In a 44-page report on malathion, reviewing hundreds of scientific papers, Ellis found that malathion has a very low level of toxicity for most humans, but that there were causes for concern.
It is highly toxic to beneficial insects like bees and to aquatic organisms. Ellis also found that the effective swath of malathion is about 100 metres, which is the distance given for buffer zones in Winnipeg. Updating this 20-year-old research is needed to ensure Winnipeg has the best practices for insect control.
In conducting this review, our current council should adopt the practice of its predecessors by ensuring there is adequate opportunity for public comment, that it seeks a thorough review of the relevant science, and fills in gaps with new Winnipeg-focused research. Meanwhile, we should begin with a measure of realism. We live in a clay-lined flood plain. No insect control policy is likely to achieve the result many Winnipeggers might hope for -- a mosquito-free summer.
Josh Brandon is living green co-ordinator with Resource Conservation Manitoba;
Anne Lindsey is executive director of Manitoba Eco-Network.
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