NewTimes: "Pesticide Sprayed Over Wynwood Is Banned in Europe, May Also Harm Fetuses"


When the Centers for Disease Control tried to spray Naled, a controversial pesticide used to kill mosquitoes, over Puerto Rico to stamp out the Zika virus last month, the island's residents erupted. The city's streets filled with protesters, and Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro GarcĂ­a Padilla forced the CDC to send back its shipments of the chemical.

But when Miami-Dade County Mosquito control experts chose to spray that very same pesticide from planes over Wynwood to combat the Zika virus last week, Floridians barely made a peep, despite the fact that Naled is banned in the European Union. That continent's regulators claim the pesticide poses an "unacceptable risk" to human health.

NewTimes: "Pesticide Sprayed Over Wynwood Is Banned in Europe, May Also Harm Fetuses"

Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control say Naled can be safely sprayed in small amounts to kill mosquitoes, some American environmental scientists disagree, and say spraying Naled over a populated area ranges from a "necessary evil" to downright irresponsible.
In a dark twist, some studies have even shown that the family of chemicals Naled belongs to can harm a growing fetus — which means the county could potentially be harming the very same pregnant residents it's trying to protect.

On August 4, Dr. Elvia Melendez-Ackerman, an environmental biologist at the University of Puerto Rico's Rio Piedras campus, sent City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado a letter, demanding Miami stop spraying Naled. (The letter should have gone to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, as the county actually handles mosquito-control spraying.)

"We all have heard of the intention to fumigate Miami with Naled, and with all due respect, we are starting to see in Florida a repeat of what we went through: Public servants not reading the science that is in front of them," writes Melendez-Ackerman, who was active in the movement to ban Naled in Puerto Rico.
In an interview with New Times, she criticized both the federal government and Miami-Dade County for rushing to kill mosquitoes without thinking enough about the long-term costs of aerial Naled spraying.

"People don't know all the risks," she says. "This degrades into a carcinogen. It's in the EPA documents."

However, a county mosquito control spokesperson tells New Times the county abides by a host of state and federal spraying guidelines and is doing all it can to keep citizens safe. The county only sprays roughly an ounce of Naled per acre of land, the spokesperson, Francisco Calderon, said.

"Miami-Dade County has been using Naled safely for approximately four decades," Calderon said via email. (The county has mostly used that pesticide in agricultural fields, though, rather than in urban areas.)

"We only use it during aerial spraying operations, not handheld or truck spraying, per CDC and [Florida Department of Health] recommendations. The insecticide is registered for use by both the EPA and [Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services]. It can only be applied by a licensed professional, which is what we do."

Though the EPA says Naled is only harmful in large doses, the chemical is part of a controversial family of insecticides called "organophosphates," which some environmentalists say pose massive health risks for humans, animals, and plant life across the country. A 2013 National Geographic report called organophosphates"common but deadly," and say they attack the human nervous system just like chemical weapons like sarin gas. The pesticides were blamed for killing at least 25 children in India that year. At acute levels, the pesticide stops a person's neurotransmitters from working.

"It's a painful way to die," Emory University exposure scientist Dana Boyd Barr told the magazine. "You end up suffocating because you are essentially paralyzed."
A 2010 study said organophosphates are responsible for killing 200,000 people a year in developing countries.

Though the EPA maintains Naled can be sprayed safely in small doses, the organization has asked farms and governments to "voluntarily eliminate" organophosphate usage. The agency also bans organophosphates from home use. Also, Naled is specifically banned from use in flea collars, out of fear that children will come in contact with the pesticide.

Most frighteningly, a 2010 Emory University study showed that prenatal and early-childhood exposure to organophosphates can lead increase the risks of some neurological disorders, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

For years, the Washington, D.C.-based National Resources Defense Council has called for reductions in organophosphate spraying. In Miami's case, the group says that while the seriousness of the Zika epidemic might warrant emergency Naled usage, the county needs to do more to let citizens know that the chemical could cause poisoning, or lead to long-term health effects.

"County officials haven’t been giving complete warnings to people," Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior NRDC scientist, tells New Times. "I've seen some literature that said 'No extra precautions are needed' if they're spraying. But we want people to take extra precautions to avoid coming in contact with residue."

According to a county spokesperson, Miami-Dade mosquito control has sprayed Naled twice via plane last week, on Thursday, August 4, and Sunday, August 7. The county plans to spray the pesticide again on Sunday, August 14. (Planes are also spraying a "safer" chemical called BTI, which kills mosquito larvae.)

The Zika "active transmission zone" includes hundreds of residential homes and apartments.

"When they're spraying, close your windows, and turn off your air conditioning to avoid drawing the pesticide into your house," Sass says. "Make sure you take children’s toys inside, and wipe things down before you let people contact them again. Especially a slide, barbecue, or pet food bowls. And especially things that come in contact with kids.

Not all scientists agree that care should be taken during the spraying, though. Dr. Naresh Kumar, an environmental scientist at the University of Miami, says he thinks people are blowing the risks "out of proportion." While he agrees that massive exposure to Naled is harmful, he says that virtually all pesticides are a form of poison, and can never be truly administered "safely." He added that exposure to pesticides like Naled could cause children to be born with lower birth weights.

"What do you want to take?" he says. "A baby with a birth defect or a baby with a low birth weight? Everything comes at some cost. There is no safe solution. One has to way the costs and the benefits."

But last month, the Puerto Rican government rejected that argument.

Zika has hit that territory harder than almost any area on Earth. But when the CDC announced plans to spray the island with Naled, residents protested en masse. The CDC argued that the island's mosquitoes had become too resistant to "safer" pesticides, and, according to the New York Times, clandestinely shipped Naled to the island. Residents only found out after a local TV station reported on the shipment.

Given Puerto Rico's long, complicated history with U.S. colonization, Puerto Rican officials were incensed. Garcia Padilla, the governor, accused the CDC of "blackmail" before sending the pesticides back. The CDC then apologized.
Melendez-Ackerman, who emphatically fought against Naled usage in Puerto Rico, says Miamians shouldn't sit idly by as planes soar overhead wafting organophosphates into the air.

"I am not asking you to trust me," she says. "I am just asking you to read. There is so much science out there, so many studies, but people just refuse to read them."


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