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Residents Feel Stung by Surprise West Nile Sprayings

Locals claim the Department of Health did not give enough time to prepare for neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park to be covered by noxious pesticides Thursday night.

Locals are peeved about a city plan to spray a mosquito-killing pesticide in the neighborhood Thursday evening—and the city’s lack of warning about the plan.

The Department of Health plans to spray Anvil, a pesticide thought to cause cancer, throughout the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, in hopes of eradicating mosquitoes potentially carrying the deadly West Nile Virus.

The DOH sent out an email warning residents, but only gave residents an initial 24 hours of notice. They also suggested to keep all windows closed and stay indoors  until 6 a.m. tomorrow.

Gilly Younger, a member of the Park Slope Civic Council, was in the park unwittingly during the first night the trucks were supposed to come. She found out about the scheduled spray through a Twitter feed, which she thought was unacceptable.

“They need to shut down the park for this,” Younger said explaining if it wasn’t cancelled she would’ve been exposed to the harsh chemicals. “I am a cancer survivor so I take precaution with airborne toxins. These pesticides do have links to causing cancer.”

On August 2, the DOH sent an E-mail to community board members, city council members and Notify NYC the day before the first scheduled spray on August 3. When that spraying was cancelled due to rain, another E-mail gave 24 hours notice. 

By default, there was a 72-hour warning (though the DOH said that it was not merely by default). But the community believes the medium of communication between them and the DOH was not sufficient.   

Council member Brad Lander was just as peeved at the lack of adequate community outreach. 

“I am disappointed that the Department of Health gave such short and incomplete notice about its planned mosquito spraying,” Lander said. “The agency needs to give adequate notice of such actions and be transparent about the risks of the pesticide and the precautions that should be taken.” 

Locals were also upset about the city agency’s initial plan to spray Prospect Park during Thursday evening’s Celebrate Brooklyn concert—despite that it recommends locals stay indoors—but in the face of criticism the city quickly decided to spray the park after the show instead. 

The exact areas that will be sprayed by trucks are boarded by Washington Avenue to the East; 20th Street, Prospect Park West, and Eastern Parkway to the North; 45th Street and Fifth Avenue to the West; and Ft. Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue to the South. 

The Environmental Protection Agency grades Anvil in the least toxic category, sumithrin, a neuropoison in Anvil, is dangerous to humans. Symptoms of exposure are dizziness, headache, fatigue and diarrhea. In laboratory tests, sumithrin is known to damage the liver and kidneys, cause anemia, and increase the chances of liver cancer. It is also found to increase the proliferation of cells in breast cancer and can also mimic estrogen and prevent other hormones from binding to its normal receptors. Even in low concentrations, sumithrin kills fish and bees, and is poisonous to cats and dogs. 

Although the DOH suggests residents in the area should stay indoors, they do not believe the chemicals pose a serious threat. “In the amounts used, risks to people and pets are relatively low,” said DOH’s website.   

But many locals just aren’t buying it.

“The Department of Health is making up all these lies, saying it’s diluted and not toxic,” said Mitchel Cohen, the Coordinator of No Spray Coalition who sued the City in 2000 for spraying Anvil on Prospect Park’s waterways. “But if you are a child, forget it. It is deadly. It is extremely dangerous for the elderly and the immune compromised.” 

According to other studies, piperonyl butoxide, another ingredient in Anvil, is considered a group C carcinogen, meaning it is considered a possible carcinogen to humans based on limited evidence of cancer in laboratory animals. 

“I don’t think they are evil. They’re not Nazi doctors doing experiments.” Cohen said, explaining that the city is used to spraying dangerous chemicals because it is cheaper. “They just don’t know, don’t want to know and their jobs depend on following orders.” 

The DOH outlines precautions to be taken on their website, however, they do not say Anvil is outright toxic to humans and the environment. 

“We don’t need to poison our environment, kill off the mosquitoes’ natural predators, and cause long-term health problems,” said Cohen, who in 2008 blocked a spray truck with his car, which resulted in the city not spraying the neighborhood. “And that’s exactly what these spray trucks are going to do.” 

Cohen suggests using natural predators like dragonflies or bats to combat the mosquito problem. “One bat can eat 1,500 mosquitoes in one day,” Cohen said while explaining that bats could clear up a mosquito problem quickly and naturally.

But whether one is afraid of pesticides or believes Anvil is not dangerous, concern is still needed, especially with chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer and the community is not adequately notified.

Regardless of how much time the DOH gave the public to prepare for the chemicals emitted through their streets, three people walking near Prospect Park this afternoon had no idea the city will puff pesticide over their neighborhood in a few hours.

“I had no idea,” stated Tommy Morgan, a Park Slope resident for 60 years. “I am a Vietnam vet and they sprayed all sorts of stuff over us to kill vegetation. I don’t want to get sprayed in the face here and then they say, ‘Oh, this stuff will kill you.’ I’m not against it, I just want to be more informed.” 

“There is a reasonable debate to whether the spraying is worse than the mosquitoes it kills,” said Eric McClure, the co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors. “But the fact that the DOH would recommend to the public that they stay indoors during spraying but only giving 24 hours notice, is crazy. ”

tom murphy August 10, 2011 at 09:39 AM
Regarding the job of Member of the Council, I believe it requires that person to attend the stated Council Meetings which occur every other Tuesday. That's it Some manage to miss doing just that.
Mitchel Cohen August 12, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Here's an example of what local officials COULD do, if they put some energy into it. This is a letter from my NY State Assembly representative, William Colton, faxed (and snail-mailed) to the NYC Dept. of Health over a week ago. No response as of yet: August 4, 2011 Dept.of Health & Mental Hygiene 125 Worth Street, Room 331-CN 28 New York, NY 10013 Attn: Commissioner Thomas Farley Dear Mr. Farley, Constituents have brought to my attention their concerns regarding the spraying of pesticides throughout New York City to kill mosquitoes. Will there be spraying in the areas of Bensonhurst and Gravesend in Brooklyn, which are part of my district? Are there any precautions being taken to protect children and senior citizens? Are there any precautions being taken to protect the waters in Gravesend Bay and the backyards of residents, especially those who own swimming pools? What pesticides are being used in the spraying? (continued)
Mitchel Cohen August 12, 2011 at 06:30 PM
COLTON LETTER, 2 of 3 There have been reports indicating these pesticides may cause adverse side effects to some persons, especially seniors and children. Is there any evidence that the pesticides being sprayed in New York City may cause asthma to develop or trigger asthma attacks? Are there any reports that the pesticides have caused irritation and tearing of the eyes, respiratory irritation or stomach irritation, including nausea, cramps, or vomiting? Is there any evidence that the pesticides being sprayed in New York City may cause cumulative, multigenerational, or degenerative impacts on human health, especially the development of children? Is the Department of Health recommending that people should stay in side, turn off their air conditioners, and bring backyard equipment inside during the spraying? (continued)
Mitchel Cohen August 12, 2011 at 06:31 PM
COLTON LETTER, 3 of 3 Some constituents have claimed that new generations of mosquitoes may be immune to such chemicals. After previous spraying of pesticides in New York City, have the newer generations of mosquitoes been more immune to the pesticide spraying? Is there any evidence that the spraying has killed off the natural predators of mosquitoes? Is there any evidence that the pesticide spraying is ineffective in reducing the number of the next generation of mosquitoes? Is there any evidence that the pesticides being sprayed make it easier for organisms to contract or transmit West Nile Virus? I am seriously concerned about the questions being raised by my constituents, and I believe that the spraying should be investigated to ensure that it is safe. If the pesticides being sprayed could indeed cause harms to humans, I believe that the Department of Health should no longer continue the spraying. Instead, I believe that the Department should use safer alternatives to address the mosquito problem. I await your timely response to the many concerns of my constituents. Very truly yours, Assemblyman William Colton
Johanna Clearfield August 17, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Center For Media and Democracy Has Now Joined Forces with the NRDC against Pesticide Spraying.. http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/08/10968/cmd-urges-epa-more-closely-regulate-nanoscale-materials-pesticides

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