June 6, 2012

The Mosquito War: A Commercial Overkill and A Hopeful Do-It-Myself


Recently, our terrific cul-de-sac neighborhood gang debated whether or not to sign up for the mosquito abatement program available from the “Mosquito Squad.” On the face of it, the issue seems like a no-brainer, right? After all, wouldn’t a summer free of bites and scratches be a fine thing?

I am glad our Eskridge Terrace group choose NOT to enlist the Mosquito Squad’s services, since their sprays, I've learned, could also kill bees and other “good insects”… to say nothing of the pesticide's danger to the fish in my pond.

The Toxic Overkill Approch
Last week, I was talking about our concerns with Bill Eck, my Bartlett Tree rep. After he explained the dangers involved in the treatment used by the Mosquito Squad, I asked him if he could recap his concerns in an email. Bill took it one step further, asking first for comments from Dr. Don Booth from Bartlett’s research lab. Here is Dr. Booth’s email to Bill:
Mosquito Squad offers two programs: Standard (resmethrin) and natural (garlic). 
Resmethrin is classified as a synthetic pyrethroid. Resmethrin is a Restricted Use insecticide for professional use as an ultra-low volume (ULV) application for mosquito abatement programs, due to its acute fish toxicity. Resmethrin is highly toxic to honey bees, with an LD50 of 0.063 μg/bee. When applied in the backpack ULV sprayers used by Mosquito Squad, the resmethrin is used in a highly concentrated form that increases the potential to harm beneficial insects. 
I believe that the actual product used by Mosquito Squad is Scourge. Note that the label has a honey bee precaution. 
In my trials, the natural program using garlic was effective for only a few days or until it rained hard.
Then, Bill followed up with his own message to me:
The toxicity to bees and fish doesn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t sound exactly like what the Mosquito Squad sales guys are saying.

Here’s what their website says about resmethrin: “the active ingredient in our most commonly used barrier spray is a synthetic reproduction of a substance derived from chrysanthemums.” This is true, but it sugarcoats the truth that while based on a natural treatment, it is completely synthetic, toxic to bees and fish, and has a long residual.

The site also says: “Mosquito Squad is registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” This cannot be true because EPA registers products, not companies.

My advice to you and anyone else who might consider paying for a service like this is to ask for as much info as possible, i.e.:
  • product labels,
  • pesticide applicator licenses,
  • information about the applicator, not just the sales rep. Just because the sales rep or company owner is certified, the applicator might be an inexperienced and under-educated employee working under their license.
It is also important to note that if you are killing the mosquitoes, you are probably killing all of the beneficial insects on the property such as ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and praying mantis. Their program is highly effective because the resmethrin is used at an incredibly high rate. They are putting out an extremely toxic droplet that definitely causes mite outbreaks: Forget about any biological control on the properties they spray!
Caveat Emptor!

The Non-Toxic Garlic Spray Approach
After receiving this information, and after our cul-de-sac nixed the toxic sprays of the Mosquito Squad, I decided to give the non-toxic garlic spray a try. I didn't want buy anything from the Mosquito Squad, which also offers a garlic spray option. So, I did some Googling and found Mosquito Barrier, which sells a spray product that is 95% garlic. I bought a spray attachment for my garden hose and used it last week. On Sunday, I spent a comfortable couple of hours reading the newspapers while sitting outside. No bites. No signs of mosquitoes. But, given the cool day, I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and long pants.

I'll keep my Mosquito Barrier handy. And I'll use it -- without any worries of negative environmental impact -- when there's no threat of rain and I'm planning time outside, in my garden or with friends. Soon enough, the oppressive heat and humidity of the Washington summer will drive us all inside to the insect-free comfort of our air conditioning anyway. From there, I'll watch all the healthy bees buzzing around my flowers and the goldfish swimming in the pond.

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