Got bugs? Metro-east towns search for best way to kill mosquitoes

News-DemocratJuly 20, 2013 

With mosquito season in full swing, towns in the metro-east are using a variety of methods to protect people from the annoying bites to the dangerous diseases these bugs can carry.

But are they effective?

In Belleville, Alderwoman-at-large Lillian Schneider said she's talked to the Public Works Department since early July about having the city resume spraying for mosquitoes.

"We're halfway through July now. When are we going to get it done?" Schneider said. "Didn't they know summer was here or do they not care? It's not right that the city is dragging their feet."

While no human cases of the West Nile Virus have been reported this year, Schneider said she is concerned the virus has already moved from mosquitoes to birds in several cases across the metro-east.

Mayor Mark Eckert said Belleville currently does not have the chemical needed to spray, and it has not been budgeted this year to purchase more. He said Belleville has not sprayed much since 2010 because of complaints the city received and the proven ineffectiveness of the technique.

"It's not effective, so that was one of the big things that, when we hit the bad economy and we slowed it down or stopped it, that was a part of our decision," he said. "The other thing was ... when they would be out fogging, people would chase them down in the truck and tell them, 'Don't do it.' 'We don't want that chemical around our kids.' or 'I have asthma.'"

Eckert said when the city did a lot of spraying in 2006, the cost for mosquito control surpassed $35,000.

"It's not worth the money and it's certainly not worth the risk of somebody saying, 'We're gonna sue you now because you sprayed chemicals and my kid's already got asthma. I can't even trust that he can be outside in the backyard because we don't know when the city's mosquito fogging truck is gonna come down the street.' It's not worth all that conflict," Eckert said.

Carol Asbury, 77, of Belleville, said she is against spraying for mosquitoes because it can affect other beneficial insects.

"I plant flowers for butterflies. ... I bring the eggs inside to protect them, not only from spraying, but the birds eat them, so they don't have a chance," Asbury said. "We have to protect our pollinators."

Many towns still use mosquito spray, or adulticide, including Edwardsville, Highland and Fairview Heights. Others use larvicide, which involves pellets that are placed in standing water to kill mosquito larva before they become adults and breed.

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said larvicide is the preferred technique because it is more effective at reducing mosquito populations.

Local governments can elect to use the technique a minimum of two times each summer, preferably in June and July, to effectively control mosquitoes, according to the department's website,

Spraying, on the other hand, is only effective for as long as it is in the air, Arnold said. When the spray dissipates or dries, the mosquitoes that have not been touched by the spray can come back and reproduce.

While spraying lasts only as long as it is in the air, the effects of larviciding can last up to 120 days, said Edwardstine Reese, environmental health program manager for the East Side Health District.

Eckert said Belleville used larvicide in the past, which was a cheaper method.

"That would be what we would continue to look at as a means in the future," he said.

Smithton Mayor Ray Klein said the village never used the spray. Instead, it used larviciding but is currently implementing another method.

"We're in the process of building bat houses for an Eagle Scout project," Klein said. "We're taking care of mosquitoes in a natural way."

Klein said the bats eat mosquitoes in wooded areas where the houses will be placed.

In New Baden, Village Administrator Jimmy Morani said the village sprays 10 times per year between April 1 and Oct. 1.

"I've noticed, when I moved here in 2011, there haven't been a lot of mosquitoes, at least where I live. ... I'm not saying all sections of town are clear," Morani said. "There are areas where we have issues because there are drainage issues and they have standing water. We're working on that issue."

O'Fallon City Engineer Dennis Sullivan said the city no longer uses spraying and has instead employed mosquito dunks, which are a form of larvicide.

"Spraying, we think, is a health risk," Sullivan said. "It's more of a health risk than mosquitoes are."

Arnold said local governments only are permitted to use sprays that have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and found not to cause harm to humans, but like most chemicals, the amount a person is exposed to and the duration can have consequences.

"Any exposure to chemicals is not typically preferred," she said.

Reese, the East Side Health District program manager, said both spraying and larviciding are safe, but spraying requires very specific amounts of droplets to make contact with mosquitoes in order to kill them.

Eckert said he does not like those odds.

"Those droplets have to actually fall right on a mosquito. You probably have a better chance of going to get a lottery ticket," he said.

Sprayers must be aware of weather conditions, including any amount of wind, and must adjust the spray nozzle accordingly, Reese said.

Bill Finley, Fairview Heights code enforcement officer, said the city uses spray in addition to larvicide pellets. Mosquito spraying in Fairview Heights will take place twice a week starting at the end of July, Finley said.

"It helps, but that totally doesn't get rid of them," he said. "People have to do their part, too."

Because mosquitoes can breed in as little as an inch of standing water, Finley said people can help by cutting the amount of water in their yards, which could be hidden in children's toys, buckets or gutters.

Eckert said Belleville is taking action to rid the city of mosquitoes by clearing their breeding grounds when people call in about large populations of the bugs.

"We will go out and evaluate and see what we can do about improving the area. For example, when people say, 'Hey, there's an area here that's really infested,' a lot of times it's because there's been some dumping. There's been old tires. There's something that we can go in and haul off and clean up," Eckert said.

"It isn't a matter of spraying. It's getting rid of the environment that's breeding them."

Mosquito control methods currently used in the metro-east:

Belleville -- tire removal

Belleville Township -- nothing

Collinsville -- spray, larvicide

Cahokia -- larvicide

Dupo -- spray, larvicide

East St. Louis -- larvicide

Edwardsville -- spray

Fairview Heights -- spray, larvicide

Glen Carbon -- spray

Granite City -- spray

Highland -- spray

Lebanon -- larvicide

Marissa -- larvicide

Maryville -- larvicide

Mascoutah -- spray

Millstadt -- larvicide

New Athens -- spray, larvicide

New Baden -- spray

O'Fallon -- larvicide

Smithton -- larvicide, bat houses

St. Clair Township -- nothing

Stookey Township -- spray

Troy -- larvicide

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