State works to speed mosquito control

People concerned about West Nile virus are getting some help from the state, which is trying to make it easier to control mosquitoes.

Washington State Department of Health announced this week it has applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit, which would allow the application of certain chemicals to control mosquitoes.

The general permit basically speeds up the time for application permits to be approved.

Organizations and public entities wishing to eliminate mosquitoes can apply through the health department's general permit. Officials hope that speeding up the permit process will encourage use of the larvicide that is considered the least-toxic chemical for control.

"We hope to have all public lands covered," said Bill White, assistant secretary for the Environmental Health Program of the Department of Health.

He added that public entities such as the Department of Transportation could apply chemicals to any bodies of water on its land.

To spray near or on any body of water, a national permit is needed. White said that the state's permit, if obtained, would be an umbrella permit for any group wishing to spray to control mosquito populations.

White stressed that the umbrella permit wouldn't supersede any community's plans.

"Each community has to decide which route they want to go," White said.

The permit would allow for using Bti, a larvicide that is derived from a natural bacteria found in the soil. The bacteria attacks mosquitoes during the larval stage. Health officials have said Bti has no known health risks to the public.

Laurie Keith, president of the Whidbey Island No-Spray Network, said, "I sort of expected that they would go through with this." She added that she doesn't have a problem with the department of Ecology's rules for using Bti in solid form and that a number of requirements have to be met before the larvicide can be used. Her organization generally opposes spraying efforts to kill weeds and pests.

The state departments of Ecology and Agriculture are responsible for pesticide regulation and protecting water quality.

The Island County Health Department's involvement in the program would be to coordinate local applicants to ensure there isn't any duplication of spraying.

"This makes the permit process more efficient from a time standpoint," said Keith Higman, environmental health director for Island County.

He added that he hasn't yet heard of any demand for such a spraying program and it doesn't change the county's plans for mosquito control.

The county is moving forward with education and surveillance efforts and hopes to hire a public education specialist and someone to monitor mosquito populations throughout the county.

Controlling mosquitos is seen as the most effective way to curtail the spread of West Nile virus, which can lead to several types of illnesses that can include fever, flu-like symptoms, an inflammation of the brain membrane and spinal cord.

The disease, spread by mosquitoes, can infect people, birds, horses and other mammals.

There have been 3,989 documented cases of West Nile Virus in people with 259 deaths.

The Island County Health Department recently proposed an election asking voters to authorize the formation and funding of a mosquito control district to deal with the anticipated migration of the West Nile Virus.

However, some critics of the proposal argued that the need for the district was born more out of fear than an actual necessity.

Others were concerned with possible health risks from spraying and the powers such a district would have over private property rights. The county commissioners agreed with the critics and declined to pursue the mosquito district.

Island County documented its first case of West Nile Virus last year when a horse near Coupeville contracted the disease. It survived.

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