West Nile Virus Shouldn’t Be an Excuse to Pollute Water

Jun 25, 2012

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article falsely suggests that new federal regulations on pesticides are contributing to the spread of West Nile virus.

State vector control agencies—the officials responsible for controlling mosquitoes that carry the virus—are quoted saying the regulations are hampering their efforts to kill mosquitoes in the larval stage. But the regulations do not stop the use of pesticides when they’re needed. Rather, they require common-sense measures to ensure that pesticides are being used responsibly to cause the least harm to waterways and aquatic life.

Under the new regulations, vector control officials are required to conduct a needs analysis to determine if pests are present and pose a health threat or other problem; to evaluate whether a less-toxic alternative would be equally effective; and to minimize impacts to water quality by applying pesticides in the least harmful way. Harm from pesticides can be reduced by limiting spraying near creeks and shorelines, using the least toxic pesticides available, and avoiding application of pesticides immediately before or after rain.

Unfortunately, these Bay Area vector control agencies are continuing a business-as-usual approach: they routinely use pesticides without considering whether they are truly necessary or whether other measures would be more effective, and they too often don’t do enough to protect nearby waterways from contamination.

Federal regulations on spraying pesticides in or near waterways are under attack. A bill in the U.S. Senate would remove pesticides from the Clean Water Act entirely. This irresponsible legislation would allow pesticide spraying into water, by anyone, with no concern for water quality.

San Francisco Baykeeper has long fought to protect San Francisco Bay—along with creeks, rivers, fish and other wildlife nationwide—from unmitigated pesticide spraying. In 2009, we won a victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stating that pesticides are pollutants harmful to the environment and human health and cannot be exempted from Clean Water Act protections and oversights when applied on or near our nation's waterways.

Baykeeper’s landmark court victory led directly to the federal pesticide regulations now under attack in the U.S. Senate. These regulations are sorely needed. Across the country, government agencies and water districts have for years routinely applied pesticides directly to or near thousands of miles of waterways to control pests and aquatic vegetation.

These pesticides are, by their very nature, toxic to aquatic life and often persist in the environment even when applied correctly. Pesticide toxicity already impairs Bay Area creeks and contaminates San Francisco Bay. Pesticides also cause human health problems, including cancer.

Vector control officials need to be judicious in their pesticide use, minimize the risk from both disease and pesticides, and protect our waters.

Read the Chronicle article that blames pesticide regulations for a predicted rise in West Nile virus cases.

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