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The Wrong Approach?

The Wrong Approach?Humans, not mosquitoes, may be harmed the most as cities and towns spray chemicals into the air to fight West Nile Virus, says a Tufts expert.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.08.02] In just three years, the mosquito-carried West Nile Virus has quickly spread to 35 states and has infected hundreds of people. Though rarely fatal, the virus has many cities and towns on edge, as they look for ways to fight the disease and put residents at ease. But their strategy of choice - spraying pesticides into the air - may do more harm than good, says a Tufts expert.

"We simply don't' know what effects it's going to have, the indiscriminate spraying on human populations, Tufts' Dr. Sheldon Krimsky - one of the nation's leading experts on pesticide risk - told ABC's "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings."

While the chemicals have been shown to help kill mosquitoes, Krimsky is worried about their impact on the residents who breathe them.

"The chemicals have not been adequately tested for their human health effects," Krimsky - an advisor for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health - told ABC News. "There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that they cause cancer in animal studies, they are hormone disruptors. Remember, these are neurotoxins."

Because most research on the health risks of pesticides centers around their use on farms, Krimsky said little is known about how dangerous they are in highly-populated areas. But local and state authorities continue to feel pressure from residents who view spraying as a safety precaution.

These views, Krimsky told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, may be based on non-scientific information provided by mosquito control companies.

"The mosquito-control people will make you think that without their programs there will be havoc - that mosquitoes will just take over," he told the Journal-Constitution. "They walk around with anecdotal information - 'We kill 40 percent of the mosquitoes,' etc - but they have nothing published."

Spraying to ease peoples' minds may carry some significant risks that must be carefully considered, said the Tufts professor of urban and environmental policy and planning.

"They are spraying neurotoxins and carcinogens around." Krimsky told the newspaper. "If you're doing this, it had better be justified. It hasn't been."

There are other alternatives.

"It's not that Krimsky thinks we should ignore West Nile Virus," reported the Journal-Constitution. "It's that he and other experts believe routine [ground spraying] for nuisance mosquitoes offers no protection and may impede emergency spraying for West Nile Virus by building pesticide resistance in the mosquitoes that carry the disease."

Other approaches to containing West Nile Virus - including informational campaigns about the disease and the elimination of standing water where mosquitoes breed - may be just as effective with fewer risks.

 

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