Opinion

Concern About Aerial Spraying of Toxins to Kill Mosquitoes Keeps Me Up at Night

To my fellow Rhode Islanders,

I am writing to see if you share my anxiety and concerns over the aerial spraying of Sumithrin, Anvil 10+10, Piperonyl butoxide and other poisons — an annual event in Rhode Island’s effort to reduce the mosquito population.

In previous years, I found it deeply disturbing to hear the deep-throated roar of the plane as it swooped low over my house to dump it’s cargo of “helpful” toxins over my woods. Supposedly, the state is trying to control the spread of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) — of which only a few cases are reported in the United States annually.

I wonder if others share my concerns about this disturbing practice. I see that our compatriots in Massachusetts have raised protests in several of their communities, following the rise of evidence of contaminated waters associated with the contents of Anvil and other mosquito poisons.

If my fellow Smithfield residents tell me it is OK and they are not worried, I will end my diatribe and try to ignore the thundering RPMs of the plane as it sprays a load right over my house and woods. And I will further try not to think that any of the animals that I see daily — deer, groundhogs, hawks, frogs, etc. — are in any danger. But if you too are concerned, please read on, and then tell me what to do.

The argument is (we are told) that correct dosages of these toxins aren’t harmful to humans or non-targeted wildlife. We have been told this for decades about thousands of chemicals and products. But the small doses seem to be adding up.

Are cancer cases on the rise in humans? Why? Because we continue to create an evermore toxic environment. I’m not an environmental professional, but, considering the rise of toxicity of all types around us, it seems common sense to decide that the practice of spraying poison from the air over humans and wildlife is outrageous.

Doctors in the 1950s told us smoking was safe and even “healthful.” I believe this practice of aerial spraying falls into the same camp, where experts tell us not to worry, followed by a recant several decades later.

We have made the oceans toxic with plastification — microplastics by the billions and whole seas of floating trash — a bit at a time. Our roadsides are contaminated with micro-rubber particles and automobile contaminants. Drinking water is in danger in many areas. How can we even begin to think that aerial spraying is OK, after observing human activity over these decades, with “experts” always telling us there is room for more?

Does aerial spraying even work? Is there any evidence at all to support the idea that the mosquito population is drastically reduced? Is one single colony of mosquitoes destroyed? I would bet that aerial spraying doesn’t even make a dent in the mosquito population. I have read that without “boots on the ground” going through woods and hand-delivering the poison to wet areas that mosquitoes breed in, the process can’t be effective. How insane does this sound? Already suffering from problems of chemical and fertilizer runoff in our water table, we are going to hand-deliver even more poison into the environment?

How many cases of EEE were reported last year — or even this year — in Rhode Island? Two? Any? Do such low numbers justify the use of this level of force against the environment?

In the process and mapping of aerial spraying, Rhode Island tries to “protect” certain farm areas and breeding farms from the spray. Why? They have already told us it’s safe. But in reality, it’s a high-risk chemical that we have to try to keep out of our food supply. So they – insanely – try to “safely” spray in other areas.

Yet if animals across the state ingest bugs that are sprayed, or they live in areas that were sprayed, or they eat other animals that were sprayed, are we not introducing the chemicals into the food chain we are a part of? The bees — already in danger — are susceptible to the spray. Do we care at all about them, or other wildlife that are susceptible — salamanders, frogs, fish?

Where is the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in protecting us from exactly this type of activity? They seem to be on board with it.  Yet to me there seems not nearly enough justification to spray an entire state to try to reduce two cases to zero. If our entire food chain is put at risk, is it worth it?

If one more chemical is thrown into the environment, always increasing the toxicity in our environment, is it worth it? Is there any common sense about the need to not continue putting toxins into the environment and water systems?

There is a humanocentric view that humans are important above all life forms, and being drunk with that, we too often will risk our own existence and safety to try to root out the “bad” wildlife.

I want to think we as a species can sometimes do the right thing. Protecting the environment is socially intelligent because as a result we are protecting ourselves. Aerial spraying defies logic and is no effective solution at all, given the information we currently have, and considering the dangerous trajectory we are on with regard to the environment.

Or am I alone in being disturbed? I am a “no one” in politics, have no leadership skills, and I am often a bit of a hermit. I make my living as a merchant of musical instruments and antiques and, on the side, I worry about Rhode Island doing the right thing. It keeps me up at night.

Please tell me what to do.

Jim Bastian is a Smithfield, R.I., resident.

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  1. Dear Jim….you are right, the state is wrong to make such a short-sighted decision which we know impacts human, animal and wild life health, not to mention the health of our air, soil, oceans, ocean life, and pollinators on the earth. In Massachusetts even now, post two years of aerial spraying, PFA’s are being found in well water in Mendon and many other communities. PFA’s are forever chemicals that are now being found not only in our drinking water but also in women’s breast milk. It is devastating to our physical, mental health and traumatizing to have to worry that we will once again be attached this way, with no public say in the matter, in a solution-response which is both inordinate given the minimal problem, and demonstrates government overreach in methodology and consistent mandated practice. Even more, the practice is ineffective. Florida and parts of New York, have been using this aerial spraying method on nearly a weekly basis, for at least a decade to no to avail. Florida also has alarmingly elevated rates of disease and illnesses commonly associated with the kinds of pesticides that are used. There are less harmful, preventive, and more effective ways to deal with this minimal problem, which many other more forward-thinking states and other countries use with great success, which is exactly what we should be doing. You have every right to be concerned. More citizens who care about public health and well-being, climate concerns, and earth caretaking, should have similar concerns and be acting upon them, as you have here. Particularly now, during the covid/respiratory illness time. Letters to representatives, calls to our interim governor and other state officials with evidence of harm, and more earth & human/animal-friendly options, to voice your concerns are a good way to take action. Checking on an opt-out option for your town is also a possibility which some states allow and merely requires the partnership of you BOH and BOS. Sharing your concerns, as you’ve done here is also a great way to take action.

    In deep concern solidarity,
    Veronica Ramos
    Veronica Ramos

  2. It is hard to get anyone in authority to take notice of this issue. The governor, to the state/town representatives, DEM, citizens…no one seems to want to stop this. I also feel helpless about this issue and don’t know what to do. Will anyone with the authority to do something read this article? I hope so.

  3. Jim–I share your concerns. I live in Mansfield MA where we voted last fall to spend $14 million to install filtration systems to reduce elevated PFAS levels in two of our wells. Meanwhile, Bristol County offers free spraying for mosquitoes and residents pay numerous companies to spray their yards for ticks and mosquitoes (Mosquitoe Mary’s, Mosquito Mike, and many others). Nobody seems to question the wisdom or safety of covering their property with toxic chemicals. I’m old enough (57) to remember when people simply went inside if the mosquitoes got bad or we simply swatted them. I am also on our Select Board and raised this issue at a recent meeting. I believe we will one day look back on this practice and say "what the hell were we thinking?" (hopefully in the not-too-distant future).

  4. Im with you Jim. Its insane. Especially difficult for people who live in the country side. I don’t see any blanket mosquito spraying going on in urban areas except from those pesky mosquito mary businesses in private back yards, pools, gardens etc.

  5. Dear Jim,
    Yes. We must think on behalf of humans, animals, and our ecosystem.
    It always seems behind the carpet, there are money and business decisions being made for those profiting.
    Let’s see who is benefitting from these short sighted decisions. How much harm, how many years have we looked the other way?
    Please keep me/us in the loop and thanks for your efforts communicating your valid concerns. And who is presently working at improving these issues?

    Diane

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