Friday, July 28, 2006

Automatic Backyard Pesticide Sprinkers: A Really Bad Idea Takes Hold In Massachusetts

Here’s one of the worst new ideas I’ve ever heard about: an automatic sprinkler system that douses your yard twice a day with a pesticide to kill mosquitoes.

This Boston Globe story, written by a reporter named Thomas Caywood, presents an embarrassingly uncritical account of the sprinkler system and how wonderful it is. The sprinkler system company and its public relations consultants must be gleeful; if they had managed to get a press release published verbatim it could hardly have been better.

For example -- Would you like to hear an objective opinion of how good the system is? Who better to ask than the man who stands to make money from it:

``I know it's an aggressive way to get rid of mosquitoes, but, in my eyes, it's become necessary," said Anthony Santoro, whose Waltham company, Mistguard Mosquito Control Systems LLC, installed the sprayers at the Smith and Vottola homes. ``You feel safer, and you can sit out in your yard again."

Would you like to hear an objective opinion of the health risks of mosquitoes? Who better to ask than a well-known expert like the woman who just had a system installed because she’s worried about West Nile virus:

Smith said she much prefers to have pyrethroids sprayed twice a day to slathering her sons down with bug sprays containing DEET and other chemicals or, worse, taking the chance that they might be bitten by a mosquito infected with a potentially deadly virus.

Caywood manages to avoid mentioning that last year in all of Massachusetts there were six human cases of West Nile and four of eastern equine encephalitis (and three fatalities in all); in 2004 there were no human cases of West Nile and four of EEE. Massachusetts, by the way, has a population of 6.3 million, which means the odds that you’d get a mosquito-borne virus in Massachusetts last tear were roughly one in 630,000 (students of probability and statistics, start e-mailing to tell me how wrong I am about this, please).

This poison-spraying system uses one of a class of synthetic pesticides called pyrethroids, which aren’t particularly harmful to humans but which kill insects indiscriminately. I don’t like mosquitoes any more than the next guy (and I happen to live in an area that doesn’t have many mosquitoes), but I like bees and butterflies and moths. I also detest the attitude that poisons will solve all our little annoyances with impunity.

I used to hold out hope that people had more sense than to use fossil fuels to power leaf blowers for frivolous pursuits such as removing bits of grass and leaves from lawns and driveways, especially in an era when it’s well-accepted that burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

Now I acknowledge that it was idiotic on my part to think that.

I’d like to hope that people will realize it’s insane to spray pesticides like they’re water.

But I’m sure than in a decade automatic pesticide sprinklers will be commonplace.


Blogger Sam said...

You tell 'em, Tom, mosquitos don't breed in your grass and using a pesticide fog should be done at dusk by professionals, taking into consideration rainfall and the breeding cycle of the larva. But like PT Barnum said, a sucker is born every day, so if it sells I hope people feel good ... about killing all those caterpillars that turn into butterflies, about all the birds getting nuked by a toxic gas cloud, and all that nice stuff that rich folks and developers hate to talk about. /Sam

5:28 PM  

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