By Lee J. Kahrs
Environmentalists seek to block the state permit allowing the local insect control district to spray pesticides to control mosquitoes.
The Toxics Action Center and the Environmental Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School filed an appeal on June 13 with the state Environmental Court regarding the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s May 16 Pesticide General Permit for the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen, Pittsford Insect Control District (BLSG).
The permit allows the BLSG to spray the pesticides Malathion and Permethrin along the district’s roadways to kill adult mosquitoes. As required by law, the BLSG issued a notice of intent (NOI) to spray notice last fall in the member towns this season regarding the insecticides. The NOI is issued under the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Vermont Pesticide General Permit and, if approved, is good for five years.
The BLSG has been using the same two insecticides to control mosquitoes in the district for roughly 20 years, and the battle between property owners who do not want to be sprayed and the quality of life issues for those who do has been going on just as long.
The appeal comes as no surprise, since property owners in Salisbury have gone public with their concerns over the last few years and gave public comments about the pending DEC permit during the public comment period in March. They enlisted the help of VLS to help fight the spraying of pesticides near their organic farms and local waterways. The BLSG sprays around Otter Creek, Fern Lake and Lake Dunmore.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is the sole permitter and regulator of pesticide application in the state. The DEC’s main concern is waterways and water quality with regard to pesticides.
Like most pesticides, Malathion and Permethrin are not without their drawbacks. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, Malathion is highly toxic to bees, some fish and birds, but is considered lowly toxic to mammals. There is no known cancer risk to humans, and the risk to pregnant women is considered low as well.
Permethrin is more toxic to fish than insects or mammals, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, but offers little threat to pregnant women. There is no evidence that limited exposure from spraying causes cancer.
A closer look
Woody Little is the Vermont and New Hampshire Community Organizer for Toxics Action Center, a Boston-based environmental action non-profit that addresses air and water pollution issues across New England.
In a press release accompanying the appeal, Little writes that “Neighboring areas have developed successful programs to reduce mosquitos that do not include spraying chemical pesticides, and Toxics Action Center is calling on the DEC to force the (BLSG) District to consider safer alternatives instead, as is required by the law.”
When asked, Little cited the neighboring Lemon Fair Insect Control District, which comprises Bridport, Weybridge and Cornwall. He said officials in that district only use the organic larvacide that the BLSG uses, and does not spray any pesticide to kill adult mosquitoes.
“No one living there is saying that the mosquito problem is so much worse because of that,” Little said.
But it was noted that the BLSG is not only a larger district, but also a more populated one, with thousands of visitors flocking to Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake at this time each year.
Little conceded that point, adding that the purpose of the appeal is clear.
“(The appeal) is not going to lead to the BLSG not using adulticide,” Little acknowledged, “but based on talking to folks in the area, there are lots of things the DEC can do to improve the impacts.”
Little suggested expanding buffer zones and more strongly enforcing the “No Spray” operations in those