APPENDIX II-U: Current Challenges in Combating the West Nile Virus.


Statement of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich

U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on Government Reform


Hearing on “Current Challenges in Combating the West Nile Virus”


October 6, 2004


As West Nile Virus (WNV) rapidly drives its way toward endemic status in the US, it is essential that we as a nation take a balanced approach to protecting human health and the environment.  Recent efforts to expand the volume and geographic distribution of pesticides used to fight WNV by circumventing the Clean Water Act are misguided and are trading a problem today for a bigger problem tomorrow.


It is first prudent to put the disease in perspective.  We know that of the 176 different mosquito species in the US, only a few of those are WNV vectors.  Of those, only the females require blood meals.  The CDC has said that less than one percent of those infected with WNV will develop a serious illness.  Of those, 3-15% will die.  Roughly twenty percent will experience flu-like symptoms.  Still, in the US, that has translated into 622 deaths since 1999, which means it will be essential that we remain vigilant against the disease.  But we must do so sensibly.


The CDC has said that the spraying of adulticides, a pesticide targeted at adult mosquitoes, is the least efficient control method.  Potential causes are myriad.  First, less than one tenth of one percent of aerially distributed pesticides hit their target.  Second, mosquito resistance to the most effective pesticides has been documented in species that carry WNV and Malaria.  Again, a massive abundance of the pesticide in the environment hastens the pace at which the mosquitoes will develop the resistance.  Since the life cycle can be as quick as four days, there is ample opportunity for the necessary genetic mutations to occur.  Third, pesticides often kill off naturally occurring mosquito predators like the dragonfly, which eats over one hundred mosquitoes per day.  In the wake of Hurricane Floyd, Florida officials measured mosquitoes before and after a spraying treatment and found that mosquito populations rebounded to pre-spray levels within three days.


Cities across the US have adopted no-spray policies or policies that allow isolated spraying only as a last resort.  Included in the list are Washington DC, York County, Virginia, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Boulder, Colorado, Seattle, and Lyndhurst, Ohio.  In Shaker Heights, Ohio in 2002, there was no adulticiding.  They reported 2 WNV cases while neighboring areas in the county experienced a total of 217 cases. 


The alternatives to spraying and to adulticiding in particular, are proven.  Integrated pest management techniques that ensure the survival of mosquito predators like dragonflies are essential.  Personal protection and source reduction are effective, as are removal of potential breeding areas like bird baths, trash can lids, sprinkler holes, clogged gutters, holes in trees and tin cans.  Window and door screens must be maintained.  Targeted application of larvacides, which are usually far less toxic than adulticides, may be warranted.  Non-toxic oils take the place of diesel fuel that was used in WWII to place a film on standing water, which disrupts the mosquitos’ lifecycle.


If we know that spraying is often unnecessary and there are alternatives, it is also important to understand that pesticides are harmful to the environment and human health.  According to the New York City Health Department, more people were reported to have gotten sick from pesticide exposure from widespread spraying than from WNV.  Short term adverse outcomes include asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  In the long term, we can only guess at the health effects.  There is considerable evidence that many of the pesticides used against WNV such as malathion and chlopyrifos cause long-term neurological problems.  Chlopyrifos was deemed to be toxic enough that the EPA took the exceedingly rare action of banning it for household use.  A 2001 Duke study found that combined exposure to DEET and permethrin could lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.  Many pesticides are known endocrine disruptors, chemicals that disrupt the body’s internal control systems.  Their toxic mechanisms are so complex that pinpointing a pesticide exposure or series of exposures as the cause of a chronic disease like Parkinson’s disease is impossible with current science.  


Most if not all of these diseases are not tracked in the US.  In fact many public health agencies that would prefer to avoid obeying the Clean Water Act, do not even have epidemiologists on staff that might be able to monitor whether the spraying is having any health effects at all – short or long-term.  That means we may never know the long-term health effects of the spraying.  On top of that, there are reports of localities using highly deficient methods of notifying the affected public before spraying occurs.  In these cases, people are not being equipped to protect themselves.  Consider an excerpt from an article in today’s Arizona Republic about the WNV spraying in Maricopa County:


Most of (the citizens at a Maricopa County Board of Health hearing) begged the board to stop the nightly fogging treatments, while others detailed medical ailments that they attributed to exposure to the Anvil 2 pesticide used in the spray. Others said they are seriously thinking about moving from the Valley, at least until the fogging program ends…. “On Friday, I gave a note to a patient and told her to leave this area until the spraying stops,” said Dr. Abraham Ber, who practices environmental medicine and homeopathy in Scottsdale. Ber said the fogging has hampered his ability to work, explaining he could only last a half-day the morning after spraying was conducted near his office.


Clearly, a balance needs to be struck that protects the environment and human health from WNV and from pesticide use.  One of the key questions relevant to this hearing is whether the attempted circumvention of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is consistent with existing law.  It has already been decided in multiple court cases that it is not.  The cases have been cited elsewhere in this hearing and I will therefore not elaborate. 


The next question on the table is whether an attempt to change existing legislation to accommodate this circumvention is good for public health.  I think it is not.  It will permit unbalanced approaches to WNV control that will trade a problem today for bigger problems tomorrow.


The exclusion of the requirement to obtain NPDES permits through the CWA will result in two changes that will likely bring bigger problems in the future.  First, making it easier to spray will result in an increase in spraying, our least effective weapon for mosquito control, and less of more effective weapons.  Some effects have been partially discussed above. 


The second problem created by CWA exemptions for WNV spraying is that it will remove regulations governing US waters that are crucial to protecting the environment and public health.  For example, allowing wetlands to receive widespread and regular doses of pesticides is highly problematic.  Healthy wetlands are one of the world’s most important and rich sources of biodiversity.  They provide filtration of pollutants that would otherwise go into the ocean, other larger water bodies, or drinking water sources.  They are a critical source of drinking water and a natural flood control mechanism.  Healthy wetlands are a much smaller source of mosquitoes than the breeding grounds listed above.  FIFRA alone will not provide protection.  Furthermore, removing CWA protection will make it easier to avoid consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service who would determine whether there is an endangered or threatened species on the target area.


It is also notable that the amount of uncertainty surrounding the potential specific effects on human health is paralleled in the aquatic community.  For example, while the EPA has tested some of the effects of adulticides on surface water, the effects on sediments are largely ignored by FIFRA.  In addition, malathion, a common tool for public health agencies in the WNV arena, is labeled as a Class 9 Marine Pollutant, which is regulated under the CWA.


Finally, the CWA is designed to protect navigable waters of the US, which are usually connected, directly or indirectly to drinking water supplies.  Most pesticides designated for use against WNV, including malathion and partially banned chlopyrifos are not covered under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  That means no drinking water system in the US, regulated or unregulated, is required to test for these pesticides.  The only protection, then, is prevention of contamination.  Removing the CWA protection not only leaves our drinking water systems vulnerable, but also increases the amount of pesticides released.


The effort to ease the burden of public health officials in combating the WNV epidemic is laudable.  But we must be very careful about the ways in which we do it, lest we cause irreversible damage to the environment and human health in the process.  Keeping the CWA protections intact is critical to help maintain a balanced approach to WNV management that provides for short and long-term public health protections.   I urge this committee to reject the “Interim Statement and Guidance on Application of Pesticides to waters of the United States” and to leave the CWA intact.


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