Residents Feel Stung by Surprise West Nile Sprayings

Locals claim the Department of Health did not give enough time to prepare for neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park to be covered by noxious pesticides Thursday night. Locals are peeved about a city plan to spray a mosquito-killing pesticide in the neighborhood Thursday evening­and the city’s lack of warning about the plan.

The Department of Health plans to spray Anvil, a pesticide thought to cause cancer, throughout the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, in hopes of eradicating mosquitoes potentially carrying the deadly West Nile Virus.

The DOH sent out an email warning residents, but only gave residents an initial 24 hours of notice. They also suggested to keep all windows closed and stay indoors  until 6 a.m. tomorrow.

Gilly Younger, a member of the Park Slope Civic Council, was in the park unwittingly during the first night the trucks were supposed to come. She found out about the scheduled spray through a Twitter feed, which she thought was unacceptable.

“They need to shut down the park for this,” Younger said explaining if it wasn’t cancelled she would’ve been exposed to the harsh chemicals. “I am a cancer survivor so I take precaution with airborne toxins. These pesticides do have links to causing cancer.”

On August 2, the DOH sent an E-mail to community board members, city council members and Notify NYC the day before the first scheduled spray on August 3. When that spraying was cancelled due to rain, another E-mail gave 24 hours notice.

By default, there was a 72-hour warning (though the DOH said that it was not merely by default). But the community believes the medium of communication between them and the DOH was not sufficient. 

Council member Brad Lander was just as peeved at the lack of adequate community outreach.

“I am disappointed that the Department of Health gave such short and incomplete notice about its planned mosquito spraying,” Lander said. “The agency needs to give adequate notice of such actions and be transparent about the risks of the pesticide and the precautions that should be taken.”

Locals were also upset about the city agency’s initial plan to spray Prospect Park during Thursday evening’s Celebrate Brooklyn concert­despite that it recommends locals stay indoors­but in the face of criticism the city quickly decided to spray the park after the show instead.

The exact areas that will be sprayed by trucks are boarded by Washington Avenue to the East; 20th Street, Prospect Park West, and Eastern Parkway to the North; 45th Street and Fifth Avenue to the West; and Ft. Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue to the South.

The Environmental Protection Agency grades Anvil in the least toxic category, sumithrin, a neuropoison in Anvil, is dangerous to humans. Symptoms of exposure are dizziness, headache, fatigue and diarrhea. In laboratory tests, sumithrin is known to damage the liver and kidneys, cause anemia, and increase the chances of liver cancer. It is also found to increase the proliferation of cells in breast cancer and can also mimic estrogen and prevent other hormones from binding to its normal receptors. Even in low concentrations, sumithrin kills fish and bees, and is poisonous to cats and dogs.

Although the DOH suggests residents in the area should stay indoors, they do not believe the chemicals pose a serious threat. “In the amounts used, risks to people and pets are relatively low,” said DOH’s website.  

But many locals just aren’t buying it.

“The Department of Health is making up all these lies, saying it’s diluted and not toxic,” said Mitchel Cohen, the Coordinator of No Spray Coalition who sued the City in 2000 for spraying Anvil on Prospect Park’s waterways. “But if you are a child, forget it. It is deadly. It is extremely dangerous for the elderly and the immune compromised.”

According to other studies, piperonyl butoxide, another ingredient in Anvil, is considered a group C carcinogen, meaning it is considered a possible carcinogen to humans based on limited evidence of cancer in laboratory animals.

“I don’t think they are evil. They’re not Nazi doctors doing experiments.” Cohen said, explaining that the city is used to spraying dangerous chemicals because it is cheaper. “They just don’t know, don’t want to know and their jobs depend on following orders.”

The DOH outlines precautions to be taken on their website, however, they do not say Anvil is outright toxic to humans and the environment.

“We don’t need to poison our environment, kill off the mosquitoes’ natural predators, and cause long-term health problems,” said Cohen, who in 2008 blocked a spray truck with his car, which resulted in the city not spraying the neighborhood. “And that’s exactly what these spray trucks are going to do.”

Cohen suggests using natural predators like dragonflies or bats to combat the mosquito problem. “One bat can eat 1,500 mosquitoes in one day,” Cohen said while explaining that bats could clear up a mosquito problem quickly and naturally.

But whether one is afraid of pesticides or believes Anvil is not dangerous, concern is still needed, especially with chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer and the community is not adequately notified.

Regardless of how much time the DOH gave the public to prepare for the chemicals emitted through their streets, three people walking near Prospect Park this afternoon had no idea the city will puff pesticide over their neighborhood in a few hours.

“I had no idea,” stated Tommy Morgan, a Park Slope resident for 60 years. “I am a Vietnam vet and they sprayed all sorts of stuff over us to kill vegetation. I don’t want to get sprayed in the face here and then they say, ‘Oh, this stuff will kill you.’ I’m not against it, I just want to be more informed.”

“There is a reasonable debate to whether the spraying is worse than the mosquitoes it kills,” said Eric McClure, the co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors. “But the fact that the DOH would recommend to the public that they stay indoors during spraying but only giving 24 hours notice, is crazy. ”


Susan Desocio

9:41pm on Thursday, August 4, 2011

Just like the air was at acceptable levels after September 11.


Aaron Brashear

10:58pm on Thursday, August 4, 2011

Just had two rounds on 23rd St (6th/7th Aves), and one in Green-Wood as of 20 mins ago.


Aaron Brashear

10:58pm on Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thanks for the post, which was Slope-centric. The Greenwood Hits./Windsor Terrace community was given less than 24 hrs notice the first day, less the second day via my photos an post to local list servs. -Aaron CCGH


Johanna Clearfield

11:53pm on Thursday, August 4, 2011

We don't have a mosquito problem. I walk my dog every single day in the park morning and night and we sit on the fields together. Last summer there were many more mosquitoes and this year almost none. Who exactly assessed that we were over run by bugs - there are hardly any. The odds of getting West Nile from a mosquito - according to experts -- is less than getting struck by lightning. There can only be one explanation when no reasonable answer seems to fit. Somebody is making money off of these extermination contracts and they do not want to lose that money. At the expense of the hundreds of at-risk birds in Prospect Park -- especially all of the smaller wrens and finches and amazing diversity of migratory songbirds -- who cannot (as the DOH instructed) Go Indoors -- These contractors are making a profit..??? What is the point of having a park if it seems to exist in theory only. Mosquitoes, dragon flies, bats, starlings -- all belong in our park. The trucks of rolling chemicals don't.


John Sullivan

12:08am on Friday, August 5, 2011

Just saw the cop car and truck go by in Fresh Meadows.


Ring the bells that still can ring,  Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in. 
~ Leonard Cohen