After months of deliberation, the Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force has concluded and issued its final report. The Task Force was created by the state legislature to study current mosquito-borne disease control management in Massachusetts, and provide comprehensive recommendations on how to improve the system. The Task Force is comprised of representatives of state agencies, conservation organizations, academic institutions, and those in the field doing mosquito control work.
The result: the Task Force overwhelmingly agreed that Massachusetts’ mosquito management system needs an overhaul, recommending that the legislation that created our current system be repealed and replaced with a more modern approach.
Some of their recommendations include reconstituting the Reclamation Board with a new Mosquito Management Board with expanded expertise in public health and the environment, and creating a new statewide Mosquito Management Plan based on science and integrated pest management with public input. The Task Force also recommends enhancing coordination with wetlands restoration and stormwater systems design, and better monitoring the impacts of pesticide use.
Regarding the opt-out process, the Task Force recommends improving the process for landowners, including the property marking requirements, and formalizing the exclusion of certified organic farms from aerial spraying.
Now that the Task Force’s work is complete, it’ll be up the legislature to introduce reform legislation.
These are some key good recommendations supported by the majority of the task force which are also supported by the MASSQuito Coalition:
– Repeal and replace existing structure, reconstitute the Reclamation Board into a new Mosquito Management Board with additional expertise including MassWildlife and the Dept. of Public Health
– Create a new statewide Mosquito Management Plan based on science/IPM and with public input
– Provide municipal choice in services provided
– Enhance coordination with wetlands restoration and stormwater systems designs
– Document and make available information on pesticide application locations
– Monitor effects and impacts, better protect from pesticide run-off
– Improve the landowner opt-out and exclusion marking systems (this would make it easier for large conservation landowners and conservation commissions to annually renew exclusions and not have to put signs up every 50 feet)
– Formalize exclusion of certified organic farms from aerial spraying
Only a minority of the Task Force voted in favor of these important reforms:
– Exclusion from aerial spraying for farms growing food organically but not certified
– Reduce nuisance spraying
– Eliminate aerial spraying
– Require science-based criteria for determining Public Health Hazard (basis for aerial spraying)
– Ability of municipalities to avoid having the state impose spraying on them
– Comprehensive evaluation of efficacy and impacts
With upcoming reform legislation, Massachusetts has an opportunity to implement a more transparent, ecologically-based mosquito control system in Massachusetts that does not endanger our residents, wetlands, farmland, and pollinators with toxic chemicals. Massachusetts has been using pesticides for years to kill mosquitos through truck and aerial spraying, despite not having evidence that they are effective in curbing the risk of mosquito-borne disease. 80.5% of public comments received by the Task Force (347 comments) call for a reduction or ban of pesticides in the state’s mosquito control.
Alternatives exist, and should be applied to Massachusetts to protect public health and increase transparency. Modern mosquito control should promote ecologically-based management including avoidance of creating mosquito habitat in state and local development standards and support for wetlands and river restoration projects that eliminate stagnant water and remove artificial barriers to fish passage. The state should create quantifiable thresholds for when pesticides are used, if at all, and allow municipalities to opt-in to those services, rather than shoulder the burden of opting-out.
The MASSQuito Coalition will work with legislative allies to introduce legislation for comprehensive ecological reform of mosquito disease management.
Mosquito season comes back with the warmth, and even though spraying of pesticides to control adult mosquitoes is the least effective and most environmentally damaging method to control mosquito diseases, we’re about to be blanketed with toxic pesticides… If you want to reduce your families and your local ecosystem’s exposure to these toxins, there is an option to “opt-out” from spraying carried out by the Commonwealth. However, there are also some important caveats…
Anyone in Massachusetts can request to be excluded from wide area applications of pesticides through the Dept. of Agriculture (renters must have the permission of their landlord). When someone fills out the form found on the below page, it goes directly to the mosquito control project that services that town and that property will be excluded.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Exclusion requests must be filed EACH CALENDAR YEAR.
Note also that excluded properties should be marked with signage saying “No Spray” as outlined on the above-linked page.
HOWEVER (BIG ONE)… when a public health hazard is declared by the Department of Public Health (which is very likely to happen) and emergency spraying needs to take place, those exclusions are not honored during the time that is set forth in the DPH declaration, unless the property is a certified organic farm.
If someone has filled out this form, they should be notified if/when spraying occurs (so at least people can take some precautions)…
About organic farms:
The Department reaches out to the certified organic farms at the beginning of the season to gather information relative to their location so that if an emergency application does take place they have their information to include in their mapping. *If someone is in the process of being certified organic with Bay State Organic or another certifier, they are also eligible to be excluded from wide area pesticide applications, even under emergency declaration.* Those who are in the process of becoming certified or were recently certified should fill out the exclusion form and contact MDAR directly to confirm that they will be excluded as an organic operation.
Important: If/when you “opt-out” for your property, be sure to also notify your local town/city officials (ie. Conservation Commission, Board of Selectman, Town/City Council, Board of Health, Mayor, etc) and let them know why. The more residents they hear from about opting out, the more likely they will support an alternative municipal mosquito disease management strategy.
The blanket spraying of synthetic pesticides is a threat to the integrity of insect biodiversity and ecosystem health that our farms and gardens rely upon. It also raises serious health concerns, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. These chemicals are known to elevate risk factors to our immune and respiratory systems. Not only that, but even even according to the national Centers for Disease Control and US Environmental Protection Agency, spraying of pesticides to control adult mosquitoes is the least effective, and most environmentally damaging method to control mosquito diseases.
Did you know?
*Products containing synthetic pyrethroids are not natural, they are synthetic chemical formulations that also contain other or “inert” ingredients. Neither Massachusetts agencies nor the Environmental Protection Agency test the health or environmental impacts of mixtures of active and inert chemical ingredients.
*Sumithrin, a pesticide often used to control mosquitoes, can result in lung irritation, and has been documented to cause asthmatic responses in those exposed.
*Piperonyl-butoxide, a synergist intended to magnify the toxicity of synthetic pyrethroids, has not been tested in combination with these active ingredients, and is considered a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.
The new process is significantly simplified from last year and they’ve provided more detailed insights about what a successful application for different regions of the Commonwealth should include.
Applications will require approval by the Selectboard or City/Town Council and will be due on May 27.
Working closely with Senator Jo Comerford and other legislative leaders, the Massquito Coalition has highlighted problems with last year’s opt-out process and the mosquito disease control program, more generally. Thanks to everyone who submitted comments and otherwise engaged regulators in recent months. Our collective effort seems to have made a positive impact, though we still have far to go before we have an ecologically sound mosquito disease control program. With your help, we will continue to advocate for improvements in this program.
In July 2020, Governor Baker signed into law legislation entitled “An Act to Mitigate Arbovirus in the Commonwealth,” which includes a section that requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to establish an “opt out” process for municipalities which don’t want to be sprayed by the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board.
EEA announced the opt-out process for 2021 on March 19, 2021, which required the submission of an alternative mosquito management plan and a vote to opt-out by the local legislative body by May 28, 2021.
According to EEA, they “assessed the impact of municipality alternative plans on regional mosquito control should requests to opt-out be approved, with consideration for historical arbovirus risk and with consideration for strength of plan submission.” In other words, the most important factor in their decision was how a municipality opting out would impact regional mosquito control efforts.
Of the 35 municipal opt-out applications submitted, 24 applications rated by EEA as minimal or low regional risk levels were approved and 11 applications rated as moderate regional risk level were denied. (See the list of communities below.)
On July 13th, Senator Jo Comerford and her colleagues sent a letter to EEA, stating that “[Communities were challenged by a lack of guidance on what constituted an acceptable alternative plan…[B]oth municipalities and our teams requested detailed guidance but EEA did not provide such guidance, nor did they describe the extent to which risk level would be determinative.”
Read Senator Comerford’s blog post titled “Frustration with the mosquito aerial spraying opt-out application process,” July 30, 2021, here.
Senator Comerford continued; “I have had visibility into the painstaking work in each community relative to the decision to opt-out as well as the work to build a viable alternative plan, particularly given competing priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Towns put their limited resources into developing opt-out applications, only to see their applications denied because of the assigned regional risk level. If the state was going to deny applications based on regional risk level it should have saved these towns the trouble of applying. If the submitted alternative plans were deemed insufficient, they should allow towns to learn what standards EEA was looking for, and then be given a chance to amend their plans. We share the extreme frustration of our constituents.”
According to EEA, guidance for next year’s (2022) opt-out application program “will be forthcoming to municipalities.” They expect that the application will have an expanded scope and requirements, and applications will be subject to significantly more stringent review. They note that “there should be no expectation that an approval decision for the 2021 season will carry forward to the 2022 season.”
In the mean time, our coalition will continue to engage with the Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force to encourage ecological and democratic mosquito disease management and push for a piece of legislation to overhaul the whole system. More information on this legislation (and an opportunity to add our voice to the conversation) can be found elsewhere on this page.
Our coalition is immensely grateful to Senator Comerford for her bold leadership on this issue and look forward to continuing our collaboration with her and her colleagues.
The following towns filed opt-out requests in 2021. Those with asterisks were DENIED. (Note: any town determined to be above a “Low” regional risk for arbovirus was denied opt-out request…):
Resources Supporting the Need for a Science-Based Community Mosquito Management Policy
(last updated: 4/21/21)
Abating mosquito-borne disease is best achieved through a science-based approach that prioritizes preventative measures. These measures include surveillance, monitoring, public education on eliminating breeding sites and personal protective actions, consideration of local ecology, habitat manipulation, larviciding with biological materials, full disclosure of all pesticide use, advance notice of spraying, and opt-out opportunities. Mosquito adulticides are hazardous chemicals that should be given strong consideration as to their need and effectiveness before any use occurs. Aerially applied mosquito adulticides are excessively risky in exposures to people and nontarget organisms, are relatively ineffective in relation to those risks, and should be completely prohibited. The following resources can be used to support the need for a policy that achieves the above purpose statement.
Hazards and Ineffectiveness of Mosquito Adulticides
Mass Audubon supports a scientifically based mosquito-borne disease management program to protect public health while minimizing environmental and public health risks associated with some forms of mosquito control. Learn More
The current system is flawed. In order to more effectively protect the public health and environment, we urge that communities consider this option and the other recommendations outlined below as they prepare for town meeting votes. Learn More
Mass Audubon receives many inquiries about mosquitoes and mosquito control practices. We provide answers to the most common questions on mosquitoes, their associated health risk, control methods, and environmental impacts of mosquito control activities. Learn More
This proposed legislation (S.556/H.937) in the 2021-22 state legislative session, (click bill numbers to see current sponsors), filed by Rep. Tami Gouveia, Sen. Adam Hinds, replaces the Commonwealth’s outdated and expensive mosquito management system with one that is more effective, affordable, transparent, ecologically responsible, and scientifically based.
AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE PUBLIC HEALTH BY ESTABLISHING AN ECOLOGICALLY BASED MOSQUITO MANAGEMENT PROGRAM IN THE COMMONWEALTH (S.556/H.937)
1. Creates a Mosquito Management Office within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
2. Creates a Mosquito Management Board within that new office, replacing the existing state Mosquito Control and Reclamation Board. The bill changes the composition of the Board to prioritize public health and the environment.
3. Charges the Board with creating a state mosquito management plan, with detailed instructions on what should be included in the plan. The state plan must adopt a tiered approach to management based on quantifiable thresholds for action. It prioritizes education, monitoring, and habitat modification; requires thresholds for larviciding and adulticiding; allows pesticide use only for disease control; and prohibits aerial application of larvicides or adulticides.
4. Preserves the existing mosquito control districts and allows new ones to be formed, but requires districts to either adopt the state management plan or modify the plan, subject to approval by the Board. In this way, district plans must still follow the ecological approach of the state plan.
5. Makes districts responsible for all mosquito management monitoring and control within participating municipalities. Makes the Board responsible for mosquito monitoring and management in areas of the commonwealth that are not within a mosquito control district.
6. Empowers municipalities to choose from a “menu” of mosquito management services, ranging from public education up to adulticiding. Municipalities only pay for the services they choose, in contrast to the existing onesize-fits-all system in which municipalities pay the full cost of being in a district even if they don’t want certain services, like adulticiding.
7. Requires 72 hour notice before adulticiding, and allows residents to opt out of spraying. Beekeepers and organic farmers are opted-out by default.
8. Establishes quantifiable conditions for declaring an arbovirus public health emergency and puts responsibility for responding to the emergency with the department of public health. Aerial spraying is still prohibited during a state of emergency.
9. Bans pesticides containing PFAS from being used in mosquito control activities.
10. Requires transparent record keeping of Board and district activities.
Per the EPA, “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.” https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas
Public Health entomologists view “source reduction” as a significant tool in reducing risk from mosquito-spread diseases. This means limiting breeding opportunities for mosquitoes, especially for those species that pose a public health risk. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in or at the edge of water. Reducing the number of rainwater-holding containers around buildings (poorly adjusted gutters, bird baths, old tires, and other containers) can help reduce the risk from West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Theoretically, it could help for Zika virus vectors (Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti). Neither species is known to occur in New Hampshire, but the NH Division of Public Health Services is working with mosquito control professionals in New Hampshire to establish surveillance specifically for these species. Source reduction is not a very effective tool for managing Eastern Equine Encephalitis, since very few mosquitoes that spread EEE breed in containers. Of course, source reduction can significantly reduce the annoyance of mosquito biting.
Old tires left outdoors create ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes. Whatever position you leave them in… vertical, horizontal, at a slant… they catch rainwater. Putting them under cover eliminates that threat. Old tires are often used to hold down the ag plastic that covers feed bunker silos on dairy farms. One relatively easy way to reduce the mosquito risk is to cut or drill holes in the tire sidewalls. That’s somewhat easy for some tires, and difficult for others that have steel mesh inside. At the UNH Fairchild Dairy Teaching & Research Center, they buy tire sidewalls that already have holes cut in them. One advantage of them is that they stack very easily, compared to whole tires.
Old discarded plastic tarps and sheeting can also provide spots for water to pool in. I was surprised to find it happened in the plastic covering one of my wood piles. For my wood pile, I corrected this by laying plywood under the plastic (so it didn’t sag) and slanting it. Other solutions include putting the discarded plastic under cover, or taking it to the recycling center.
Plugged gutters on buildings are a common mosquito breeding site. Cleaning the gutter and/or adjusting the pitch allows proper drainage. Standing water with dead leaves or grass in it is highly attractive to egg-laying mosquitoes.
Piles of junked containers are prime spots for container-breeding mosquitoes. Solutions: remove the junk, or put the piles under cover or in storage, so rainwater doesn’t reach them.
Rain Barrels: Do you collect rainwater for your garden? That practice could generate lots of mosquitoes. Theoretically you could completely net the container, to keep any emerging mosquitoes from getting out (or to keep females from laying eggs). Depending on your setup, this might be pretty hard to do, and it can interfere with draining the water, if you don’t have a hose. Another alternative is to be sure that you completely empty the container(s) each week, before mosquito larvae can complete their development. That might be logistically difficult. Some garden centers sell mosquito “dunks” or “bits” which are designed to put a mosquito-pathogenic bacterium in the water. They can work, and can be used in containers (tires, unused pools, bird baths, rain barrels for the garden…) without a permit.
Manure lagoons: these can host lots of Eristalis flies (rat-tailed maggots), and some species of Culex mosquitoes. The Culex species in New Hampshire (like Culex pipiens, the rain barrel mosquito) bite birds, and very rarely bite mammals.
Water gardens: An outdoor water garden features one or more large containers into which you place aquatic plants. If there are no fish in them, they could create opportunities for mosquitoes to breed. Introducing fish into them can significantly reduce that risk. Most water gardens would not meet the state definition of “surface waters”, so you would not need a permit to use mosquito “dunks”.
Irrigation ponds and marshes: Yes, these are breeding sites for many species of mosquitoes, but we can’t do a lot about that. Theoretically we could treat them with insecticides or liquids that float to the surface and create a layer that prevents mosquito larvae from breathing. But, applying any pesticide to surface waters (there is a state regulatory definition for that) requires a permit from the NH Division of Pesticide Control, which can be a very long process.
Bird Bath: Dump the contents weekly, and clean the bird bath out. If you keep cleaning at this interval, mosquito larvae cannot mature to the adult stage, and they die when you dump them out onto the ground. If cleaning it out weekly is too much fuss for you, you can apply mosquito “bits” or “dunks” (biological insecticides based on the mosquito pathogen B.t.i.).
Although we all hate mosquitoes – their nasty biting and ability to transmit serious disease – we must consider the best, eco-friendly and people-friendly methods of control. Below are some steps we use, in addition to requesting exclusion from wide-area pesticides application by the state of Massachusetts.
DUMP OUT STAGNANT WATER
You’ll be amazed at how many aggravating insects are reduced by the simple act of yard policing. Monitor bird baths, forgotten buckets, little puddles, clogged gutters, and other out-of-the-way breeding areas provided by we, the people.
Winter turns to spring, and spring turns into… mosquito season!
Summer brings the return of mosquitoes, and the pesticides that are used to kill them (and consequently have horrible impacts on pollinator populations, like in the photo above!) Make sure to opt-out your home from toxic pesticide spraying this summer on the state’s website >>
Even if you opted-out in prior years, you must resubmit each year. If you do, alert your municipal officials and let them know why you don’t want toxics sprayed on your property. The more residents they hear from, the more likely they are to pursue a pesticide-free strategy to manage mosquito-borne diseases.
On January 26, 2022, Senator Adam Hinds, Representative Dr. Tami Gouviea and the MASSquito Coalition hosted a legislative briefing about the need for ecologically sound mosquito disease management program for our Commonwealth.
Subject Matter Experts included:
Dr. Kyla Bennet, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Dr. Flaminia Catteruccia, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Dr. Brita Lundberg, Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility
Sarah Hoyle, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Watch (and share) a video of the presentation, below:
And… here’s a cute video of eels eating mosquito larvae, demonstrating their efficacy at controlling mosquito populations: