This NYC government web page lists the times, zip codes and dates that helicopters will spray pesticides over the city. They call it the “Aerial Larviciding Schedule”, and define Aerial Larviciding as:

Dropping natural bacterial granules by helicopter to marshes and other large natural areas to kill mosquito larvae before they grow into adult mosquitoes. Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.

Unfortunately their definition is misleading and omits important facts. I’m not a chemist but as a New York green contractor I’m very sensitive to green-washing. The main lie is their reference to “natural bacteria”. What the hell is that? Are they dropping yogurt on us? It sounds so wholesome unless you think about the absurd vagueness of the statement and see that is says absolutely nothing except create a false sense of safety.

They are playing on the common misconception that “natural” is good while not giving any real facts.

Lets look at some examples of natural bacteria.

Of course you have yogurt. You have the billions of bacteria growing on your kitchen counter which is harmless enough. But there is just as much harmless as lethal natural bacteria.

Anthrax, that substance that kills people, is a natural bacteria. E coli is another effective natural bacteria if you want a painful death.

Maybe you have heard of biological warfare? That’s when you expose your enemy to natural bacteria.

From Wiki:

Biological warfare (BW) — also known as germ warfare — is the deliberate use of disease-causing biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or biological toxins, to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed “bio-weapons” or “bio-agents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of BW.

You may remember Sadam Hussain. He used natural chemicals to kill a whole bunch of Kurds.

As you can see, natural has no bearing on how harmful something is.

The city says they are dropping pesticides to keep the mosquitoes, and thus West Nile Virus, in check. The only natural bacteria I know of that is harmful to mosquitoes and harmless to most other life forms is called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), and it is commonly sold in granule form.

BTI is great because it is harmless to fish and other small animals. You can put it into a pond and remove the mosquito larva without hurting the other animals.

BTI defined:

This naturally occurring bacteria is used as a larvacide in ponds and other areas where mosquitoes are breeding. The larvae die when they feed on it in the water.

BTI is commercially produced by companies that grow it in fish meal or soy flour and sell it in pellets. The pellets are sold at home and garden stores, usually by the brand Mosquito Dunks. The pellets can just be dropped into water, where they will float and slowly release Bti.

Once the larvae eat the bacteria, it develops into several toxic substances in their stomachs, quickly killing them.

BTI is not harmful to animals, birds or even most other insects. It is effective against larvae only and has not effect on adult mosquitoes.

However the city web page states that they are dropping a pesticide called Anvil 10+10, also known as Sumithrin, and this does not contain BTI. Is the city confused because there is absolutely nothing natural about Sumithrin?

Anvil 10 + 10 is comprised of 10% sumithrin and 10% piperonyl butoxide (PBO) as the two “active” ingredients. Sumithrin is the trade name and it’s common chemical name is Phenothrin (d-Phenothrin). Sumithrin is usually the one people refer to as the main active ingredient. PBO is there to boost Sumithrin’s effectiveness. The remaining 80% consists of white mineral oil and polyethylbenzene.

Pesticides such as su­mithrin are not natural and are not made from chrysanthemum flowers as is often claimed. Sumithrin, resmethrin and permethrin belong to a class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are synthetic analogs of chrysanthe­mums (Anvil) and dandelions (Scourge). Pyrethroids are not natural! These pesticides are often promoted as “safer” than malathion, an unrelated organophosphate, but this is not true.

Pyrethroids are toxic to the thyroid and immune system, among other concerns. No safe exposure level has been scientifically established for avoiding hormonal and other ad­verse effects, nor has the Occupational Safe­ty and Health Administration (OSHA) set an exposure limit. Source

Sumithrin and its other chemicals are highly toxic to other life forms, especially insects and fish. For us humans it isn’t that great either. Lets start with the standard pill bottle list of symptoms from exposure:

headache, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weak­ness, blurred vision, pin-point pupils, tightness in chest, labored breathing, nervousness, sweating, watering eyes, drooling or frothing of the mouth and nose, muscle spasms, coma, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain or difficulty breathing, mental confusion, frequent urination, stomach cramps, diarrhea and seizures, delayed neurological effects including chronic pain, numbness and weakness in the extremities, which may persist for months or years, central nervous system damage (memory, mood, motor coordination, etc), delayed long-term neurotoxic effects, including optic and peripheral neuropathy, as well as rashes, itching or blisters. Source (although I read this elsewhere too)

Those are the “minor” issues with this pesticide. The main concerns are it’s connections to cancer and neurological disorders. Read more on that here. On that page you will learn lots of good facts, one being that one of the pesticide’s ingredient, organophosphate malathion, is­ a derivative of nerve gas, and thus causing concern that this pesticide causes neurological damage to humans, especially developing babies. Autism anyone?

The cancer concern is that this pesticide is part of the Pyrethroids family. Pyrethroids disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the effects of the female hormone estrogen. This in turn can cause breast cancer in women and lowered sperm counts in men…

Sumithrin also kills bees. The “mysterious” bee die off that is occurring across the globe (aka Colony Collapse Disorder) may not be so mysterious unless you are a large pesticide producing corporation very eager to continue selling your chemicals to farmers who spray the stuff all over bees’ natural habitat. But that is another tangent down the vary large road of capitalism gone terribly wrong.

What is of concern to me and many other beekeepers right now is how to keep our roof top bee hives, located in full exposure to spraying helicopters, from being killed. And if we succeed what solace do we have from the bees ingesting the chemicals and passing it on to the honey we will eat?

My mail box has emails from bee groups with headings like, “URGENT ALERT: PROTECT YOUR HIVES – DOH IS SPRAYING FOR MOSQUITOES WITH SHORT NOTICE”. Great, another thing to worry about.

According to the EPA, an agency not noted for their strict chemical protocol, has a lot to say about one of this pesticide’s main ingredient Sumithrin (aka Phenothrin). One snip from their 54 page review of the chemical:

In the year 2005, flea and tick spot-on products with phenothrin as the active ingredient were cancelled for use on cats and kittens due to incident reports and companion animal studies which indicated apparent neurotoxicity symptoms resulting from treatment, including excessive salivation, tremors, and/or seizures.

The same EPA paper lists the “Target Pests” as:

Phenothrin targets ants, aphids, bed bugs, bees, beetles, billbugs, box elders, borers, cockroaches, cadelles, caterpillars, centipedes, crickets, daubers, earwigs, fleas, flies, gnats, hornets, crawling insects, flying insects, grain insects, lace bugs, leafhoppers, leaf miners, lice, moths, mites, mealy bugs, midges, millipedes, mosquitoes, rust, scab, scales,  scorpions, silverfish, spiders, sow bugs, thrips, ticks, wasps, waterbugs, weevils, worms, and yellow jackets.

If these Target Pests are the “bad” bugs, what about all the other “good” bugs. Do they have a “Get out of jail free card”? Does this pesticide magically discriminate between “good” and “bad” bugs? You bet your ass it doesn’t. And do you know what is ten times worse than “bad” bugs in your garden? No bugs in your garden. That is called an ecological wasteland and is a ripe environment for one plant or animal to grow out of control and kill everything else in its wake.

More from the EPA on how Sumithrin kills:

Mode of Action: Phenothrin works upon physical contact with an insect or after ingestion. Phenothrin is a nerve stimulant which forces the sodium channels of insects to remain open beyond their normal timing thresholds, causing repetitive action inside the nerve channels and eventual paralysis.

So basically apart from respiratory and cancer concerns the main issue with the pesticide being sprayed on us New Yorkers is its neurological damage, part of a list of human related suffering way too long to list here.

The pesticide’s “non-active” ingredient,  polyethylbenzene is also very toxic to people and animals. Again from the tame EPA here is what they say about polyethylbenzene:

toxic to freshwater fish.

very toxic to aquatic plants.

chronic toxicity hazard to invertebrates.

Basically, although the studies did not show much damage to people, the chemical decimates water life. And where are they spraying this chemical? From their definition above we see they spray “on marshes and other large natural areas.”

As some sort of assurance they note that spraying “Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.” That is small consolation to our water friends. And it is also the height anti green building mentality: the belief that we are not interconnected and thus the toxins will not get to us. As if you can isolate the wind and water of New York so that those chemicals will only stay in the “natural areas.”

These chemicals will not kill us tomorrow. They will add to the toxic soup of human made chemicals we surround ourselves with daily. Along with the “harmless levels” of formaldehyde in our furniture, the “imperceptible” toxins leaching from out plastic drinking cups, the smog in the air and the millions of other stressors in our life, this pesticide will be yet another toxic substance our bodies have to fight against.

This layering of “low level” stressors creates a toxic cocktail called the Synergistic Effect, aka Additive Effect or Antagonistic Effect:

A biologic response to multiple substances where one substance worsens the effect of another substance. The combined effect of the substances acting together is greater than the sum of the effects of the substances acting by themselves. Source

So even though this pesticide may be “perfectly harmless”, it is yet another straw on the camels back that further antagonizes our normally dormant genetic predispositions such as heart attack, addiction, mental illness…etc. And even worse, when combined with all the other toxins we are subjected to what may have been perfectly harmless alone becomes lethal when combined with something else.

Do you know anyone who was happily on anti-depressants and who killed themselves when they added another medication to their diet? I do. Alone the anti-depressants were helpful but when combined with the other drug they became toxic.

Try mixing milk and lemon juice, two delicious drinks that together turn bad. This is the problem with willfully adding another chemical to our already toxic mix, especially if that chemical is highly dubious to the health of humans and obviously tragic to the health of aquatic animals.

What are we trying to avoid? West Nile Virus? How harmful is that really compared to the harm of this pesticide?

And are we really addressing the problem? Is the mosquito abundance not simply the result of us destroying the natural habitats of mosquitos’ predators – fish, birds, dragonflies, bats etc. – and of us chopping up the natural waterways of New York so that normally healthy self cleaning bodies of water are now laying immobile and perfect for larvae?

Spraying chemicals on the New York ecosystem will only further increase mosquitoes since the pesticide destroys the natural aquatic habitats and in its place leaves dead bodies of water free of any mosquito predator. And this doesn’t even touch on the human damage caused by the pesticide.

The solution to our mosquito problem is to increase the health of the New York waters by fostering fish, insects and plants. We also need to increase environments friendly to birds and bats.

Instead of acting like neanderthals the city of New York needs to wake up to the multiple layers of ignorance their spraying efforts reflect and start addressing the real message that the mosquitoes are sending: our ecosystem is out of balance and dying. Baring a mass human exodus of New York, only us humans can bring the ecological balance of New York back.

I expect more from NY. Spraying is a 1950’s solution, back when we thought the modern marvels of chemistry could solve all our problems. It’s like that quote from the Graudate: “Plastics, it’s the future” Well, we all know that isn’t true. Most people now realize that a can of bug spray causes more problems than it solves.

Each time those morons send helicopters out to spray they are making the job harder for green building companies like Eco Brooklyn who are focused on turning NY green.