Someone's finally listening in Massachusetts:  State taking look at pesticide used to combat West Nile virus

State taking look at pesticide used to combat West Nile virus

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 2/21/2001 18:08

BOSTON (AP) The pesticide methoprene is one of the state's prime weapons against the West Nile virus, and it also does a number on tiny flies called ''midges'' that harass people at ponds.

But some wonder what else methoprene might be harming.

On Wednesday, a subcommittee of the state Pesticide Board voted to study methoprene in a move that could curtail use of the chemical.

The board agreed to the study at the request of a Scituate couple who worried methoprene might hurt aquatic life in the pond near their home.

Questions about methoprene's affects on frogs and allegations it played a role in a massive lobster die-off in Long Island Sound in 1999 also made the chemical worth another look, according to Brad Mitchell, pesticide bureau chief at the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture.

''It seems a timely thing to do,'' he said. ''There are studies that show both sides.''

Marc Newberg, spokesman for methoprene makers Wellmark International of Bensenville, Ill., said the chemical is harmless to species that aren't being targeted.

Methoprene kills flies and mosquitos in their aquatic larvae stage. The chemical was used last year in state storm drains to kill mosquitos that carry the West Nile virus.

Scituate residents Norman and Joan Paley became involved with methoprene after the town proposed using it to control midges on Musquaschicut Pond, where they've lived for 33 years.

Old pictures at the salt-water pond show houses blanketed by layers of the annoying black flies. But the midges haven't been too bad in recent years certainly not enough to justify using potentially harmful methoprene, Norman Paley says.

The Paleys on Wednesday presented the state with several scientific studies including research funded by the federal government's National Center for Environmental Research into links between methoprene and deformities in frogs, as well the chemical's possible affects on both vertebrates and invertebrates.

They also noted that lobstermen blamed chemical companies who made pesticides used in mosquito-spraying in New York and Connecticut after thousands of lobsters died of unexplained causes in Long Island Sound in 1999.

Wellmark has not been named in any lawsuit, Newberg said, who added that methoprene wasn't used near the Long Island Sound.

The pesticide board subcommittee will review available studies of methoprene, and can adjust regulations to require permits for use or add other restrictions. It can also choose to do nothing, Mitchell said.


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