News

Sierra Club combats mosquitoes in Chester County

Residents of the West Chester borough continue to seek answers on the county’s decision to spray for mosquitoes, despite reported resident push back. The issue was further discussed amid members of the Sierra Club on Tuesday night at the Iron Works church. The Sierra Club, a national group of environmental activists with chapters across Chester County, were joined by members of Don’tSprayMe, a partner of the group. West Chester borough council member Don Braceland and Jean Kasner, the director of the Department of Health in West Chester,  also attended.

Founded in 1892 in San Francisco, the Sierra Club was one of the world’s first large-scale environment protection groups. The nonprofit organization is known for endorsing political candidates that support environmental protection policies, as well as launching environmental protection campaigns. They have successfully pushed back against the building of dams around the Grand Canyon in the 1960s, and lobbied Congress to keep the Echo Park dam from being built in the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah in 1950. Local chapters can be found throughout the country, as well as organizational efforts at the national level.

Braceland noted that only two people in Chester County emailed him to say they wanted to be sprayed with DeltaGard—the pesticide used in the local sprayings. Braceland believes that those who wish to be sprayed are not “well-informed” about the effectiveness of the pesticide.

“The common perception is if you spray once, it kills all the mosquitos, which is incorrect. In order for spraying to be effective, it has to occur 2-3 nights back to back.” He then noted that his “personal belief is that it is a waste of money” for the spraying to take place.

Rachel Davis, a local geologist studying storm drains in West Chester, brought up the issue of mosquito breeding in standing water inside the storm drains in the area, which, according to the State DEP website, are one of the biggest sources for mosquito breeding. She believes that the borough should be focusing on the infrastructure and maintenance of the borough’s storm drains to eliminate the number of mosquitoes that breed there, as some have issues with water not flowing through the drains as it should be after storms. Larvicide, a chemical that is non-toxic to residents and other wildlife, should be used in place of pesticide spraying to eliminate the mosquitoes from their larvae stage, in her opinion.

She leads a team of volunteers through the Sierra Club’s “Adopt a Drain” movement that regularly cleans and inspects storm drains around the borough and provides data on the status of drains back to the Public Works Department.

Davis noted that the storm drains in the peripheral of West Chester University’s campus are “up to standard” regarding their maintenance, as most of those are newer and at a lower elevation. She states that she does not know the status of the drains residing on-campus.

Members of the Sierra Club, including Nathanial Smith and Margaret Hudgings, who started the Don’tSprayMe movement in 2015, raised questions along with Davis about the decision to spray in the borough. They wish to know what the temperature of the standing storm drain water is, along with the path of the vehicles used to spray the pesticide throughout the borough. Ultimately, they want to know why larvicide has only been used one time since 2015, while pesticides have been used regularly despite resident push back. They also raised the question of the type of pesticide used back in 2012, before the borough made the switch to DeltaGard. The previous chemical used had been highly toxic to multiple forms of insect wild life. They also raised the issue of getting a “double dose” of spraying, and the problem of pesticides being sprayed in resident alleys where many people have organic gardens.

The club’s goal is to look to next year for a more widespread use of larvicide to eliminate the need of pesticide spraying. Kasner reported the use of larvicide in five drains in West Chester this year.

Kasner stated that these questions, as well as a map of the route of the vehicle spraying or the size of the pesticide vehicle applicator, would  require attention by the legal department first, leaving  Smith and Hudgings without answers. However, she has voiced her support to use larvicide as a replacement to the pesticide spraying.

Members of the Sierra Club and Don’tSprayMe plan to continue pushing for the answers to their questions in the future.

State representative Carolyn Committa voiced her support for Don’tSprayMe’s pushback against pesticide use in the borough.

“Our goal in West Chester is to never spray!” she said. “Our approach is to work together, borough and county Health Department, to eliminate the breeding places of mosquitoes and, therefore, eliminate the need to spray.”

She also commented on the use of pesticides used in the past:

“We have been successful in the borough not needing to be sprayed for three years. This year was very challenging, and one spray was needed. The plan moving forward is to review how to strengthen our plan, including larviciding borough storm drains. The key is continued education and collaboration between borough and county departments. I am confident we will reach a time when spraying for mosquitoes will be a thing in the past.”

For more information on the Sierra Club’s efforts in Chester county, students can visit https://www.sierraclub.org/pennsylvania/southeastern/chester-county. For more information on Don’tSprayMe and their stance on pesticide spraying and its effects, their website can be found at https://dontsprayme.com/.

Sam Walsh  is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in Autism studies. ER821804@wcupa.edu.

Leave a Comment