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September 16, 2005

Fly E.P.A.


This subject might not be too popular, but the old environmentalist in me just can’t pass it by.

A few days ago, I wrote about the tendency for photojournalist to become a little too artistic in the face of environmental problems.  I also cited an article in the NYT reporting (in the last few paragraphs) that the military was to begin spraying insecticide over New Orleans, even though several thousand people were still in the city and this kind of spraying had never been done before over a large urban area.

Searching under the terms “Katrina” and “pesticide” I was actually surprised to find these images this afternoon.  Of course, I wasn’t surprised they were so beautiful and well composed.

Beyond the visuals, I’m a little worried about Mayor Nagin’s urgency to have people return to four of the drier neighborhoods within the next few days.  When asked about environmental concerns — such as the quality of the water supply, and the known tendency of dried sludge to release toxic contaminants into the air — Nagin downplayed the problems.  Speaking on Tuesday, he said that he was awaiting a report from the E.P.A. on air and water quality in the neighborhoods in question.

And that sounds fine, except that Nagin is a former marketing guy — and one day later, the New Orleans Homeland Security Chief, and the public affairs officers at both the E.P.A. and the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality indicated they knew nothing about a such report.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s environmental update in the Times had no follow up on the spraying.

(images:  AP Photo /Brian Snyder, pool.  A military C-130 sprays pesticide over parts of New Orleans, Louisiana. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005. YahooNews)

  • mugatea

    Shortly after Katrina, and since, warm winds from the South have been bringing something bad up to New England. Vermont suspended sports activities for schools on Wednesday because the air polution levels were so high. That is the first time that has happened here. People with no previous known allergies are having attacks and cold like symptoms.
    As the sludge dries in NO some of it will turn up in the winds and who knows what it is really doing to us all?
    Thank you for making the environment an issue. It’s amazing how we as a culture are so disconnected from it.

  • Mad

    Letting the population back in to New Orleans—- isn’t that like sending in the rescue teams and local residents after Sept 11, even though the EPA was aware of the toxic dust floating in the air?
    Hosing down a city with pesticide? I guess that is commonly down on a smaller scale in some areas of the country. Very strange. In Vermont that would cause a political / environmental/ social firestorm.
    This whole “Recovery of New Orleans” is going to be another weird show, one bizarrenss after another.

  • Bugboy

    New Orleans has a large, well established mosquito control program, so they HAVE seen spraying before, and for you to indicate that there is a risk to the returning residents is uninformed and ignorant.
    There is a much greater risk to the residents from the diseases mosquitoes carry, just as we are entering the peak time for those diseases.
    It is extremely expensive to run a spray operation, so you can be assured that the decisions made to spray aren’t frivolous. We deal with this issue all the time in the industry, ie. the public demands spraying, but there’s only so much money in the budget to spray with.
    FYI, and I’ve experienced this first-hand, the public also demands spraying even though they don’t need it, and it’s the professionals that you are disrespecting by your assumption of harm that stand between giving the public what they want and preventing unneeded release of chemicals into the environment.

  • Bugboy

    As for the air quality problems in New England, materials released from the countless refineries, wells and industrial facilities in the NO area and all the way up the Ohio Valley are just as likely to blame for whatever fallout you may be getting.
    There is no mosquito adulticide legally available that could persist that long in the environment, and you can trust me on this one because it would make our jobs much easier controlling these insects if there was something that sturdy. But, there is not.
    People expose themselves to toxic materials every time they take medicine, pop a brew, or smoke a cigarette. For pesticides to face the wrath of environmentalists is at best 30 years late and at worst, a disservice to public health. The economics of the public demanding flawless produce and affordable cotton clothing dictate pesticide policy more than anything.

  • mugatea

    Bugboy, I agree with you that most of our (NE) airborne toxins are from the Midwest. Most toxins are heavy enough that they would not make it all the way up here. But, what do I or you really know about all that?
    I do know that profits are more important than people these days. I don’t expect our corporate government to be concerned about our health. There are a lot of people around me are suffering from allergy like symptoms in a way they had not before this event. I’m open to coincidence. But …

  • Bugboy

    It’s likely NOT cooincidence if there is indeed an increase in cases that you describe, but as you say, what do we really know? Its cause could be anything from particulate matter to increased mold spores due to the humidity. Even mold spores of a different species than you are normally exposed to, blown up from NO.
    I know people exposed to new types of mosquitoes experience much more severe reaction to their bites, while others, myself included, have been bitten by some species so much they don’t even get welts.
    20 years ago the science of Chemical Ecology was in its infancy, and I was mentored by one of its pioneers, a specialist in Dutch Elm disease, Dr. Gerald Lanier. People in general refuse to believe that there are substances released by themselves and most other animals and plants that influence the behavior of others. Now that technology has allowed us to actually measure those materials, we (at least in the scientific community) know better.
    The fact that we are able to measure these miniscule things raises the awareness of the vast array of materials that surround us on a daily basis, increasing our alarm at them even though they’ve been around for who knows how long. Just because we didn’t know they were there doesn’t mean they are now suddenly effecting us. Every time something is done to control one environmental impact, another impact is revealed. Acid rain is largely due to the banning of particulate matter from emissions, which had cause those released acids to complex with them and eventually fall out of the atmosphere. Now, they go airborne and stay airborne for great distances.
    The bottom line is we know a heck of a lot less about our world than most people, scientists included, think we know. How many things that are considered a good idea today will be seen as utter stupidity a century from now? Global warming fits into this, because we really know little about it but we are, as a society, preparing to make policy on it.

  • bg

    I just saw a report on the bacterial content of the sludge on TV. They report normal soil has 200-300 micrograms (?) of E. coli, whereas the samples of the sludge had 13.5 MILLION micrograms. It is unlikely that all the sludge can or will be scraped from the soil/ground, which even if covered over will be dangerous whenever it gets wet again.
    I believe there is quite a bit of concern over the airborne contamination.

  • George Myers

    Nice to see a C-130 doing something than hauling quantities of Ecstasy back from Germany, as it were recently in Newburgh, NY. They fly over the former Holiday Inn, now Clarion, I was staying in digging hundreds of holes on just over the west perimeter of West Point Military Academy and the other next to Kyras Joel, NY a Talmudic Jewish settlement, which with savvy worthy of Solomon may have brought the aqueduct to the neighborhood.

  • Bugboy

    I don’t doubt there exists a serious health hazard from the amount of sewage now covering what was flooded. I’m not sure that translates to an airborne hazard, though, but it still is a hazard.
    I was in north FLA when hurricane Floyd passed by Amelia Island; when the storm was passed and there was still electrical lines down, the law enforcement officers guarding the bridge back to the island actually had a civil rebellion on their hands when they tried to block those residents that wanted to go back. They could do nothing but let them go, fortunately no one was killed by downed power lines.
    I’m sure there are businesses and residents hounding the Mayor to let them back in regardless of the hazard.

  • Kerstin

    Bugboy ~
    “Global warming fits into this, because we really know little about it but we are, as a society, preparing to make policy on it.”
    So are you saying that we should wait until we know more before we attempt to make policy?

  • Kevin

    Bugboy –
    Wanna go to lunch at this Taco Bell down on Chartres Street next week? Check out the photo at the link. Yummy. Safe and sound. No need to worry about anything airborne, no sirree.

  • Bugboy

    No, I’m not saying anything of the sort, I’m saying it’s not outside the realm of possibility that if we do anything, it could result in the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.
    We must do something about mankinds undeniable impact on the planet. For example:
    Our disposable society is the root of many of our problems, and limiting our foreign energy dependence does nothing to address that, nor does developing alternative energy sources. The industrial age brought the concept of interchangeable parts, but it also brought about the throw away when it’s broke society.
    Hybrid cars sound great, but if you have to charge batteries, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is oil and coal burning electrical plants.
    Public transportation is great too, but when our society has insisted on living such distances from our workplaces that public transportation becomes impractical, then it’s not so great.
    In 1930’s the Federal Gov’t got the bright idea of seeding the Everglades with Melaleuca (sp?) to “drain the swamp”. Now we have all of south Florida choked with this tree and the swamp remains, thankfully, a swamp. Don’t even get me started on the Army CORE and their fun with water over the last century.
    History is filled with attempts to right wrongs that ended up doing more damage than the original wrong. To do something about global warming when we don’t really know what it’s cause, effect, or geological significance is may be a bad idea.
    Do nothing? Absolutely not, but we need to do more than just bandaid emmissions, we need to address the root causes for the emmissions in the first place. Electing a Republican Congress and President who gut the environmental laws carefully constructed over the last 40 years is not the way to do that.
    @Kevin: Your link is cut off, all I’m saying is a layer of sludge on the ground doesn’t mean it’s in the air as well. I’m not saying there are not airborne hazards, but they will likely come from hazards that have been there all along, ie. refineries and industrial facilities.

  • mugatea

    Do people think hybrid cars are plugged into a wall at the end of the day? Bugboy please give hybrids another chance. When I purchased one two years ago the purchase power felt greater than any vote I’ve ever cast. Nice car too.

  • The BAG

    Bugboy, I can already tell I’m having an overreaction here, so please bear with me:
    I don’t think I said that spraying was frivolous or unneeded or that I disrespect any particular official. (In fact, I indicate the NO Mayor may not be properly coordinating with environmental officials.) I believe my only comment (which I repeated from the NYT article in my previous post) is that this kind of program is unusual for a large urban area like this. (BTW, even you — at one point — seem to suggest that the action might either be unhealthy or, at least, a nuisance when claim it is the people’s fault for demanding spraying “even though they don’t need it” (your words).
    Also, I am in no way claiming an expertise on this subject. I do, however, try to stay somewhat abreast of environmental issues, and there are a few overriding things I’ve been thinking about lately:
    First, the general public, the media and even most political activists just haven’t been that interested in the environment as an issue (which leaves the door that much wider for negligence, incompetence and abuse).
    Second, the way the Bush Administration and the E.P.A. responded to the environmental dimension of the WTC attack leaves miles of room for skepticism in relation to Katrina. If you take The Sierra Club as a credible source, for example, EPA and FEMA assured families they could clean up contaminated dust themselves with wet rags and discouraged the use of safety masks. Here’s the summary of the report (“Air Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero: How the Bush Administration’s Reckless Disregard of 9/11 Toxic Hazards Poses Long-Term Threats for New York City and the Nation”) here. Notice in the link, btw, that the Councilman for the 1st district in New York (covering lower Manhattan) stated last year that “there are still thousands of residents and workers whose health may be at risk due to the lack of a proper clean up.” And that’s in Manhattan — as compared to these “low lying” areas of N.O.
    Third, the Bush Administration’s policies and attitudes towards all things green (except cash) has been beyond egregious. This issue of Mother Jones has a nice sweep of the major shames involved, but the scope of the political, ecological, health and even financial damage (currently, and particularly, going forward) is barely comprehensible.

  • George Myers

    Don’t know the argument, but I went to replace a cable TV remote and all the “Channel 12″ local news cars were hybrids, Prius I think. The Sierra Club awhile ago had people adopt a Ford dealership, asking them to write and ask them to do better (my Dad had a red showrom Pinto m.p.g. Pony 5 speed, went 250,000 miles) and they’ve recently announced they are with the new Ford Explorer hybrid SUV, an approval I guess, not an endorsement.

  • Kerstin

    Thanks for the clarification, Bugboy … I’m trying to type in your name with a serious face. :)
    I agree that there are unintended consequences to just about everything we do, but this shouldn’t be an excuse to do nothing. Like the BAG, I’m concerned about spraying over an entire city. I sure wouldn’t move back to New Orleans anytime soon.
    Our neighborhood is sprayed two or three times over the course of the summer and I don’t like it at all. The justification is the fear over West Nile or EEE (a 4 year old girl died this summer here in MA) but to just spray everywhere … I don’t know, seems like overkill to me. I live in the suburbs and just the impact to the environment from what people put on their lawns is mind-blowing.

  • mugatea

    News to me … Power plants all over the country are now burning as much coal as they like. The emision rules have been relaxed in response to Katrina. Power plants are free to burn whatever they want with no restrictions on what airborne particles go off to New England or who knows where.
    In front of our home a school bus makes it’s last stop before getting to the school. The one kid who gets on at the stop usually has to look for the last seat available. I know that because my two year old stands on a window seat a watches this every morning. As he watched the bus today he was like a Jethro Tull song, snots dripping down his nose. My nose was doing the same thing. Since school started that bus has been full every day. Today it was only a little more than half full. I can’t help but think at least some of the kids that usually ride the bus were home with runny noses like ours. It’s not enough to see a doctor about, but I feel like shit. A friend who moved up here from Dallas recently said this air reminded her of the hot summer air poluted days of Texas. Where you try not to go outside because “it’s hard to breathe.”
    The current administration has wanted to burn more coal since they entered office. Thanks to Katrina they have gotten their way. Nice, the boy king is turning the whole fucking country into Texas. We don’t have enough strip clubs up here to become Texas.
    Pardon moi french.

  • fotonique

    New Orleans: 80% flooded.
    Update on CDC’s Response to Hurricane Katrina
    September 16, 2005

    Mosquitoes and Flies Control: Spraying to kill pest flies and adult mosquitoes that could carry the West Nile and other viruses continues today. Vector control experts note that a combination of new mosquitoes and preexisting virus could increase transmission activity approximately three to four weeks after the storm. This makes public health mosquito control measures within the affected communities, as well as individual prevention measures, critically important. People should use insect repellent containing DEET (Look for: N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) or Picaridin; wear long sleeved tops and long pants; and avoid outdoor activities, if possible, at dusk and dawn.

    Naled Material Safety Data Sheet.
    Culex and its historically deadlier cousin, Aedes aegypti.

  • Kathryn Cramer

    Possession being, as the saying goes, nine tenths of the law, I think the mayor wants the people of NOLA to be in possession of their homes to head off other possibilities. There is no good solution.

  • Jay Salter

    Your observation that C-130 insecticide “spraying had never been done before over a large urban area” prompts me to recall C-130s flying, weekly, back and forth over Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1970, ‘71, ‘72. We were told, via the Armed Services (radio) Network, that the spraying was designed to suppress mosquitos. I now wonder if perhaps the same C-130s where also used to spray Agent Orange elsewhere betwixt mosquito sorties.

  • fotonique

    [Air Force] Reserve conducts aerial spray mission over Louisiana:

    The Department of Defense’s only fixed-wing aerial spray unit, the 910th Airlift Wing, and its C-130 Hercules were requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spray until the threat of disease subsides. FEMA officials are assessing how many acres need to be sprayed as a result of Katrina.
    …Each modified C-130 is equipped with a modular aerial spray system. Dibrom [aka Nidal] is the chemical choice for the mosquito control operation.
    …During these low-level missions over the city and outlying areas, aircraft fly at about 150 feet. “The reason for flying so low is to help maintain the chemical’s maximum effect in the designated spray area,” Colonel Davis said. A second application is often sprayed to control additional mosquitoes that hatch after the first aerial spray.
    …The Air Force Reserve Command unit has flown a variety of aerial spray missions since 1973. During aerial spray operations following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the unit sprayed about 1.7 million acres over areas of Virginia and North Carolina.

    Mosquito Control, from the American Mosquito Control Association:

    Mosquito control can be divided into two areas of responsibility: individual and public. Most often it’s performed following the Integrated Mosquito Management (IMM) concept. IMM is based on ecological, economic and social criteria and integrates multidisciplinary methodologies into pest management strategies that are practical and effective to protect public health and the environment and improve the quality of life. IMM strategies are employed in concert with insecticide. These include source reduction, which incorporates physical control (digging ditches and ponds in the target marsh) and biological control [placing live mosquito fish (Gambusia) in the ditches and ponds to eat mosquito larvae]. Other non-chemical control methods include invertebrate predators, parasites and diseases to control mosquito larvae. Adult mosquito biological control by means of birds, bats, dragonflies and frogs has been employed by various agencies. However, supportive data is anecdotal and there is no documented study to show that bats, purple martins, or other predators consume enough adult mosquitoes to be effective control agents.
    Pesticides may be applied to control larvae (larvicides) or adults (adulticides). Applications of adulticides or larvicides are made after the presence of mosquitoes has been demonstrated by surveillance procedures. Application is made by prescribed standards. All insecticides must have the name and amount of active ingredient (AI) appearing on the label; examples are DEET and pyrethroids. Check the label before buying. No pesticide is 100 percent safe and care must be exercised in the use of any pesticide.

    Rumor has it that special weapons are also being distributed to National Guard members for precision insecticide…

  • fotonique

    …Dibrom [aka Nidal] is the chemical choice for the mosquito control operation.

  • Bugboy

    First of all, you must understand the scope of mosquito populations in the SE United States, particularly along the coasts.
    I grew up in upstate New York, and while I remember gnats, I cannot remember a single instance where mosquitoes caused me any great annoyance. Compared to Florida, where I currently am residing, or NOLA, New England has no mosquitoes.
    It’s no secret that mosquito control programs in the NE were very limited prior to Nile Virus entering the U.S., and yes, there was unprecedented spraying in NYC that may not have been warrented. But, public demand for an effort to reduce the risk of Nile Virus was overwhelming.
    BTW, if you hadn’t already figured it out, my nickname is because I am an entomologist, it was given to me by a helicopter pilot I used to fly with doing aerial mosquito surveys of FLA salt marshes.
    I agree with you on Bush administration environmental policies, but where I take issue with is that it is NOT unusual to have mosquito control activities of this sort over an urban area, particularly after a hurricane.
    Also, it’s not just “officials” making spray decisions, it’s qualified health and entomological professionals making those decisions, decisions that often include NOT spraying. It doesn’t serve anyone but the alarmists to indicate that the work is being done in a shoddy manner and is completely unrelated to whatever cleanup efforts are made.
    All hurricane events are followed by massive assistance from not only military mosquito control efforts, but from many local mosquito control programs throughout the country, just as rescue workers from throughout the country are lending a hand.
    Every time an event like this happens, those of us in the industry wait with great anticipation to hear how the challenges of providing mosquito control to such areas is met.
    And what I said about unneeded chemical release is not an allusion to unneeded harm to the public, but to the phylosophical concept that most professionals in our industry have about using these materials only when necessary.
    When I say that people don’t need it, I mean situations where professional evaluation of the need doesn’t meet the public’s perception of need. Your assumption that there is harm being done to humans when mosquito control operations are conducted is a flawed one when you consider the implications of the diseases they transmit.

  • Kerstin

    Oh, I figured it out Bugboy — I like it. :)
    BAG ~ Check out “The Mother of All Toxic Cleanups” in the Sept. 26 issue of Business Week. Was news to me that there’s a 95-acre Superfund site near downtown NOLA! We also just got off the phone with relatives who lived down there. The details are gruesome. With the sewage and the mold alone (not to mention the oil spills and superfund leaching), it’s difficult to understand just how “clean” it will ever be, at least in the short-time. The environmental impact of pesticide spraying is the least of their worries right now.

  • The BAG

    Thanks to Kerstin for your last comment, and to Bugboy for your last reply. I realize, now, that my post is something of a mixed message. The problem is that I lumped/confused my concern regarding the overall environmental situation with the specific issue of mosquito spraying and prevention.
    To clarify, I’m doing another post that will focus on the environmental story sans spraying.

  • Kerstin

    I’m sorry, BAG, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought spraying was the wrong focus. I think we should be paying attention not only to the big pic, but also to the details and the spraying is certainly part of it. I’m frustrated because I feel like I have to piece together what is actually happening down there from many different sources and it never feels like enough info. As a society, we don’t seem to care much about environmental issues to the detriment of our safety and well-being. Please keep writing about this issue, I agree it is an important one.

  • Scorpio

    In the NOLA pic his shirt is buttoned wrong. And they let him go on TV that way. His Karen must have been missing.

  • Joyce Cutler-Shaw

    Heard that the lighting and staging of the speech in New Orleans square
    was the professional crew that Bush team uses, transporting any number of
    theatrical lights, generators and items of stagecraft to present that
    scene. How much do you suppose that cost in $, equipment, transport and effort in relation to the needs of that community in terms of $, equipment,
    transport and effort?

  • mugatea
  • Bugboy

    @Kerstin & The Bag: Thank you for acknowledging what I was attempting to say. And I couldn’t have said it better, about spraying being the least of their problems – but if you look closely, we all are literally surrounded by superfund sites.
    I’ve some experience with this issue since I managed a District that had an old compound from dacades ago with contamination – but for the most part the contamination was from petroleum products rather than pesticides. The pesticide contamination that WAS there was well within acceptible limits for the superfund program. So I managed to convince the State to transfer the case from its superfund type hazardous materials cleanup program to the petroleum cleanup program alongside all the gas stations that were getting the State and Federal government to assist in cleaning up their leaky fuel tanks. But while I was doing this, I looked at a map of other superfund sites around the State, and it is truly frightening how many there are.
    Q: If people are willing to overlook the hazards they live with every day, then why are they willing to lob firebombs at issues that are of minor impact in comparison?
    A: Because of MSM playup of those issues. Controversy sells, unfortunately, otherwize Howard Stern and Ann Coulter would be out of a job.

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