City Declares War On Mosquitoes

The Giuliani administration has announced it is mobilizing a barnyard full of birds, chickens and wild fowl and millions of minnow-sized mosquito-eating fish in one of the citys largest public health initiatives in years.
The target of the multi-million dollar effort is a one-quarter-inch insect that answers to the name Culex pipiens, but better known as the common household mosquito. Scientists dont know why, but it turned deadly last summer, spreading a strain of encephalitis known as the West Nile Virus.
Giuliani, surrounded by city health officials, Borough President Claire Shulman and Queens legislators at Powells Cove Park in College Point last Thursday, outlined a 25-page plan designed to kill 95 percent of the citys mosquito population to prevent a repetition of last years outbreak that killed seven people and sickened 62 others.
He announced that a massive surveillance and insect control plan was under way to detect the disease-bearing mosquitoes and destroy them before they developed into adult mosquitoes. The first step was taken on April 17, when larvacide, a substance designed to kill mosquitoes in the larval stage, was applied in mosquito habitats in Bayside, Flushing, and Jamaica. Health Department workers began applying the larvacide products Altosid, Vectoplex and Vectobac in cracks and crevices where the insects place their larvae.
A spokesperson for the National Antimicrobial Information Network said the larvacides are safer than the more toxic malathion widely sprayed on Queens last summer when the epidemic was first identified by a Flushing Hospital infectious disease specialist, Dr. Deborah Asnis.
Health officials said they had designated 25 "sentinel" hospitals which would be contacted regularly to determine if encephalitis patients are admitted. Plans also call for deploying dozens of chickens throughout the city to see if they are carrying the West Nile Virus. The fowl will have their blood tested at regular intervals to see if mosquitoes have infected them.
In another step, Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen said that millions of tiny larvae-eating fish known as Gambusia affinis will be placed into the citys waste treatment plants. He explained the two-inch fish multiply rapidly and each consume hundreds of larvae a day.
At last weeks news conference City Council Speaker Peter Vallone said that last summer the federal government was of no help to the city. He described the city spraying campaign by helicopter and truck a "travesty."
In announcing the decision to bar use of malathion, Cohen pointed to a study being conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine if the pesticide is carcinogenic.
The Queens Courier reported earlier this month that a preliminary review of malathion showed it is a "low level carcinogen." The development came to light when Congressman Gary Ackerman clashed with Dr. Adrian Enache, an EPA official at a public hearing he conducted at the Flushing Library.
Ackerman accused Enache of "stonewalling" him, a charge he repeated after testimony by Commissioner Cohen and an aide, Dr. James Miller.
Meanwhile, just across the street from mosquito ground zero on 11th Avenue in College Point, the staff of Low Surgical Corp. breathed a sigh of relief as the Giuliani Administration announced they were abandoning plans to spray the pesticide, malathion, just yards away from their firm.
"This has been a nightmare for our company," said Scott Somner, director of operations for the medical supply house. "We had to tolerate months of spraying with the pesticide, malathion, a substance that could cause contagion and adversely affect our oxygen and other sensitive medical products we market."
"We found it tough breathing," Somner added, referring to the massive helicopter and truck spraying of malathion launched last summer by the city.
He said that the firms doors were kept firmly closed at all times to prevent the malathion from fouling their products. "We didnt want our people inhaling the pesticide," Somner said. "It was an uncomfortable and dangerous year for our staff."