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Queens Stung By Mosquito Peril; Shulman Calls For Expanded Spraying

As the long-feared West Nile Virus began to take its toll of birds in Queens and Staten Island, city officials last week launched ground and aerial warfare against the disease that last summer turned on humans and seriously sickened 55 people, killing seven, four in Queens.
City health officials reported that two dead birds were found in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill last week after a dead blue jay was discovered in Douglaston.
In an exclusive interview with The Queens Courier, Dr. Howard S. Ginsberg, an entomologist (insect scientist, with the U.S. Geological Survey, who has been working with Gateway National Park,) revealed that West Nile Virus has turned up in a different breed of mosquito known as the Aedes Japonicus. He said the new species was isolated by health authorities in a pool of mosquitoes found in Brookhaven, Long Island and had been in the northeastern U.S. since 1998.
"We have positive proof of Aedes Japonicus carrying the virus, but we dont know how widespread this mosquito is or if it will provide another transmission vehicle for the West Nile Virus," he said.
The Department said that helicopter spraying would be limited to the wetlands of Staten Island, although federal and state agencies were still resisting the Citys plans at press time.
In an effort to quell community unrest over spraying, the City has abandoned the use of the pesticide, malathion. It was depicted by some authorities as a "low level" human carcinogen and triggered a heated debate between Congressman Gary Ackerman and officials of the Environmental Protection Administration, a federal regulatory agency.
Instead, this summer the City chose to use Anvil and Scourge, two pyrethroids. These agents are a group of synthetic pesticides, similar to the natural pesticide pyrethrum, produced by chrysanthemum flowers.
As far as safety is concerned, City officials say that most people would not be expected to experience any symptoms. But upon direct contact some people may develop temporary skin irritations, stuffy or runny nose or mild respiratory, throat or eye irritation. They warn that people with respiratory conditions such as asthma are encouraged to stay indoors during spraying since these products may aggravate those conditions.
Ginsberg said that mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus enter the country with other "alien" mosquitoes in airplanes arriving from Mediterranean countries. He said that the Animal Health Plant agency of the Agriculture Department counted one mosquito every 17 minutes entering the country on air transportation.
Meanwhile, the virus turned up in a pool of mosquitoes on Monday night in Central Park forcing Mayor Rudy Giuliani to postpone a New York Philharmonic concert that was expected to draw 30,000 classical music lovers. He promptly ordered spraying of the site.
Giuliani assured the public that the park was safe, but urged park visitors to wear long-sleeved shirts to protect them from mosquito bites.
The decision by Mayor Giuliani last week to spray Anvil and Scourge, described as safe and effective pesticides, set off a controversy on two fronts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service and the State Department of Environmental Conservation sought to prevent spraying in wetlands fearing the spray would kill fish and other wildlife. A round of conferences in Washington, Manhattan, Queens Borough Hall and Albany appeared to end the impasse as Giuliani asserted that saving human life was a more serious matter than the death of some fish in city wetlands.
Aroused consumer groups, finding support for their views in the reaction of federal and state agencies, clamored for an end to the spraying of "toxic" chemicals while thousands hunkered down in their houses and apartments Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights as the trucks spraying the pesticide rumbled down deserted Queens streets. The expanded City spraying operation targeted northeast Queens, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.
The furor centers around a quarter-inch mosquito with the unlikely name Culex pipiens, a common household mosquito, that last summer suddenly turned killer. Queens residents interviewed expected that the crisis will worsen as the summer wears on.
Borough President Claire Shulman reportedly wrote City Health Commissioner Dr. Neal L. Cohen on Tuesday to expand spraying operations in Arverne in the Rockaways to kill mosquitoes breeding in the salt marshes there. She acted after a meeting at Borough Hall on Monday with community board officials and representatives of the Gateway National Recreation area.
City Council officials backed up the Mayors spraying order. Speaker Peter F. Vallone said "I support the Mayor taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure that the West Nile Virus does not become a public health threat in New York City this summer. I am well aware that spraying is not popular, but our health officials believe it necessary."
Health Committee Chair Victor L. Robles issued a similar supportive statement.
The deaths and illnesses from the virus struck without warning last Labor Day Weekend and triggered heavy truck and helicopter spraying. The City Hall action left the population divided with communities often more concerned about the spray than the bite of the mosquito.
The controversy spurred a law suit filed by the "No Spray" coalition environmental group last week. It drew criticism from Giuliani who asserted the legal action could harm efforts to protect the population exposed to the West Nile Virus.
Kimberly Flynn, an environmentalist, responded sharply to the City Hall statement:
"Anvil, the pesticide the City is using, chokes asthmatics and can cause learning disabilities in kids while someone living at the epicenter of the West Nile outbreak has just a 1-in-300,000 chances of getting sick."
The spraying schedule, originally targeting Staten Island and Douglaston, was suddenly expanded on July 23 when dead crows were collected in Richmond Hill, near the Brooklyn border. Spraying was also ordered in Ozone Park, Jamaica and Briarwood.
The expanded spraying schedule was undertaken, according to Health Commissioner Cohen, " to protect the public health and avoid infections."

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