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Spraying opponents blast Nassau's mosquito policy

Environmentalists among those who make their case in front of county legislators

BY WILLIAM MURPHY |william.murphy@newsday.com

2:07 PM EDT, September 15, 2008
Breast cancer groups and environmentalists sharply criticized Nassau County on Monday for last week's aerial spraying against the West Nile virus over 50,000 acres of the county.

Breast cancer groups lambasted the county for any aerial spraying at all, and criticized the short notice. Those groups and a leading environmental group said the fact that any aerial spraying took place was evidence of the county's failure at preventive measures.

"We are appalled that Nassau County had to resort to aerial spraying on September 10th with the pesticide Resmethrin, which, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, is 'likely to be carcinogenic to humans,' and is also a potential nerve poison," Laura Weinberg of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition said.

Neal Lewis, executive director of the Neighborhood Network, an environmental group, said the spraying was, "an admission of failure," of the preventive steps the county has taken since 1999, when West Nile first appeared, and when there was countywide aerial spraying.


Their comments, and those of other critics, were before the Nassau County Legislature, at the public comment segment that precedes each bimonthly hearing.

The presiding officer, Legis. Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), a close ally of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, was nonetheless critical of the county's handling of the spraying.

"It's almost as we became complacent, and now it's back, back in a hurry," Yatauro said as she closed out the discussion.

The Nassau County health commissioner, Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, said in an interview that the decision to spray was made Sept. 2, when human and mosquito infections spiked upward right at the end of August.

There are currently 13 confirmed or suspected human cases, including three deaths, the most from the virus in the county since West Nile appeared in 1999.

The health department reported the 13th case Monday morning, just minutes before the legislature was scheduled to convene. This one involved a 9-year-old West Hempstead boy who became ill on Aug. 30 with fever, nausea and headache. He was hospitalized on Sept. 2, discharged Sept. 11 and is recovering at home, the health department said.

Carney told the legislators that the infection of such a young patient came as a surprise, and she called the case "unique."

"The decision to spray was made collectively with the New York State Department of Health," Carney said in an interview over the weekend. "We did everything we could to alert people and minimize exposure."

The county was in "in complete agreement that prevention should be the priority," she said. "This has been a unique year in terms of human cases, in terms of infected mosquitoes. We don't want to have another year like this."

Public Works Commissioner Raymond Ribeiro said the county had made no cutbacks in preventive measures this year. He said it continued its program of clearing ditches into the marshy areas of the South Shore to allow tidal action to keep waters from becoming stagnant; distributing pellets and briquettes in stagnant pools; and even stocking catch basins with fish that eat the mosquito larvae.