The aerial spraying debate: Is it safe?

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by SHON GABLES

WFAA

Posted on August 12, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 13 at 1:27 AM

DALLAS — With a long gray beard reminiscent of ZZ Top, Dr. Gene Helmick-Richardson is preparing to come out of retirement to challenge Dallas County's decision to use aircraft to combat the mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus.

Helmick-Richardson, who has made a living as an entomologist, said he wants no part of aerial spraying.

"It's poison raining down on my backyard, and I don't want it," he said.

Back in 1969, Helmick-Richardson was a graduate student studying mosquito control at Texas Tech University. He said researchers learned valuable lessons after measures to eradicate infected mosquitoes backfired.

"We know they are going to cause the death of millions of innocent insects that didn't do anything," he said, warning that the mosquitoes that survive the bombardment will come back... but stronger.

"Resistance is documented," he said. "It's a fact, and we are going to be using pesticides to treat mosquitoes and create a kind of super bug."

As a result, Dr. Helmick-Richardson believes aerial spraying should only be used as a last resort. He claims 90 percent of the chemicals don't hit their targets.

"It's like a fog; it will drift anywhere," he said. "There are people in surrounding counties that will probably get some of that chemical."

But local and state health officials call the historic West Nile outbreak an epidemic. "It's a public health emergency here in Dallas County," warned Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

With nine deaths among 181 confirmed cases of West Nile virus, Dallas County is initiating its most aggressive spraying plan yet.

Starting Monday, trucks loaded with pesticide will spray areas of North Dallas three nights in a row. Residents of the affected areas are advised to remain indoors after 10 p.m. and to bring their pets inside

By midweek, aircraft will fly over infected mosquito hotbeds in Dallas, Highland Park and University Park. Dr. Lakey insists the operation is safe.

"All of our experience is that this is a safe and effective way to address mosquitoes," he said.

E-mail sgables@wfaa.com

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