DALLAS – Facing a deadline, cities across North Texas scrambled Wednesday to make the difficult and controversial decision of whether to allow aerial mosquito spraying to fight the West Nile virus.
Facing environmental and health outcries, a dozen cities across Dallas County decided the benefits outweighed the risks and agreed to allow for the first time in nearly 50 years planes to drop insecticide across their neighborhoods.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we didn’t take action.”
Dallas joined Richardson, Farmers Branch, Carrollton, Coppell, Hutchins and Grand Prairie on Wednesday to okay aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes. Garland, Highland Park, University Park, Mesquite and Addison had already approved the plan.
Yet other cities either stalled at making a decision, or flatly rejected it.
Cedar Hill, Cockrell Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Irving, Lancaster and Sachse decided against aerial spraying. DeSoto city leaders chose instead to stick with current measures, such as releasing larva pellets in standing water and encouraging residents to wear repellant.
Wylie didn't respond and Rowlett decided to ignore the deadline, insisting it needs more time to discuss such a serious topic.
“We want to make an informed decision,” city spokesperson Denise Perrin wrote in a statement, adding the city scheduled a public meeting on August 21 to discuss “this subject and the possible long-term ramifications to our citizens and the environment.”
City leaders and residents have expressed concerns about aerial spraying, ranging from health risks to impact on plants and animals. Health directors have labored to calm fears, insisting the insecticide is harmless and sprayed at such low levels (an ounce over an acre) to not cause any problems.
"Aerial spraying risk is minimal given the ongoing spread of the West Nile virus," said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The disease has killed 14 people across North Texas and sickened nearly 500. The last major epidemic Dallas faced was an outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis in 1966, when 14 people died in Dallas County. That’s also the last time crews sprayed from the air.
Zach Thompson, the Dallas County Health Director, worries spraying from trucks on Dallas streets wasn’t doing enough. Ground crews have been blanketing 14 square miles of Dallas County every night with insecticide.
"We're in a fight we can't win on the ground," he said.