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Vector agency works on mosquito and rumor control

A while back, concerned that county government agencies were spraying glyphosate to manage roadside weeds, I joined a Facebook page devoted to the topic. I also signed up on the Jackson County Vector Control “No Spray” list, assuming this to be the agency disseminating glyphosate. Recently, after reading some disturbing posts regarding Vector Control’s mosquito abatement policies, I spoke to the agency’s manager, Jim Lunders, who set me straight regarding misinformation that abounds online.

Jim, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Eastern Oregon University, knows his field well. He began working in mosquito abatement as a summer job while still in school. After college, he spent a year in Louisiana (“We treated more mosquitoes in one day down there, than in five years up here”), then took a managerial position in Baker City.

In 2012 he moved to Jackson County, where he oversees three full-time field workers and seven seasonal employees, all fully state-certified in pesticide application and public health. The agency is governed by the Vector Control District’s board (not the county commissioners) with additional oversight from Oregon departments of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife and Health Authority.

Jim explains: “First of all, Vector Control does not spray glyphosate, or for that matter, any herbicide. Some other agency is doing that; not us.”

Vector Control is specifically set up to manage three disease-carrying animals: rats, ticks and mosquitoes.

“The whole reason I do this job is to protect people’s lives,” Jim says. “Mosquitoes can make you very sick.”

Oregon hosts 48 species of mosquitoes. The 12 species present in Jackson County fall into two general categories: adults that lay eggs directly into standing water (cattail swamps, creek diversions, etc.), and adults that lay eggs in areas that flood only occasionally (like hay fields). Eggs of the latter type can sit dormant in dry soil for years before being activated after a week in standing water. For both categories, an activated egg takes only a week in standing water to mature through larval stages into adulthood.

“Anything that holds water for seven days can produce mosquitoes,” Jim says. “So, anything readers can do to eliminate standing water will reduce mosquito populations around their homes.”

Actions like rinsing out bird baths weekly, covering the surface of rain barrels with a screen, and emptying any type of vessels (pots, buckets, old tires, even depressions in tree trunks).

Here’s the scary part: storm drains. In order to allow clean rain water to run down to the water treatment plant, storm drains are designed to filter leaves, etc. into lower containment areas. After the spring rains stop, these containment areas serve as perfect incubators for the species of mosquito that carries encephalitis and West Nile.

Various stages of the mosquito lifecycle call for specific forms of treatment. If a property owner has not eliminated a source of standing water, thus permitting mosquitoes to mature to adulthood, Jim’s team will deliver (upon request) a chemical spray to the area from a clearly marked agency truck (though not if the property is within 300 feet of a “No Spray” property).

Preferring to prophylactically treat mosquitoes in the larval stage, Vector Control field workers more commonly walk around wearing back packs, while disseminating small chemical pellets into standing bodies of water, or dropping briquettes down rain gutter grates. Jim emphasizes his employees do not treat any bodies of running water, as mosquitoes do not breed in running water.

Jim is well aware of the community controversy regarding possible long-term health effects of chemical pesticides. He points out that Vector Control does use some products that are certified as organic, but cautions that some organic insecticides are actually more toxic to humans than their synthetic alternatives. He explains that the aerosol spray used on adult mosquitoes is highly unstable, and breaks down in a matter of hours when exposed to sun — though it takes longer to disintegrate when rinsed off into the soil. (see: http://jcvcd.org/us/products-used).

Jim welcomes worried readers to forward him any empirical studies with hard scientific data they run across (office@jcvcd.org). He promises to assess studies for their scientific merit, and respond accordingly.

Concerned readers can also sign up for the “No Spray” list (http://jcvcd.org/no-spray). Readers are additionally encouraged to bring used automobile (not truck) tires to the Vector Control facility (555 Mosquito Lane, Central Point, 541-826-2199). The next collection drive is Aug. 16-18 (http://jcvcd.org/2018/05/free-tire-disposal-event).

A further request is that readers do not post unverified, alarmist statements online. If readers think they are witnessing any Vector Control employees participating in inappropriate action, Jim encourages them to document it, and send photos to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/Pesticides/Pages/PesticideComplaints.aspx) which will investigate the matter further.

Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s.