What's bugging the environmentalists?

Posted: Aug 09, 2002 12:00 AM
Whenever I head out for an early evening walk by the neighborhood lake with my husband and toddler, we follow the same routine. Put on our shoes. Take a trip to the Blue's Clues potty. And finally: Spray. We don't give a second thought to applying a small amount of DEET-based insect repellent on our daughter's arms and legs. It's not just itchy skin and unsightly welts we're trying to prevent. In the Washington area, mosquitoes collected from 40 locations have tested positive for the potentially fatal West Nile virus. Infected crows have turned up dead on the White House lawn and throughout southern Maryland. The first human case in the District this year was confirmed this week. The rest of the country is battling the outbreak, too. Five Louisiana residents have died from the virus this summer. Dozens more in Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Illinois have been infected. West Nile virus may be a remote concern for us -- the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable -- but we're exercising our parental common sense. The benefits of insecticides and pesticides far outweigh their risks. This completely rational assessment, shared by a wide majority of Americans, is driving environmentalist chemophobes absolutely buggy. While most community leaders are clamoring for their local governments to step up mosquito eradication plans, the greenies have filed lawsuits left and right to stop aerial spraying. A group called the "No Spray Coalition" sued New York City, claiming that "Thousands of fish, lobsters, birds and beneficial insects like butterflies and bees were killed by the spraying." Never mind that when the virus first took hold in the Big Apple in 1999, seven people died and 62 people became seriously ill as a result of encephalitis, meningitis, and other central nervous system diseases caused by West Nile infections. Never mind that as a result of aggressive spraying, New York City gained control of the problem -- while other environmentalist-infected regions of the country can't (or won't) stop the spread. Some hysterical opponents of West Nile spraying are pushing "safe and affordable" alternatives to the chemicals being used to combat infected mosquitoes. But as a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month concluded, DEET-based insect repellents provide the best, longest-lasting protection against mosquito bites with the least amount of applications. And the aerial pesticides used to combat the West Nile virus are all federally approved chemicals that meet safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency -- at levels up to 1,000 times safer than the level at which the EPA finds the pesticide has no adverse effect. Moreover, these chemicals are among the very alternatives advocated by environmentalists who succeeded in banning previous generations of insecticides, such as DDT. Now, as the West Nile virus spreads across the country, threatening both people and wildlife, the anti-pesticide activists want to take away the few remaining weapons against mosquito-borne diseases. And many spineless government scientists still refuse to stand up to them. In Connecticut, for example, policy analyst Laurence Cohen notes, the state's Agricultural Experiment Station "is very good at counting the mosquitoes, at monitoring the mosquitoes, at having seminars about the mosquitoes. But when it comes time to actually kill the mosquitoes, they are intimidated by the scare-mongering environmentalists who are willing to sacrifice a few humans for the sake of a make-believe threat from the new generation of relatively safe bug sprays." Meanwhile, it's not just West Nile virus that is a mosquito-borne public health threat. Communities along the Southeastern coast have witnessed an increase in the incidence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, meningitis and encephalitis. As Betty St. John, a fed-up mom in Baton Rouge, La., fumed: "Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists, whose goal seems to be to save us from ourselves, we're now facing exposure to diseases usually reserved for documentaries on the Discovery Channel." It's time to tell the environmentalists to lock themselves indoors with their worthless citronella candles and peppermint oil perfume, and let the rest of us battle the bugs with 21st-century tools.