, Gloucester, MA

June 24, 2013

Editorial: City, towns gambling needlessly on mosquito tactics

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The dawn of summer and the return of summer weather over the weekend means it’s also nearing the start of the mosquito season.

And it would be nice to think that, coming off last year’s scary inroads made by mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, city and town officials had taken steps to ease any need for widespread cancellations of outdoor events and public grounds shutdowns.

But even last summer’s deaths of neighbors in Amesbury and Georgetown has failed to spur municipal officials in Gloucester, Rockport, or Essex to action. While Manchester has signed on to the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District, at a cost of $35,000 for the year, Essex Town Meeting voters shot down a proposal to do the same there, and neither Rockport nor Gloucester has signed on, either.

That decision is especially grating in Gloucester, where the city’s Health Department recommended participation in the regional network — which coordinates localized tests, and provides safe spraying of mosquito larvae and other steps. Yet Mayor Carolyn Kirk rejected the Health Department’s proposal, which could have been had for roughly $87,000.

That’s a lot of money for a testing and spraying operation. And Chief Administrative Officer James Duggan said he believes “more comprehensive reviews and analyses of (mosquito) watch options are out there.” He also added that the city needs to “look at all the options” when it comes to mosquito control, including community outreach.

But what? And when? We’ve often noted the basic precautions residents and businesses can take against EEE and West Nile, including wearing long sleeves and pants, and most importantly, clearing out any and all pools of standing water that can offer especially fertile mosquito breeding grounds. But spouting messages about the dangers of EEE and West Nile and then letting standing water pool on city land doesn’t cut it.

Gloucester and other communities may get a break if a bill in the State House gains quick passage; that would allow municipal workers across the state to be granted emergency authority to use certain non-toxic pesticides in storm drains, which would be a start.

But city and town officials had better realize that mosquitoes are not going to wait until communities “look at all options” before they take some potentially life-threatening bites out of summer.

In rejecting a Health Department proposal, Gloucester leader are taking a significant gamble. We can only hope that their — and our — luck holds out.