The July 23 Tallassee City Council meeting got heated after some Harris Street residents petitioned the council to stop spraying their street for mosquitoes, citing the use of what is said to be a dangerous chemical.
Brona and Terry Anthony explained their street in east Tallassee had not been sprayed in past years. While Mayor Johnny Hammock made it clear when it comes to spraying for mosquitoes it would be all or none, he suggested the council hold a public hearing to give more people an opportunity to speak for or against spraying.
“We're not going to spray this street and not spray the next street,” Hammock said.
Brona Anthony addressed the council with 18 signatures from fellow residents of Harris Street petitioning the city to stop spraying for mosquitoes, citing chemicals said to be harmful to humans and wildlife.
"I come to you after much prayer and preparation united along with my neighbors on Harris Street and our shared alleyway to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves,” Anthony said. “We stand for 100,000 bees that reside on Harris Street and my child and the people.”
She went on to read an excerpt from the Mosquito Master 412 label:
"This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds while bees are actively visiting the treatment area, except when applications are made to prevent or control a threat to public and/or animal health determined by a state, tribal or local health or vector control agency on the basis of documented evidence of disease-causing agents in vector mosquitoes, or the occurrence of mosquito-borne disease in animal or human populations, or if specifically approved by the state or tribe during a natural disaster recovery effort."
The label also reads:
"This product is extremely toxic to aquatic organisms including fish and aquatic invertebrates. Runoff from treated areas or deposition of spray droplets into a body of water may be hazardous to fish and aquatic invertebrates."
Anthony said she reached out to Tallassee building inspector Andy Coker in April to report an abandoned swimming pool in the neighborhood that was a site for breeding mosquitos. Anthony said she was then asked if she wanted Harris Street sprayed.
"I was asked then if I wanted Harris Street sprayed for mosquitos, I said ‘no,'" Anthony said. "I support the bees, of course, but I have my own personal reasons. My son has high platelets. I do not want him or his yard toys exposed to this pesticide as it is absorbed through the skin from touching contaminated surfaces as listed on the label and also on the EPA website."
The city addressed the initial concern as the pool no longer holds water and Anthony said that alone eliminated the mosquito population on Harris Street.
"Since the liner has been cut on this pool, it no longer holds water and it has solved our mosquito issue," she said.
Anthony said the city only recently began spraying the street she and her family live on.
"We have been a no spray for years,” she said. “The spray just began this past Wednesday. Please do not let it continue."
Terry Anthony told the council Mosquito Master 412 should be sprayed "30 minutes after dusk until 30 minutes before dawn to protect humans and bees from exposure."
However, the city maintains spraying at that time is not feasible due to limited manpower.
"I'm not putting a part-time worker out there to start at 5 o'clock," Hammock said.
Anthony explained his young son suffers the consequences because he is unable to play with his outdoor toys.
"I cannot wash a sandbox," he said. "His sandbox is in storage. He just received it for his birthday in April. I have put all of his power wheels away as I cannot continue to wash them twice a week without shorting out the electronics."
Anthony suggested using a larvicide to target mosquito in the breeding habitat before they can mature into adults. He also explained cities such as Millbrook and Birmingham allow residents to opt out of mosquito spraying if 90% of the residents on a street agree.
"We already use larvicide like Wetumpka," Hammock said. "We put it out on Noble Road, in the Emfinger subdivision, anywhere we have standing water."
Many councilmembers empathized with the Anthonys but were at a loss for a solution.
"Are we allowed to make an exception and not spray a street if the residents so wish?" councilmember Bill Godwin asked.
"Mr. Godwin, the council can do pretty much anything it wants to," city attorney John Smith said. "My advice is you spray everywhere or not at all because then it comes down to many, many problems, not the least of which is keeping up with where the council has decided to spray or not to spray."
According to Hammock, the city spends about $20,000 a year on chemicals plus the cost of an employee to drive the mosquito truck.
In an effort to obtain a clear consensus, Hammock suggested the council hold off on making an immediate decision and invite the entire community to weigh in on the subject.
"When I campaigned for mayor, I said that I would be for all the people and most of the people who are for it are not here,” he said. “I don't think you need to make a decision tonight. I think you need to hold a public hearing. Advertise it, get people to come up here and speak because you are only hearing from one group."
Hammock also pointed out a long list of illnesses attributed to mosquitoes.
"According to the American Mosquito Control Association, more than 1 million people worldwide die from mosquito-borne illnesses and diseases every year,” he said. “There is the Zika virus, West Nile virus, encephalitis, yellow fever, malaria and many others that I am not even going to try to pronounce."
While the council waits to hear from the larger population, residents can decrease the mosquito population by eliminating their habitat. It is estimated up to 50% of mosquitoes are eliminated simply by ridding the environment of stagnant water.