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Plan to Exclude Pittsfield Parks From Mosquito Spraying Rejected
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:07AM / Wednesday, June 21, 2017
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The Parks Commission will allow the Berkshire Mosquito Control Project to operate in city parks.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Parks Commission is deferring to the Health Department on whether or not the public parks should be sprayed for mosquitoes.
 
The Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project heads efforts to prevent mosquito-spread disease through a control program, using pesticides to limit the population. There is an option for property owners to exempt their land from being sprayed and Parks Commissioner Joe Durwin, a strong opponent of the use of the chemicals, proposed using that exemption for city parks unless there is a public health emergency.
 
"There is a lot of debate about the efficacy and the residue," Durwin said. "It was a very murky area when this was reviewed a few years ago."
 
The program had come under heat a few years ago when a group of citizens launched an effort to halt the use of the spray. They argued that it was not effective in controlling the population but rather posed many more environmental and health issues.
 
Durwin sat on an ad hoc committee looking for alternative ways to prevent the spread of diseases through mosquitoes but ultimately, those recommendations were never enacted. Now a parks commissioner, Durwin remains in opposition to the use of the sprays and petitioned the board to stop using it in city parks. 
 
"There is a human health component especially when you have kids playing," Durwin said, adding that there is evidence showing that environmental impacts are still very unclear and that the chemicals last longer than being portrayed by those in the business of mosquito control. 
 
His proposal would be that the city adopts a policy in which no chemicals be used unless there is a clear public heath risk with mosquitoes. The policy is the same as the Mass Audubon Society.
 
"I feel that it is warranted based on the findings a couple years ago in the study process," he said.
 
The Health Department had already rejected the opponent's push to halt the use of the sprays and this year approved yet another program. The Board of Health felt that the overwhelming evidence showed that the chemicals do not pose a health or environmental concerns. 
 
"I don't think Mr. Durwin has accurate information," Berkshire Mosquito Control Project Superintendent Christopher Horton said. "It was science that was advocacy science, trying to cherry pick data that supports their opinion."
 
To which Durwin responded, that Horton isn't a "reliable source of information." 
 
Horton continues to say that all products used are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and are both "effective and safe." The truck-mounted spray dissolved in the air and kills mosquitoes it encounters before it hits the ground. And a barrier spray lasts until it rains.
 
Health Director Gina Armstrong says the use of the chemicals is a rarity. The spraying is determined through specific guidelines established based on the finding of diseases and the number and species of mosquitoes.
 
"We do have a program that can apply mosquito control in a very safe manner and with a lot of community awareness," Armstrong said.
 
Last year there were only two applications, one of which was in response to significantly high numbers of mosquitoes and the other was a request. That request returned again this year - for the Springside Park Gala.
 
Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully had put in a request for a barrier spray to be used before the gala to prevent mosquitoes from being a nuisance to guests. While the Parks Commission is deferring to the Health Department when it comes to following the program, it is not for special requests like Tully's. 
 
In a motion, the Parks Commission agreed to follow the Health Department's lead but to deny any special requests for spraying for events. 
 
"Clearly this is one of those situations where either side of the fence has valid arguments," Commissioner Anthony DeMartino said. "I don't think any of us thinks purely nuisance control is a valid reason. However, public safety is."
 
The motion was suggested by Chairman Simon Muil and was made by Durwin. But, Durwin ultimately became the sole vote against it, still pushing for a policy to exempt the parks completely.
 
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