06/13/04 — Mosquito spraying in Goldsboro

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Mosquito spraying in Goldsboro

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 13, 2004 2:07 AM

Just before daybreak, a truck rolls slowly through a quiet neighborhood, disappearing in the mist of fog following in its wake.

Only the loud familiar roaring of the motor identifies the truck as one of Goldsboro's mosquito spraying vehicles.

Weather permitting, the city sprays twice a day, five days a week, between April and September.

"Sometimes we have to start spraying in late March and we may go into September," said Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra. "It depends on the weather."

The inspection department is in charge of the mosquito spraying program within the city limits, something Cianfarra says is usually handled in other cities through maintenance or a specially designated department.

"I'm the only building inspector in the state that's in charge of the mosquito spraying program," he said. Cianfarra is licensed to buy the chemical used for spraying, and then two trained part-time employees drive the trucks.

There's a pre-set amount of chemicals released into the neighborhoods. Cianfarra said that the machines and the trucks were calibrated by the state to make sure they're not spraying too much or too little.

By 8:30 a.m., the spraying for the morning is almost over, to resume in the early evening hours.

Cruising through a wooded neighborhood, Cianfarra points behind the truck at the fog drifting to one side.

"You have to pay attention to the wind drift," he said. "That's how you know which areas have been covered, and which ones you still need to cover."

The mosquitoes must be flying to be hit and killed by the spray. Cianfarra says that the insects don't fly when the temperature is over 90 degrees.

"The spray we're using is a contact killer," Cianfarra explains. "So the fog, as it drifts will bump into the mosquito. The fine droplets land on leaves, but it won't kill the mosquito later. That makes it safe for people, vegetables and animals."

The city uses an odorless, colorless chemical called Bio-Mist to destroy the insect population.

"We stopped using Malathion a few years ago because people complained about the odor," Cianfarra said.

People allergic to Bio-Mist can call the city Inspection Department at 580-4346.

"If they're allergic, we won't spray within two blocks of their home," Cianfarra said. "But generally we've found that less people are allergic to Bio-Mist because it's a less offensive chemical."

Spraying is also out when it's windy, or if it rains.

"We can't spray when it rains," Cianfarra explains. "We can't even spray when it's drizzling because the fog from the spray dissipates too quickly and doesn't work."

Keeping the city's mosquito population under control is difficult, even when there's no wind, rain or excessively high temperatures.

"The trucks can't go above 10 to 12 miles per hour when they're spraying," Cianfarra said. "So you don't get a whole of streets per day, even when the weather is perfect."

The entire city is sprayed about one and a half times a week, Cianfarra said.

Mosquitoes have always been a problem during the warmer months, but with the fear of West Nile virus, people are viewing them as more than just a nuisance. The virus is known to spread to people by infected mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds. Although most people bitten by a West Nile-carrying mosquito will not become noticeably ill, some will develop flu-like symptoms and possibly encephalitis, a sometimes fatal or disabling brain infection.

Besides spraying the city streets, Cianfarra said, his department also puts special tablets in large pools of stagnant water.

Water left behind after days of rain can turn many areas into prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

"Anywhere there is a pond of standing water, we throw in the tablets," he said. "My employees are taking the tablets with them when they go out, so if they see standing water they can take care of it right away."

The tablet, which is only effective in standing water, stops the mosquito egg from developing.

"It deforms the mosquito," he said. The tablet is not harmful to other animals.

Cianfarra said that people could cut down on the mosquito population by getting rid of containers full of stagnant water.

"A bird bath, tires, or even that little cup underneath a plant, are all breeding grounds for mosquitoes," he said. "A mosquito can lay up to 5,000 eggs a week."

Changing the water in plant dishes or bird baths is a deterrent to the bug's reproductive cycle.

"Change the water, that helps," he said. "If it's not flowing water, you'll produce mosquitoes."

Another way homeowners can reduce the mosquito population is by cutting down weeds beside the house foundation and in their yards, and mowing the lawn regularly.

To further reduce adult mosquitoes harboring in vegetation, insecticides may be applied to the lower limbs of shade trees, shrubs and other vegetation.

Cianfarra said the state is predicting an extremely heavy mosquito season, because of the mild winter.

"If a mosquito lays eggs in a puddle, and then the puddle dries up, those eggs are still there," he explains. "If that area gets rain again and water pools in the same area, the eggs will hatch. Mosquito eggs can lay dormant for up to five years."

Cianfarra says that the biggest complaint from citizens, regarding the mosquito spraying program, is that the city doesn't spray enough.

"But many people don't even know when we spray because they're either asleep, still at work, or have their televisions on and can't hear us," he said.