Cooperative Effort Leads to Pesticide Reduction

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Bridget Fleming.
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.

In the face of years of concern over the potential harmful effects of pesticide spraying over 190 acres of wetlands in Accabonac Harbor off Gardiner’s Bay in East Hampton, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Suffolk County Vector Control, East Hampton Town Trustees and town officials, along with 10 volunteer citizen scientists to look into the issue.

The result? Legislator Fleming announced Tuesday a reduction in the amount of pesticides that would be sprayed in the area given the actual number of mosquitoes plaguing the coastline of Accabonac Harbor.

Led by Nicole Maher of The Nature Conservancy,  East Hampton Trustees, Susan McGraw Keber and John Allred, and Mike DeLalio, Environmental Technician with the Town of East Hampton Planning Department, program participants collected dip samples at almost 6,000 GIS data points over the summer of 2017 to test for the presence of mosquito larvae. The information was sent to the Conservancy for review and a weekly data set was then forwarded to Suffolk County Vector Control. Vector Control staff mapped the larval distribution and reviewed the data for a treatment decision by the Director of Vector Control, Tom Iwanejko.

According to Legislator Fleming, results of the sampling showed the need for pesticides in certain locations was significantly lower than previously thought. The survey group detected mosquito larvae in only 544 of 6,000 samples. Data from the team showed that of the estimated 190-acre treatment block, approximately 70 acres showed breeding. Based on these data, the area to be sprayed was less than half.

According to Legislator Fleming, the reduction in spraying saved Suffolk County $18,000 — in both the cost of the chemicals itself and for the helicopter hours treating each site. Treatments largely occurred away from the harbor, and closer to marsh land, where the mosquito populations proved more potent.

Based on the surveying program, pesticide applications decreased by 50% in 2018. On four separate weeks during the 11 weeks season, the decision was made not to spray at all. During two of those weeks, surveying had been unnecessary because of dry conditions. During the two other weeks, data returned by the team supported the decision not to spray.

“I am extremely proud of the work conducted at Accabonac Harbor. After years of disagreement among stakeholders about methoprene use and protecting public health, this thoughtful program represents a groundbreaking step toward reform of standard pesticide application and has reduced methoprene use by 50-percent,” said Legislator Fleming. “This approach holds the promises of cost savings and environmental protection, not only in Accabonac Harbor, but in other areas of Suffolk County as well. I look forward to exploring efforts to recreate this program throughout the County to engage in public/private partnerships and to further reduce the amount of pesticides released in the environment, and to save even more tax dollars.”

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