, Salem, MA

Local News

June 12, 2014

'Opt-out' calls snag mosquito spraying

Hundreds of property owners in the region are opting out of mosquito spraying amid worries about pesticides, which is complicating efforts to combat viruses carried by the insects.

Last week, spraying began in 32 cities and towns on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley that are organized in a regional effort to control the mosquito population.

But, as in previous years, hundreds of property owners have opted out. Their concerns range from spraying’s impact on honey bee colonies and organic farms to fears about toxic pesticides.

Voters in two towns — Marblehead and Swampscott — have banned the public use of chemical pesticides entirely and instead rely on methods such as using traps to kill mosquito larvae.

Mosquito control officials said large numbers of opt-outs have made spraying ineffective in some areas, creating a public health concern.

“Mosquitoes don’t know boundaries,” said Bill Mehaffey Jr., superintendent of the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District. Its boundaries stretch from Methuen and Amesbury to Salem. “They can travel miles for a blood meal.”

Mahaffey said about 600 people opted out of the spraying program last year.

Cities and towns that join the district pay up to $45,000 every year for spraying and other preventative measures.

Homeowners who want to opt out are required to send certified letters to local officials. Some Beacon Hill lawmakers want to make the process easier.

Legislation filed by Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester would allow municipalities to include an “opt out” provision on their annual census forms. His bill, which was set for a hearing Wednesday, arose from a dispute between state agriculture officials and Boxford, where hundreds of property owners opted out of the program over concerns about pesticides contaminating their drinking water wells.

“We had more than 400 families opt out on the census last year, and after that, the state said they wouldn’t accept it,” said Boxford Town Clerk Robin Phelan. “So, a lot of people didn’t bother because it’s too burdensome.”

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