HOUSTON--Aerial pesticide spraying in the Dallas area overnight to combat the deadly spread of mosquito-borne West Nile virus was impeded by rain, and planes were able to cover only about half the area they had targeted, officials said.
Officials plan to ramp up efforts Friday night, however, doubling the number of planes to four and possibly taking off a bit earlier, according to Laura McGowan, a spokeswoman for Clarke, the Roselle, Ill.-based mosquito control company hired by the city and county to spray.
Two planes took off about 10 p.m. Thursday and covered about 52,000 acres before they were grounded at midnight, McGowan said.
“We tried to wait out the storm,” she said, but two hours later they called off spraying.
Areas that were not sprayed will be first on the list Friday night, she said.
“That will obviously be our first priority when we spray tonight—getting to the rest of the spray block,” she said. But “we are looking at potential weather issues again—there’s some rain in the forecast.”
Dallas County emergency managers were still deciding what acreage would be sprayed Friday, she said. The state is covering the approximate $500,000 cost of aerial spraying after the city and county of Dallas declared a state of emergency.
The current West Nile outbreak in the Dallas area alone has grown to include 230 infections and 10 deaths, about half the total in Texas, which is the highest state tally in the country.
Despite the scope of the outbreak, and assurances from officials that the pyrethrin-based pesticides used are Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- and Environmental Protection Agency-approved, some Dallas-area residents oppose aerial spraying and increased efforts this week to stop it.
Vanessa Van Gilder, 33, of Dallas started a petition on Change.org against aerial and ground spraying of pesticides that by Friday had garnered more than 1,800 signatures.
She was sending copies to local city council members Friday, urging them to halt spraying.
“I don’t expect the spraying to stop tonight, but we just want our voices heard so this doesn’t continue” in coming weeks and years, she said.
Van Gilder said she tried to cover and protect her backyard beehive during overnight spraying, but that when she awoke this morning she still found some dead bees.
“It’s overkill. It’s hurting our beneficial insects,” she said of the pesticide spraying.
Ebonie Conner, 37, of nearby Arlington was also skeptical about pesticide spraying at first.
But Conner has also seen the threat of West Nile touch her family.
Last month, her daughter Jordan Conner, 14, contracted West Nile and developed one of the most severe related illnesses, West Nile meningoencephalitis.
Jordan came home from the hospital last week, but Conner is still on edge, worried that every headache or cough could be a sign of something more serious. There’s no known treatment for the West Nile-related illness, no vaccine to prevent her from becoming sick again.
“They do need to do something. Is the something aerial spraying? I really do think they should come up with a better way, but I lean more towards it” now that Jordan’s been sick, Conner said.
“When you live in uncertainty of everything your kid says—there’s no red flag. She could die if I don’t catch it. Nobody should live like that,” she said.
She urged local officials to be more proactive in preventing West Nile infections, distributing insect repellent to seniors, for instance, and raising awareness among parents and children.