When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to spray naled, a controversial pesticide used to kill mosquitoes, over Puerto Rico to stamp out the Zika virus last month, the island’s residents erupted. San Juan’s streets filled with protesters, and Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla forced the CDC to return its shipments of the chemical.
But when Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control experts chose to drop that very same pesticide from planes over Wynwood to combat Zika last week, Floridians barely made a peep despite the fact that naled is banned in the European Union. That region’s regulators claim the pesticide poses an “unacceptable risk” to human health.
Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CDC say naled can be safely sprayed in small amounts to kill mosquitoes, some American environmental scientists disagree and say spraying the chemical over a populated area ranges from a “necessary evil” to downright irresponsible.
In a dark twist, some studies have even shown that the family of chemicals naled belongs to can harm a growing fetus which means the county could be harming the very same pregnant residents it’s trying to protect.
On August 4, Dr. Elvia Melendez-Ackerman, an environmental biologist at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras campus, sent City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado a letter demanding Miami stop spraying naled. (The letter should have gone to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, because the county handles mosquito-control spraying.)
“We all have heard of the intention to fumigate Miami with naled, and with all due respect, we are starting to see in Florida a repeat of what we went through: Public servants not reading the science that is in front of them, ” writes Melendez-Ackerman, who was active in the movement to ban naled in Puerto Rico.
In an interview with New Times, she criticizes both the U.S. government and Miami-Dade County for rushing to kill mosquitoes without thinking enough about the long-term costs of aerial naled spraying.
“People don’t know all the risks, ” she says. “This degrades into a carcinogen. It’s in the EPA documents.”
However, a county Mosquito Control spokesperson tells New Times the county abides by a host of state and federal spraying guidelines and is doing all it can to keep citizens safe. The county sprays only about an ounce of naled per acre of land, spokesperson Francisco Calderon says.