HARVARD — Whether or not to spray townwide as protection against disease-carrying mosquitoes could become an issue for voters to resolve, if the Board of Health frames it as a Town Meeting warrant article.
At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, the two boards mulled the question in general terms without much specific data to go on, other than the knowledge that mosquitoes carrying two deadly diseases, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Triple-E) and West Nile Virus, have recently been found in Bolton and Lancaster.
Noting that Harvard is “traditionally a nonpraying town,” at least in recent years, health board member Lorin Johnson posed a quandary rather than a proposition, noting that the mosquito problem has worsened since he was growing up in town. “We’re losing our ability to use the outdoors,” he said.
Asked if tests for disease-carrying mosquitoes had been done in Harvard, he and fellow member John Spiro said they didn’t know of any.
“We’re not here to suggest you start spraying tomorrow,” said Spero.
Neither he nor Johnson ruled it out, however.
The board was “just gathering information” and wanted to start a conversation on the subject, members said, adding that, in an emergency, the health board could take action.
There are various spraying techniques advocated by the Massachusetts Mosquito Control Program, which is state-approved, but not operated by a government agency. In fact, according to Conservation Commission member Wendy Sisson, once a community signs on, spray locations may be determined by resident’s calls, not town officials.
Of the many different species of mosquito, only certain kinds carry Triple-E or WNV, she said, and there are less drastic ways people can protect themselves, such as screens, clothing and insect repellent. Toxic sprays can harm other creatures and pose risks to humans, she said. She recommended research and said the ConsCom should be included.
Jim Breslauer, of Poor Farm Road, agreed. To put the matter in perspective, he said only one case of Triple-E had been confirmed this year in Massachusetts, which averages just six cases annually. West Nile was discovered only once in 2010 and 2008, and there were no cases in 2009, he said. “This is a tempest in a teapot,” he said, and the recent scare is based on “media frenzy” rather than fact.
The upshot of the discussion was that more data is needed to determine if there’s a problem that must be addressed, and if so, what are the risks versus benefits of spraying larvae, roadside or blanket spraying. The selectmen agreed they need public input before deciding whether or not to take action and if so, which method to use.
The health board agreed to collect more data, set up a public forum, perhaps with an expert speaker, and to frame a decision-making process, with input from other town boards. In the meantime, they agreed to inform the selectmen if the situation changes.