Miami Beach doctor files lawsuit to stop mosquito spraying

Zika protest at Miami Beach City Hall against spraying

A crowd gathered at Miami Beach City Hall to protest against the aerial spraying of the pesticide naled to combat the spread of the Zika virus on the island, Sept. 14, 2016.
Up Next
A crowd gathered at Miami Beach City Hall to protest against the aerial spraying of the pesticide naled to combat the spread of the Zika virus on the island, Sept. 14, 2016.

A Miami Beach doctor who last year helped spearhead angry opposition to using the pesticide naled has filed an emergency request in federal court to stop Miami-Dade County from conducting aerial spraying in its seasonal battle against native marsh mosquitoes.

On Monday, the county completed its second flight this season, dosing a large swath of the coast, from the Rickenbacker Causeway south to Florida City, and inland around Kendall and Homestead.

Dr. Michael Hall and attorney Cindy Mattson argued in a complaint filed last week that federally sanctioned plans to combat mosquitoes using naled pose a health risk and that the county repeatedly failed to give residents enough notice to prepare or take the proper precautions. The complaint says the county failed to follow guidelines established by the Environmental Protection Agency and asks the court to suspend the pesticide’s use until it can hear evidence about its safety.

A status conference on the request has been scheduled before Judge Federico Moreno on July 12. The county did not respond to email and telephone requests Monday for comment.

Naled has been used for decades to fight mosquitoes in mangroves and marshes but last year drew widespread attention when county officials expanded its use to neighborhoods and urban areas to battle the Zika virus carried by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. While marsh mosquitoes bite aggressively, and can be a painful nuisance, they do not carry viruses. Environmentalists and biologists have long complained that damage to wildlife — naled can harm birds and fish and kills imperiled butterflies, bees and other pollinators — outweighs the relief provided for a relatively harmless native pest.

zika pic
Miami-Dade County mosquito officials have continued to aggressively spray an organic larvicide throughout the winter to reduce the number of Aedes aegyptic mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. Gaston De Cardenas MIAMI HERALD

So far this season, Zika has not posed the kind of threat that last year made the county ground zero for the U.S. effort to control the virus, which can cause severe birth defects and other illnesses. In June, the CDC lifted all travel recommendations for the county and said any risk from the virus was now low.

“Right now, there’s a very low threat of Zika. They’re not finding Aedes aegypti in the traps,” Hall said.

The EPA is currently conducting a regular review of naled, which was banned for residential use in 2015 and has been outlawed in Europe. While mosquito control officials say it is safe when used in small doses to combat mosquitoes, a recent study of Chinese babies born to mothers exposed to the pesticide found decreased motor function at nine months. A 2016 study found a 25 percent increase in the rate of autism in areas where aerial spraying is conducted.

“What are we doing to our future generations? We have autism off the charts. Are we not connecting the dots?” Hall asked. “We have less lethal means to take care of Zika.”

Hall and Mattson have also started a gofundme page to gather support. While they are taking legal action to stop ongoing spraying, Mattson said they hope to persuade authorities out of court to change their use of naled.

“We are so open to doing this however we can get it done,” she said. “The point for us is we don’t even have Zika. The CDC took us off the danger [list] and they’re spraying us anyway. It doesn’t make any sense. We felt like it was an emergency to get them to stop spraying.”

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich