By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Mosquito-reduction efforts are under way in Havre, less than a year after proponents successfully campaigned for the creation of an organized mosquito control district. District board members and employees said the district has started to apply larvicide to bodies of standing water, which are popular breeding grounds for airborne pests.
The larvicide applications mark a milestone for the Hill County Mosquito Control District, which was established last summer after organizers petitioned county officials. Mosquito reduction programs were not scheduled to begin until 2005, but a last-minute loan from Hill County allowed the district to start a year early.
The district covers an area 6 miles north to 6 miles south of Havre and extending 7 miles west of the city and east to the Blaine County line. It includes about 130,000 acres of land and 1,560 acres of surface water.
This year, because it has a limited budget, the district will only operate in Havre and the immediate surrounding areas. The district will rely heavily on larvicide to reduce mosquito populations. Larvicide comes in pellet form and is applied to bodies of standing water to kill mosquito larvae before they have a chance to mature.
Last week mosquito district workers began to use larvicide pellets at locations around Havre.
Mosquito district board members and district coordinator Terry Turner maintain that the larvicide - called Altosid - is among the safest available.
"The stuff that we're putting down is pretty safe," Turner said. "A person would have to consume 200 pounds of it, and we're only putting down four pounds per acre. It's nontoxic - very safe."
Altosid is a brand name for the widely-used larvicide methoprene, which has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for commercial use since 1975. It is classified as a biochemical pesticide because it prevents mosquitoes from reproducing or maturing rather than killing them through direct toxicity. According to the EPA, the risks to humans either through direct exposure or drinking water are negligible.
"We bought a chemical that is very safe. We're trying definitely to be as environmentally safe as we can," board member Terry Lilletvedt said.
While larvicide is the primary method for mosquito reduction, the mosquito district will also use sprayed chemical pesticide on a limited basis. The district has purchased an oil-based pesticide that is sprayed in a mist over problem areas during a process called "fogging." The chemical is applied using truck-mounted sprayers, and kills mosquitoes on contact.
"We're anticipating doing some fogging, but kind of on an as-needed basis, with public notification of course," Lilletvedt said. "Larvicide will be the core of the program."
The pesticide purchased by the district is Permanone, a brand name for the chemical permethrin. The pesticide is approved by the EPA for use in public pest control programs.
It is rated safer than the popular commercial pesticide malathion, Lilletvedt said. When Permanone is applied in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations, it can be used "without posing unreasonable risks to human health or the environment," according to the EPA's Web site.
The chemical's manufacturer, Bayer, warns that it should not be applied directly to water sources, and "prolonged exposure may cause irritation in some individuals."
The mosquito control district was able to purchase supplies of Altosid and Permanone, as well as some equipment using a $50,000 loan from Hill County. After this year, the district will be funded through fees levied on property owners each year. Voters approved the funding measure by a margin of 86 percent during the November election. The fees are expected to raise between $80,000 and $90,000 a year.
Because the first fee installment will not be collected until this fall, the district would not have been able to operate until the spring of 2005 without the loan from the county. The Hill County Commission earlier this year approved lending the mosquito district $50,000 from the county's discretionary gas tax fund.
"There's a feeling of accomplishment that we're finally able to get this going," mosquito district board member Rick Harada said. "The process has been so long. I'm just glad that we're able to get started this year. It looks like with this rain we've been getting, it's good that we're able to start."
Lilletvedt said the loan helped the mosquito district get a jump on next year's operations.
"To start, it was great. We got two spreaders, and we're going to get two foggers," she said. "I think we have the equipment in place to have a good start on the program."
Board members said they are working to ensure that the loan from the county lasts through the summer.
"That's the scary thing. It just depends on the weather, and how many mosquitoes we have," Lilletvedt said.
"It is a limited budget," Harada added. "We don't expect to be able to do as much as we'd like, but we plan to do as much as we possibly can within the limits of that budget."
The mosquito-borne disease West Nile virus has been a major concern of mosquito district proponents. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the first two documented human cases of West Nile in Montana occurred in 2002, in Yellowstone and Rosebud counties. In 2003, the total number of cases in humans rose to 228, resulting in four deaths.
In Montana, most cases of West Nile occur in July through September, when mosquitoes are most active, according to DPHHS.
About 80 percent of those infected with the virus develop no symptoms. About one in five people experience mild flu-like symptoms, while less about 1 in 150 will develop severe illness. About one in 1,000 cases is fatal.
People over the age of 50 are at greatest risk of serious illness.