The county’s largest city won’t participate in the nighttime aerial spraying of pesticide that could begin as early as Thursday.
The Denton City Council voted 4-1 to opt out of the emergency measure against the West Nile virus. Council members cited concerns over the impact of a broad application of Duet, a pesticide of pyrethroids and another product meant to entice insects to come out and come in contact with the spray.
The city’s current ground-spraying program uses Duet, but is less pervasive than aerial spraying. The city’s current program targets neighborhoods where human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed.
“We are beginning to subject people to things they don’t want,” council member Chris Watts said, explaining his vote.
But council member James King voted to allow the spray, telling fellow members he read people’s concerns in social media.
“Parents aren’t letting their kids play outside,” King said.
The vote came at the end of a two-hour meeting Monday morning that included information from the city’s environmental services division and the county health department.
Statewide, the West Nile virus outbreak has become an epidemic, health officials said. The diagnosed rate of infection in Denton County was the highest in the state and perhaps the nation, according to Bing Burton, director of the county health department.
As of Monday, the county had confirmed 122 human cases, 36 of which were the more serious neuro-invasive disease. Two Denton County residents have died of West Nile, both were elderly and had underlying health conditions.
County Judge Mary Horn signed an emergency order last week that called for aerial spraying countywide but gave cities the ability to opt out.
Some surrounding cities are going to miss the noon deadline on whether to be included in aerial spraying. The county asked cities to notify Horn of their decision whether to participate by Monday, or noon today at the latest.
“We said at our press conference last week, we knew we wouldn’t have everybody, but we would have enough of a response to start the planning process,” Horn said Monday. “It takes time to round up all members of city councils.”
County officials will hold a planning meeting today before a news conference planned for 3 p.m. On Wednesday, officials will hold another meeting to consider responses from councils that hold meetings today.
The Argyle, Corinth, Prosper and Roanoke councils will meet tonight to discuss whether they will opt in or out.
Once Denton County knows which municipalities have opted for aerial spraying, the county will test in those areas for mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus. The county will then conduct aerial sprays and then test again afterward to confirm the spray’s level of effectiveness.
During Monday’s meeting, Burton called Denton’s trapping, testing and target-spraying a model program that was not occurring elsewhere in the county.
Ken Banks, director of the city’s environmental services, told the council that the rate of West Nile-positive mosquitoes peaked in early July. Only one or two traps have tested positive in recent weeks, with one week having no West Nile-positive mosquitoes at all.
The mosquito population also has been dropping steadily since the peak in early July, although the percentage of trapped mosquitoes being the type that carries West Nile has fluctuated, Banks said.
Both Banks and James Kennedy, a University of North Texas professor who supervises the trapping program, attributed the decline in the mosquito population primarily to environmental conditions, not spraying.
The number of human cases continues to increase, however. It was epidemiological models, not trap counts, that triggered the state and federal response, Banks said.
“We are in uncharted territory here,” Banks said.
State and federal health officials are offering two consecutive nights of aerial spraying, which will cost about $1 million, Burton said. Neither the county nor any of the participating cities are being asked to share in that cost.
Council member Kevin Roden and leaders from other cities have asked whether they would be afforded state and federal resources besides aerial spraying, but Burton said, so far, nothing else has been offered.
Spraying for adult mosquitoes is considered the least effective control measure, Kennedy said. The most effective way to control mosquitoes is to control their habitat
Banks told the council that city crews have been aggressive in applying mosquito dunks, a briquette that contains Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or BTI, a bacterium that kills mosquito larvae in standing water, with little to no effect on the water quality.
City crews have done more this year than any year before, making more than 5,000 applications of BTI and giving away 3,000 more dunks to residents.
The county has not decided what unincorporated areas will be sprayed, but Burton said it would likely be where human cases have been reported in the southern parts of the county.
Burton told the council that he had not heard concerns from area doctors about the plans for aerial spraying, but he had no information to share with the council about the long-term effects either.
About 20 Denton residents came to Monday’s meeting. No one spoke in favor of spraying, and several spoke in opposition, including Michael Olaya, who represented about 1,000 residents who joined the Facebook group, “Don’t Spray on Us — Denton, TX” since Sunday.
Jay Mcelhinney told the council after ground spraying in his Austin Street neighborhood, he has documented a 60 percent decrease in bee visits to his garden.
“That’s a real concern,” Mcelhinney said.
Staff writers John D. Harden and Bj Lewis contributed to this report.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .
Here is a list of area towns and cities that have decided on whether to allow aerial spraying.
Agreed: Corral City, Cross Roads, Dish, Double Oak, Flower Mound, Hackberry, Hickory Creek, Krum, Lake Dallas, Lakewood Village, Lewisville, Lincoln Park, Northlake, Pilot Point, Ponder, Sanger, Southlake, Trophy Club, Denton County Fresh Water Supply 1-A (Castle Hills)
Declined: Denton, Haslet, Hebron, Providence Village, The Colony
• Officials in The Colony requested state resources for ground spraying.
• Dallas County cities Carrollton, Coppell, Dallas and Plano opted out, having made their decision earlier with that county’s aerial spraying.
Source: Denton County Judge Mary Horn