As summer melts away, one traditional feature was absent this year, nighttime mosquito fogging truck trips noisily sputtering up and down Newnan streets.
The city of Newnan has been spraying for mosquitoes for many years. Exactly how many years seems to be lost in the mists of time, but it has been at least 25 years.
But late in the summer of 2015, the city quietly suspended its “low volume fogging” mosquito control program in response to a campaign by No Spray Newnan, a group of local residents who advocated for a better way to control mosquitoes, and asked for their own yards not to be sprayed.
“We sort of faded away and then looked into a comprehensive plan,” said Michael Klahr, public works director for the city of Newnan.
In April, the Newnan City Council heard a presentation from Klahr on a new program, which would include public outreach expanding the “tip and toss” program designed to eliminate standing water, code enforcement targeting illegal trash dumping and other areas conducive to breeding, application of larvicide to areas of stagnant water, and trapping mosquitoes and testing for viruses.
The program relied on the public to tip over or dispose of any containers of standing water. If calls from the public or insect traps around town showed a localized problem, a state expert would be consulted for a plan of attack.
So far, the city has gotten few calls and hasn’t applied any larvicide or done any testing. The traps they have turned up one suspected Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can carry the Zika virus, as well as yellow fever and dengue fever.
Under the old fogging program, a pickup truck equipped with a fogging machine did a regular route through the city, spraying the rights of way from Memorial Day to Labor Day, a few nights a week for a few hours a night. The truck would complete its route around the entire city every two to three weeks.
The insecticide “would only knock them down if they were flying around at the time,” Klahr said. The permethrin insecticide, known as Omego Mist, didn’t have a residual effect, he said.
No Spray Newnan was founded by resident Jennifer Fisher. As a gardener, she was concerned that the mosquito spraying was killing off much more than just the pesky pests. It was killing everything – lady bugs, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
And fogging for mosquitoes isn’t very effective, she said.
“You never knock down enough of the adult population so that it doesn’t bounce back,” she said. “There are so many larvae and eggs in the pipeline. That’s why pests are pests. They know how to get around.”
“The ones that are valuable and beautiful that we want to live with – you’re killing those off and not really making a dent in the mosquito population. It’s not a very good trade,” she said.
However, the staff of Texas A&M University note that most beneficial insects are usually sheltered in their natural habitat at night when spraying is done.
“In this way honey bees and other pollinators, beneficial predators, dragonflies and butterflies are less likely to be harmed,” writes Mike Merchant, who specializes on insects at the university.
Klahr said that the city hasn’t kept any data on how well the fogging program is working but “we know fogging to be effective in knocking down mosquitoes, on-wing.”
Changes in the mosquito population are another reason to leave the fogging behind, Fisher said.
Until a few years ago, the dominant nuisance mosquito in Georgia was the Southern house mosquito. The brown mosquito is most active in the evenings.
But now, the Asian tiger mosquito is the biggest pest, Fisher said. The black-and-white striped mosquitoes are most active in the late afternoon. And they’re aggressive.
“If you’re out in the late afternoon, you’re probably getting eaten by those Asian tigers,” she said.
Then there is the issue of the safety of spraying pesticides.
“What we don’t know is how toxic these things are to humans,” Fisher said.
“The arc of the future is to use fewer and fewer pesticides, and more of the integrated mosquito management,” Fisher said. “Use less toxic methods first, and preserve the pesticides for just if you absolutely need them.”
The city still has all of the fogging equipment. “We could gear that fogging program back up again,” Klahr said. “We didn’t walk away from it completely.”