From Graham Hudgings (1970-2017) to Borough Council, 2013

Graham Hudgings, the founder and inspiration for our work, wrote to West Chester Borough Council on August 20, 2013, to ask them to protect residents against truck-disseminated insecticides. It is preceded by a note to then Mayor (now State Representative) Carolyn Comitta, who has always been very supportive of our efforts.

Hi Carolyn. I am writing to see if you would be willing to read the email below at the borough council meeting under agenda item #4, “Comments, suggestions, petitions etc… from residents in attendance regarding items not on the agenda.” I am not able to attend tonight due to a prior commitment. If so, I will print out copies of the ordinance mentioned in the email and drop them off to you to distribute at the meeting. Thank you. –Graham

Dear Borough Council, 

My name is Graham Hudgings and I live in the borough of West Chester on West Union Street.  I am on the PA state pesticide hypersensitivty registry.   Last year my neighborhood was fogged with the pesticide Permanone by the Chester County Health Department.  Prior to the spraying, I was in contact with the Chester County Health Department to see if my house or block could be exempted, as is a common practice in other communities.  I was told no. 

Since the application I have been experiencing a variety of health symptoms, which disappear when I leave the treated area and return upon my returning to the treated area.  I contacted the NPIC (National Pesticide Information Center) and they indicated that the reaction is most likely attributable to piperonyl butoxide, a catalyst chemical ingredient in Permanone which has been shown to linger for years after application. It is noteworthy that there have been no safety studies conducted on pesticides with catalyst agents and that their use has been banned in many communities, including New York.

I did some research on mosquito spraying and the chemicals used and found that Washington DC, Nashville TN, Ft. Worth TX, Boulder Colorado, Chapel Hill NC and hundreds of other communities around the country have either banned spraying for mosquitoes or never practiced it in the first place since it has been shown to be ineffective at controlling either the mosquito population or the West Nile Virus, has numerous environmental consequences, and is costly.

I have urged the Chester County Health department to halt the practice until a thorough study of the implications for the health of our community can be conducted, to no avail.   And so, I am writing to you to see what can be done about the matter.  I have provided a copy of an ordinance from the town of Lyndhurst, Ohio, outlining their rationale for banning spraying.   It does a very good job of explaining the issues. 

Individuals concerned about mosquitoes can take action to reduce their exposure by applying insect repellent, wearing long sleeves, and eliminating standing water on their properties.  No amount of spraying will eliminate mosquitoes.   

The indiscriminate spraying of chemicals on entire neighborhoods against the wishes of many residents, a practice which studies have shown is not helpful at reducing either the mosquito population or controlling the spread of the virus, is dangerous and unwarranted.  

The use of larvacides in mosquito breeding areas and community education have been shown to be safe and effective methods of controlling mosquito populations.

Thank you to Mayor Comitta for delivering this message and to the Council for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely, Graham Hudgings 

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Don’t Spray Me! then and now

Don’t Spray Me! began three and a half years ago, when several of us circulated a petition calling on the County Health Department to cancel its plan to West Chester’s Marshall Square Park. The claimed justification was, as it still is every time a neighborhood is sprayed, that distributing insecticide through the air was the last resort in protecting the good people in the Marshall Square Park area from West Nile Disease.

We pointed out that West Nile Virus is extremely rare in Pennsylvania and that mosquitoes could not possibly be breeding in Marshall Square Park, because. it is on a slope with no stagnant water. But what made the difference was the support of then Mayor Carolyn Comitta, who asked the County to delay spraying, which it did. Then, in early September, the weather shifted and the supposedly dire threat went away.

We then took to the social media to promote our view that spraying is damaging to human and environmental health. At early post representing our views was “Mosquito spraying: why doesn’t the county want to talk about it?,” first published in The Times of Chester County, 8/13/15. Our Facebook page has also been very helpful in reaching out to the public.

We now have over 550 supporters, about 3/5 of them in West Chester Borough and 2/5 elsewhere in Chester County. Our Board of Directors meets regularly to chart our direction, and we hold many events a year to reach out to the public, about a dozen in 2018.

At first, we joined in the West Nile Task Force with The County Health Department and West Chester Borough. That effort essentially ended a year ago, when it became clear that the County would not defer to a municipality’s desire to avoid being sprayed and meetings were no longer convened.

We have found it helpful to join forces with like-minded non-profit organizations. We are grateful to Sierra Club for, early on, making Don’t Spray Me! a Conservation Committee of the Southeastern PA Group and also to Sierra Club’s Grassroots Network for a grant that enabled us to hire our 2018 summer intern.

In the last year, we have also teamed up with other organizations within the Chester County Environment Alliance and West Chester Green Team. We believe that banding together with like-minded organizations helps us all to project our respective messages and the overall principle of protecting environmental and human health.

In our case, our message has expanded from resisting unnecessary insecticide spraying to educating the public and public officials and employees about the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals that all too often make their way into our lives, homes, gardens, lawns and environment.

(See also our 2018 annual report here.)

Next installments in our story: using Pennsylvania’s Right To Know law, what people and municipalities can do, and specifically larviciding to prevent mosquito breeding in standing water.

Paid part-time Summer Internship with Don’t Spray Me! / West Chester Green Team

Are you interested in environmental issues? Would you like to learn how citizens can make a change and support grassroots environmental topics with big impact? Would you like hands-on experience as a summer intern to support environmental initiatives? We are looking for a motivated, self-organized individual to support a team of volunteers of Don’t Spray Me! and the West Chester Green Team to make a change for citizens today and generations to come!

$11 an hour, part-time, hours and weeks negotiable.

Academic credit if intern can arrange it with an appropriate institution and faculty supervisor.

Must receive state certification to work with children.

Needs background in environment and/or appropriate sciences.

Must work well under supervision but also have initiative and the ability to interact successfully with both adults and youths under age 18.

Examples of specific duties, often in conjunction with adults and/or children:

• Help lead inspection of storm drains to determine if water is draining properly, measure water temperature, flag or remove blockage of the street level grate.

• Conduct experiments to determine effectiveness of larvicide, length of local mosquito life cycle from eggs to adult, the height at which they will breed, whether they are breeding in storm drains, etc.

• Help with education and communication to reduce single-use plastic waste in the Borough and keep it out of streets and streams

• Possible further projects involving plastics, energy reduction, or climate change, depending on time available and sponsor planning.

Contact: Nathaniel Smith, nathanielbsmith@earthlink.net

Don’t Spray Me! 2018 Annual Report

Don’t Spray Me! worked hard in 2018, with many events to increase awareness of non-toxic mosquito control methods and overuse of harmful chemicals, plus a very successful fundraiser auction (thanks to all who joined us there on December 1!). We also have a lot of changes to share with you for 2019. Please see our 2018 report below; or you can download this pdf: Annual Report 2018 DSM final.

A few highlights:

• In 2018, we held 9 public events either alone or collaboratively and conducted a successful summer Youth Corps program with the help of a WCU graduate student intern.

• In 2019, we plan to move from the Block Captain system of distributing info to a new system with 5 leaders in each of the Borough’s 7 wards, in conjunction with the newly formed West Chester Green Team. Please volunteer to help in this important new venture! We will need about 35 Borough residents in all.

• We will also keep reaching out to other municipalities, including Downingtown, which like some parts of West Chester was sprayed last. year and has low-lying flat areas, some of which are subject to flooding.

• We look forward in 2019 to West Chester Borough taking over its own larviciding to cut down on mosquito breeding. We are grateful to the Borough officials who have made that possible.

• Besides continuing as a Conservation Committee within Sierra Club’s Southeastern PA Group, Don’t Spray Me! is now part of two broader groups,

1. West Chester Green Team; for more see here

2. Chester County Environment Alliance; for more see CCEA’s web site and public Facebook page.

Don’t Spray Me! 2018 Annual Report

2018 was a year of transitions. Don’t Spray Me! was founded in 2015 in a wave of dissatisfaction with a plan to spray anti-mosquito insecticide in the NE section of the Borough. 2016 and 2017 were years of building a network of Block Captains, distributing a letter from the Mayor and an educational doorhanger from the Borough, and collaborating with the Borough Sustainability Coordinator and County Director of Department of Health through the West Nile Task Force originally set up by then-Mayor Carolyn Comitta in 2012. In 2017 DSM became a Sustainability Committee within Sierra Club’s Southeastern PA Group.

What has changed? The West Nile Task Force met only once in 2018, the Sustainability Coordinator position has been vacant since August, and the Department of Health has ceased sharing information publicly about its own activities, so that we have resorted to PA Right To Know procedures to find material that is in the public domain. Also, partly as a result of an unacceptably worded doorhanger and delayed printing of its replacement, Block Captains began to lose their commitment; some said they did not realize this would be such a long-term effort. As a result, we plan to go to a new system in 2019, with several leaders in each of the Borough’s 7 wards taking responsibility for distribution of materials and information.

We had expected that in 2018, the Borough and County would be working together to identify and larvicide sites where standing water allowed mosquitoes to breed in quantity. As it turned out, the County conducted only 3 larvicide events in the entire Borough all summer, and did not treat the mosquito hot spots at all during the high mosquito season. It was an increasingly bad mosquito season through July and August, although once again we know of no incidents of mosquito-borne illness in the Borough. In the fall, Borough government agreed to take over larviciding in the Borough from the County, and we look forward to much greater responsiveness to residents’ needs in 2019.

We successfully worked with West Chester Borough Council to fend off planned truck-based spraying on August 16 but unfortunately on Sept. 11 the County sprayed half of the planned area in the Borough before abandoning the effort in rainy weather. Mosquitoes seemed little affected, though a few other dead insects were observed. Our science team also took readings of pesticide levels deposited in various settings but unfortunately it has proved difficult to get the results measured in a lab due to labs’ wariness about the chemicals involved.

In 2018, our Executive Board met 10 times to provide overall guidance to our effort. Although the Board has had members from other municipalities, those became involved in parallel environmental efforts and the Board evolved to represent only West Chester Borough. East Bradford municipality has continued distributing natural mosquito control information to its residents and West Goshen and East Goshen have been moving toward their own environmental advisory committees, with which we hope to work. In other urban areas, efforts to inspire groups related to Don’t Spray Me! have not yet succeeded; although some residents of Phoenixville and Downingtown were sprayed in 2018 and 2017 respectively, our progress there has not advanced beyond initial discussions, nor in Kennett Square. Our web site and Facebook page continue to serve as a resource for all interested.

As part of our publicity campaign, we have a very recognizable “gas mask baby” yard sign and logo dating to 2016 as well as the 2017 “happy baby” model. In 2018, we introduced the in-between statement of the baby holding his gas mask. People choose one to suit their views. Results and visibility are good.

Events that we organized and/or co-sponsored with other environmental groups included:

• “Saving the Environment: Pennsylvania to Paris,” a discussion with 3 highly qualified speakers on Feb. 25, with about 90 in attendance.

• An Earth Day rally, March for the Environment, and displays on April 22, with over 150 attendees.

• A talk to about 30 people by our entomological advisor Dr. John Jackson on “Bugs and Weeds Away–the Natural Way” on May 29.

• A display at CommUNITY day at the Melton Center on August 19.

• A (small) demonstration at the County Court House on August 31.

• The Fall Environmental Film Series at West Chester University, with attendance averaging around 75 for four films.

• A sizable Chester County March for Climate Justice and Environment as part of a national movement on Sept. 10.

• A public meeting about mosquito spraying in West Chester with about 30 people on Sept. 25.

• A very successful fundraiser dinner and auction on Dec. 1 with about 75 attendees.

• A particular success was the Sierra Club Youth Corps / Adopt a Drain Field program, directed by Rachel Davis with WCU graduate student and DSM intern Kyle Erisman, whose stipend was covered by a Sierra Club Grassroots Network grant, for which we are grateful, as well as for support for some of our other efforts. On a number of Sunday afternoons spread through the summer, several youths and others assessed the condition of Borough storm drains and removed plastic and organic matter that could have blocked runoff from going through the the grates at street level. Meanwhile, Kyle mapped the drains using GIS technology and shared the results with the Borough’s Public Works department; those data will be invaluable in future years for spotting drain issues and conducting larviciding.

Growing out of the collaborative Earth Day event, Don’t Spray Me! and other groups founded a new Chester County Environment Alliance, a framework for different organizations to collaborate on planning and programming and to amplify others’ activities. The Alliance met on May 19 and two other times in 2018 and intensified its cooperation on large public activities.

In addition, in the fall we were instrumental in founding a West Chester Area Green Team, which now groups efforts in renewable energy and climate protection, elimination of unnecessary plastic usage, and avoidance of toxic pesticides and herbicides. Don’t Spray Me! will work within that new entity while remaining within the Sierra Club, except that our Youth Corps will now become part of the Green Team.

In sum, DSM achieved good visibility and carried out a number of events and the Youth Corps program. Although distribution of materials and prevention of spraying in the Borough and elsewhere did not go as well as planned, we laid the framework for a whole new relation with the Borough, for municipally-controlled larviciding to avoid pressure to spray, and for collaboration with other environmental groups in the County.

Don’t Spray Me!/Sierra Club youth education fundraiser

Our big fundraiser took place on Saturday December 1, 2018, at 5-8 p.m. at the Unitarian Congregation, 501 S. High St., West Chester.

Thanks are due to many: Chef Sylvie, La Baguette Magique, Kim Stack, and Two Gander Farm for the vegetarian fare, Tom Buglio for the piano accompaniment, live auctioneer Lori Zytkowicz from Briggs Auctions, moderator Sa’ed Atshan, the hard-working planning committee, those who set up and then cleaned up the venue, and all those who donated or purchased auction items and enjoyed a great evening supporting us.

For more background see here.

A few of the many tables of diners, with some of the auction items on the right:

“The Future of Energy,” documentary film, Dec. 7

Friday, December 7
7:00 – 9:00pm
50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383

“The Future of Energy,” about clean energy. Sponsored by West Chester University, Sierra Club, PennFuture, PennEnvironment, and Don’t Spray Me!

Expert panel, Q&A, activities for children, refreshments, tour of the LEED-certified Business and Public Management Center, community group displays. Last in the fall 20-189 environmental film series; film at 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30.

Park across Sharpless St. in the public parking garage or in metered spaces on Sharpless or Church St. (on-street parking should be free on this evening; check wording on the meter). More info from the film web site (and see trailer there):

A Film by Brett Mazurek, Missy Lahren, Maximilian DeArmon and Theo Badashi 64 Minutes Grades 7 – Adult The Future of Energy journeys across America to shine a light on the communities and individuals who are at the forefront of the clean energy revolution, taking practical steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable power. Solar, wind and water could power the planet by the year 2050, according to experts in the film, substantially reducing carbon emissions. What’s needed is the social and political willpower to make the change on a large scale. Two model towns are highlighted for their exemplary steps towards clean energy: Greensburg, Kansas, and Lancaster, California.

Don’t Spray Me! live and silent auction fundraiser Dec. 1

Sierra Club/Don’t Spray Me! Silent and Live auction with Briggs auctioneer.

Saturday December 1, 2018, at 5-8 p.m. at the Unitarian Congregation, 501 S. High St., West Chester PA.

From 5-6 Browse auction items and exhibits. Piano music provided by Tom Buglio.

From 6-7 Enjoy catered dinner by Chef Sylvie created with organic ingredients from Two Gander Farm, with bread from La Baguette Magique and desserts by Kim Stack of 3 Little Pigs. (Vegetarian menu.)

At 7-8 Auction with auctioneer Lori from Briggs Auctions: House in Ireland and one on Anna Maria Island in Florida, Scottish themed dinner complete with bagpipes, sushi making workshop, tour of distillery with tasting, try out electric bikes, hand-knitted items. Lots of restaurant gift cards and theater tickets and work by local artists. Holiday shopping made easy… and no plastic items!

Park in the public parking garage at 15 Sharpless Street or in metered or unmetered street spaces.

Tickets at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3630281/ include a light dinner and two drink tickets.

Sierra Club/DSM is raising funds to continue work in environmental education for the children of Chester County. In the past, for Earth Day, we have had children illustrate and keep reusable shopping bags. We have also sponsored environmental craft activities and poster making at summer camp programs. Sierra Club Youth Corps began in 2017 when the group worked on eradicating weeds in sidewalks naturally without chemicals such as RoundUp. And WC borough decided to ban Round Up in parks and public places. In 2018, youth and adult advisers surveyed drains to check for trash and standing water as they launched our local Adopt a Drain Program in cooperation with WC Borough Public Works Dept. Moving forward next year, the youth will work on ridding the Borough of single-use plastic.

Questions: mhudgings@gmail.com.

More about Don’t Spray Me! at dontsprayme.com.

Help us fund more such worthy programs, meet like-minded people, and enjoy supper and a fun evening!

The GreenEd Auction will feature stays at a beach house in Ireland and other vacation homes and tickets to the annual Robert Burns Night Supper. There will also be a silent auction for attendees as well as a light supper featuring the cuisine of Chef Sylvie of West Chester. Wine or beer will be provided with supper and a cash bar will be available afterwards and throughout the evening.

Questions: mhudgings@gmail.com.

Please join us Fri. Aug. 31!

Friday Aug. 31, 11:30am to 1pm, rain or shine.

Show our views about pesticide spraying at the weekly Concerned Constituent Action Group rally.

Location: NW Corner of High Street and Market Street, at the Historic Chester County Courthouse, West Chester.

Bring a poster or DSM sign, or pick up one there.

On-street parking or park at the Bicentennial Parking Garage at 20 S. High Street, West Chester.

West Chester Mayor Herrin vs. spraying

Excerpt from Bill Rettew, “Health Department set to spray for mosquitoes,” Daily Local News, 8/14/18:

“Spraying to control mosquitoes is still standard practice in many localities,” Herrin said, “but that doesn’t mean it works. The insecticide kills only adult mosquitoes, not larvae, and research suggests mosquito populations can bounce back quickly and even increase after an application.

“Research also suggests that rates of West Nile Virus cases are no different in cities that spray vs. those that do not. The Don’t Spray Me organization has done an excellent job helping our residents understand this and offering other, safer ways to help address the mosquito problem.”…

read the full article at Daily Local News