The year of resistance

By Nathaniel Smith, Sierra Club SEPA Group, April 25, 2018

Perhaps environmentalists have had too much faith in the power of government in advancing our goals. The federal government created national parks, put the EPA to work to protect air and water, has at times protected endangered species, and much more.

But now, with a federal government actively promoting fossil fuels and opposed to even the most reasonable measures against pollution and climate change, we are thrown onto our own resources.

States can do a lot. At least 20 of them (not so far including PA) have pledged to support the Paris Climate Accord; and hundreds of cities have signed on. Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 effort is getting a lot of municipalities to commit to using renewables.

In the gas pipeline controversy, the affected municipalities and their representatives in Harrisburg have been very outspoken. This is not a partisan matter, when people’s homes, schools, and public buildings are threatened. The stakes are air and water quality, human health, and property values; public officials are on notice that their constituents are watching. Many of this year’s candidates for PA House and Senate have been active in the effort to discipline the pipeline industry.

The group I have been most involved in is Don’t Spray Me!, which formed in 2015 as a response to excessive and unnecessary pesticide spraying to supposedly reduce the threat from mosquitoes. Last year Don’t Spray Me! started enlarging its scope to include other chemical threats to environmental and human health. …

read more at Sierra Club SEPA Group

“The Wisdom to Survive”

blog by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 12/13/17

About 70 people gathered on Thursday evening December 7 to view “The Wisdom to Survive,” the final film of the fall in the West Chester University Environmental Sustainability Film Series in memory of Graham Hudgings.

The hour-long documentary at WCU’s new LEED gold-certified Business and Public Management Center was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me!, Sierra Club of Chester County, West Chester Food Co-op, WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Sustainability Advisory Council, the WCU Geography Club, and Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP).


Audience gathers for the film (Photo by Taka Nagai)

After snacks from the Food Co-op, a tour of the new LEED-certified building, and conversation over environmental exhibits, MC Sheila Burke introduced featured speaker Elizabeth Moro, Pennsbury resident and co-founder of Neighbors For Crebilly, which is striving to preserve the large farm south of West Chester as open space. A long-time supporter of environmental actions, Elizabeth was energized by the current political morass to the extent that she is running for the PA 7th U.S. Congressional seat.

Elizabeth explained that she grew up near Lake Huron, where she learned that “Mother Nature doesn’t negotiate – she’s in charge.” Humans used to work in harmony with nature, but now we need to get back to seeing the big picture that we are part of. Money is not a good way to evaluate importance. Try holding your breath, she told the group, and see at what point you’d rather draw a breath than collect money. She has helped raise funds to preserve part of the headwaters of the Brandywine near Honey Brook, Barnard’s Orchard in Pocopson, and now Crebilly Farm in Westtown.

She quoted Margaret Meade: ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”…

read more of the introduction, film, and discussion at Politics: A View from West Chester

It’s not just about the pesticides

Since 2015, with many others, I have been part of the West Chester PA activist group Don’t Spray Me, whose immediate purpose is to cut down on both mosquitoes and the pesticides sprayed to kill them.

The Don’t Spray Me effort is not “just” about mosquitoes and even not “just” about pesticides.

The short version is that if we, as individuals, organizations, and municipalities, can prevent mosquitoes from breeding in standing water, then we won’t be threatened with toxic air-borne spraying that has less lasting negative impact on mosquito populations than on many other vulnerable species, including but not limited to hypersensitive humans, beneficial insects like bees, and some other species.

Many things we believe in are under assault today. Americans have become very skeptical of trusting the status quo, and we rightly worry what could happen next if we aren’t vigilant.

When I have the mosquito conversation with anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, they usually recall being exposed to DDT in their neighborhoods, when that chemical was being sprayed liberally in a futile attempt to save elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease. Many of us recall basking in the cooling DDT mist as it drifted down from the treetops….

read more at Politics, A View from West Chester

Community activists fight mosquitoes and spraying

by Pete Bannan, Daily Local News, 9/10/16

WEST CHESTER >> Motorists driving through the streets of the borough this summer may have noticed the lawn signs with a baby wearing a gas mask stating ‘Don’t Spray Me.’ Those provocative signs belong to a group of community activists formed to stop Chester County from spraying pesticides in the borough.

Co-founders Margaret Hudgings and Nathaniel Smith recently sat down with a reporter to talk about the group.

“In 2012 the county sprayed in the southwest quadrant of the borough,” said Hudgings. “The morning after it was like silent spring, and we had a lot of people reporting illnesses.”

Three years later, Hudgings and Smith received reports of a plan by the county to spray in the Marshall Square Park area for West Nile mosquitoes which had been discovered in that neighborhood. County Health Department officials planned to use permethrin with permanone, sprayed by truck in the evening after winds had calmed down.

Concerned about the health effects on people and the environment, the two drew up a petition calling for a stop to spraying.

“We assembled a group of five volunteers who walked the southwest quadrant of the borough with a petition asking the county not to spray,” Hedging said. “We got a 98-percent signing rate. People don’t want to be sprayed.”

They presented it to West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta and county health officials…

dln-dsm

read more at Daily Local News

The Zika virus and Chester County

by Nathaniel Smith, The Times of Chester County, 9/1/16

Getting rid of standing water is more effective than spraying

News has come around lately that “Pennsylvania Is Now One Of The Top States With Zika Virus ” (Phoenixville Patch, 8/23/16). Currently PA ranks 5th in the number of diagnosed Zika cases. Of course, no one knows how many undiagnosed cases there are anywhere.

Quick quiz: how is Zika spread? If you answered “by mosquitoes,” you’re only half right. It’s our fault too.

It’s important to focus on this note in the article: “All of the cases were travel-related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

That means no human has acquired Zika from a mosquito in PA. Although the prime mosquito host for Zika, aedes aegypti, does exist in Pennsylvania, it doesn’t do well this far north (yet).

The fact is that Zika is spread not only by mosquitoes but also by people, whether through sexual contact (CDC offers explicit advice on this aspect) or from carrying the virus (usually without symptoms) and being bitten by a mosquito that in turn bites someone else, who thus acquires the disease. The aedes albopictus mosquito, often called “Asian tiger,” has become very numerous in PA but fortunately does not seem to transmit Zika very well (yet).

Spraying pesticides is a limited, short-term fix that leaves many adult mosquitoes alive and does not affect eggs and larvae but harms many forms of life and can lead to acquired immunity. Mosquitoes breed over 500 times faster than people, so they will become immune to whatever we do against them much faster than we can evolve to resist them. Mosquitoes in Puerto Rico and Florida are already becoming resistant to permethrin, the standard anti-mosquito pesticide.

This is all not good news, except that in PA we do have some time to get ready for present and future mosquito-borne diseases….

read more at The Times of Chester County

Comments to the Sustainability Advisory Council, 8/18/16

Nathaniel Smith: views on the role of SAC

I would like to reflect briefly on how the anti-mosquito & non-spray effort fits in to the sustainability theme.

Occasionally people ask us: Aren’t mosquitoes part of the balance of nature too?

Yes, but in an urban environment like West Chester, where the balance of nature is disrupted, they become pests

The stream protection plan, just discussed, fits in nicely here, because natural, healthy streams bring us good drainage and mosquito-eating fish and dragonflies.

If West Chester didn’t have people, we wouldn’t need a Sustainability Advisory Committee. But people are also part of the solution.

The mission statement of this Committee is ”to increase collaboration between Borough departments on issues regarding the economic vitality and environmental sustainability of West Chester Borough.”

And Borough code also says: “The Committee seeks to develop initiatives aimed at increasing Borough staff knowledge, developing community partnerships, and fostering sustainable best management practices.”

In my view, sustainability also extends beyond preserving the balance of nature to assuring that people live in an attractive and healthy natural environment.

The County Health Department is part of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, which “promotes the adoption of innovative, alternative pest control practices.” In the EPA’s words, we wish to “work toward pest management practices that reduce the risks to humans and the environment.”

We are asking SAC to also support those goals and to:

– accept the mosquito Task Force as a SAC project

– appoint a SAC member as a regular liaison to the Task Force

– help publicize the Task Force’s outreach to residents

What we can learn from anti-zika spraying

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 8/9/16

Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and people.

So, health authorities have been working on the twin challenges of eradicating mosquitoes and educating people.

Transmission of Zika virus from mosquitoes to people (and vice versa) in the continental US has occurred only in one small tropical enclave: a square mile (or now it seems even less) of Miami. Pennsylvanians might worry about catching zika from travelers returning from the Rio Olympics but not from mosquitoes this summer so far north. (1)

However, we should be worrying about the effects of being sprayed with pesticides, of which there is really no safe level for the environment and human exposure.

As someone involved in the current campaign to cut down on both mosquitoes and pesticide spraying in West Chester, I think we can learn a lot from zika, even if it is not currently being transmitted by mosquitoes anywhere near us.

Many insects, like the viruses that attack the human body, reproduce quickly and can develop resistance to whatever we throw against them. As doctors turn from one antibiotic to another to find one that still kills a given virus, so health officials experiment to see what still kills different mosquito species.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, the chief transmitter of zika, is particularly problematic for traditional mosquito elimination programs and the standard anti-mosquito pesticide permethrin, a pesticide usually applied from ground-based equipment such as trucks. (2)

Aedes aegypti has been acquiring immunity in Thailand (3) to permethrin and even to DDT (which was banned in the US in 1972 after severe impacts such as almost driving our national bird into extinction); and similarly in Mexico (4) and, more recently, in Puerto Rico (5) and now Florida. (6)

As time goes on, scientists have to look farther up the pesticide chain—with further likely risks—to find more effective pesticides. This is not good news….

aerial spraying

read more and see end notes at Politics: A View from West Chester, 8/9/16