Rethinking Aerial Spraying for West Nile

We’ve made it pretty clear on this blog, I think, that the aerial spraying to combat West Nile has given us the fantods. With the EPA’s imperfect track record in mind (see: DDT, Malathion), I asked some experts how we should protect ourselves against the aerial assault. The foregoing led Dr. Rick Snyder to reach out to me. He’s the president of the Dallas County Medical Society. He’s also my cardiologist and one of the smartest guys I know. Rick finally got me on the phone a bit ago and spent 30 minutes beating me up with his big brain and all the information it contains about West Nile and spraying mosquitoes and epidemiology in general. Way too much to convey to you in this space. So I’ll just say this: if, like me, you’re predisposed to think that any large-scale aerial application of a poison is a bad idea, spend some time poking around on this page set up by the DCMS. But here are some points that Rick made to me that changed my thinking a bit about aerial spraying (of which there will be more).

— The stuff they are spraying is essentially the same thing you wash your kid’s hair with if he has lice.

— None of us were that freaked by the truck spraying, yet the exposure is greater from truck spraying than it is from aerial spraying.

— In all, 38 doctors were involved in the assessment of the West Nile threat and the recommendation to spray aerially. Rick tells me these folks all have big brains and that getting 38 doctors to agree on anything is nearly impossible. They unanimously agreed, after much careful study, that aerial spraying was necessary.

— Ten deaths. I’ve pointed this out before. Only 10 people have died in Dallas County. They were all elderly, and most had underlying health issues. With respect to those 10 families, that’s not a big number. To my mind, it wasn’t a big enough number to warrant aerial spraying. Rick pointed out that there have been some 260 West Nile cases in Dallas County. About 60 percent of those cases will suffer permanent neurological damage. Think polio. These people were not elderly and did not have underlying health issues.


  • Steve

    Sadly, when it comes to Science vs. fantods, Science usually loses.

  • Jesse Pinkman

    Yeah, science!

  • Congratulations, Tim. As an ex-opinion writer, I know it’s hard to say, “Oops” in public. And, frankly, you and Dr. Rick have also assuaged some lingering what-ifs in my mind.

  • I believe in science. I also believe kicking the mayor in the jeans over this is funnier, and that overrides your argument. Plus, I still have a few more people from Batman’s rogues gallery to use.

  • Rick

    Your cardiologist? How old are you, 70?

    • @Rick: I think you’re about to step in a small bear trap.

  • D

    I have a cardiologist and I am 42. I have had one for 20 years. My heart is messed up though. A certain bear trap to make fun of those who go to one. I sure as hell wish I did not have to go to one.

  • Steve

    @Zac: Right or wrong, the mayor’s handling of this sucks.

  • Peterk

    hooray science wins the day. not often enough

  • Eleven deaths in Dallas County. Your very own paper Park Cities People blogged about it:

    From my point of view, the mosquito population is worse now here in University Park. The rains have negated any effect aerial spraying would have accomplished.

    Another observation is that I had a noticed a huge drop in mosquitos and beneficial insects before the aerial spraying. The nightly truck spraying has been far more effective here in UP, because it has greater reach. Because trees are plentiful in my neighborhood and their canopies are vast, there isn’t much of a chance for the aerial spray to sift through to the ground. Was all this aerial spraying worth it? You’re probably going to hear mixed opinions. Those with little tree coverage are going to see less mosquitos, but for areas with heavy tree coverage, take that money and put into preventive options.

  • I’m with Zac and don’t think I’ve run out of genetically challenged pet pictures to create graphic memes with either…

  • Will

    Here is my major issue: The information from Clarke’s own website says that it is toxic and should not be sprayed “over bodies of water (lakes, rivers, permanent streams, natural ponds, commercial fish ponds, swamps, marshes or estuaries)”. It also says that it is “highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply to or allow drift onto blooming crops or weeds when bees are visiting the treatment area”. And yet, every time they come on the news they say that it is perfectly safe to Pond and other beneficial insects.

  • JB

    The City should fire that stupid “Lawn Whisperer” for neglecting to tell people and the banks that posses foreclosed houses with stanky swimming pools to use mosquito tabs.
    Another Idea: How about constructing the underside of the next Caltrava bridge like the Congress Street Bridge in Austin to attract mosquito eating Bats?

  • Bill Marvel

    Mosquitos eat bats???

  • RLS

    Jeezum. THANK GOD.

    I was wondering as to when you were going to get off that idiotic soapbox of yours concerning this topic and listen to someone who actually knew something of the facts about the friggin’ situation.

  • Jb

    Intermittent dyslexia. Point is; after all these years of increasing West Nile, Dallas leaders shouldn’t have let it get to this point.

  • Inspector Detector

    “He’s also my cardiologist and one of the smartest guys I know.”

    Faint praise Tim when you consider that Dr. Snyder’s not even the smartest IN HIS OWN FAMILY.

  • Amy S

    Mosquitos suck. There.

  • Everybody Hates A Jebbie

    @Inspector Detector
    That’s so brutal: but are you referring to his electropreneur younger brother Rob of Stream Energy or Rick’s cardiologist wife Shelley as the superior intellect? Probably true enough in both cases.

    And what’s worse is that his younger brother got the double helping of both the family brains and the family looks.

    @Tim Rogers
    What is it with these damned Jesuit guys? You almost never see those Cistercian alums changing their world. They’re either doing these moronic Tuxedo Challenges or starting businesses that steal all of the Snyders’ good ideas.

    • @Everybody Hates A Jebbie: Wow. Not sure how this turned into a Cistercian-vs.-Jesuit deal for you. But what’s the business you’re alluding to? Which Cistercian grad stole a Snyder idea to start a business?

  • Rico


    Per the State Department of Health database, Dallas County reported zero cases of West Nile Fever and 2 cases of West Nile Neurological Disease in 2008,. In 2009 – 2 cases of WNF and 13 cases of WNND. In 2010 zero and zero. 2011 – zero and 1 respectively. What should Dallas leaders have done?

  • Kk

    Are the researchers attempting to create a WNV vaccine? They come up with a flu vaccine every year, are the big heads at UT Southwestern attempting one for this?

    My team of oncologists at UT are the smartest people I know, the whole team I’ve had are just brilliant. I started at Baylor, not a single doc I met there would make any “smartest” lists. Well, I take that back. One would make the, biggest smartASS in cancer care – and I don’t mean that in a good or funny way.

  • Everybody Hates A Jebbie

    @Tim Rogers
    It was your fellow alum Jere Thompson and Ambit Energy which is the main Stream copycat. Two former Excel staffers (one was current Ambit marketing head Chris Chambless) showed up at a Potbelly sandwich shop in Addison in mid 2006 carrying your fresh Power Play article written on Stream. Chambless and this other guy, Huntly Backitch, met thompson there and argued that Thompson should take his failing electricity firm (I think it was Blue Vista Energy, just out of bankruptcy) and turn it into a Stream Energy clone. That’s how Ambit was formed. That’s why guys from Cistercian suck.

    • @Everybody Hates A Jebbie: Let me see if I understand where you’re coming from. “Jere Thompson sucks. Jere Thompson is a Cistercian grad. Therefore all Cistercian grads suck.” That it? Your syllogism doesn’t hold water. But I assume you already knew that. Beyond that, broadly speaking, copycatting is a pretty common business practice. When someone copies what you’re doing, it’s proof you’re doing something right. And good companies rise above their copycats.

  • Everybody Hates A Jebbie

    @Tim Rogers
    And if not mistaken I think that Cistercian the institution is still a stockholder in that grand theft auto that is Ambit.

  • Everybody Hates A Jebbie

    @Tim Rogers
    You’re paraphrase of miscontruing premises but I don’t know that anybody would disagree with the ending conclusion. And has there ever in Dallas media ever been a more self indulgant repeating theme than your tuxedo cchallenge? I think not either.

  • towski

    And, shark jumped.

  • JB

    @ Rico
    Quick Google research reveals several stories like this:
    A better approach would have been:
    1)Perhaps piggy-backing the West Nile threat along with the “Lawn Whisperer” drought campaign. A Simple “water 1-2 weeks to save water and drain standing water afterwards” would have worked.
    2) Code enforcement on and vigilance on abandoned swimming pools.
    3) Coordinate with Parks departments to install proper drainage around regional bodies of water like Turtle Creek, Bachman, Trinity, and White Rock (See DIxon Branch and Mockingbird Dog Parks today for example).
    4)Organize a Board of Doctors, Environmentalist experts, Entomologist, Public Health experts and lay citizens which could;
    4) Implement a level system of possible West Nile threat that would provide warning and preparedness instructions to the public.
    As it stands this year was, at the very LEAST, a PR nightmare for the city in the way West Nile was handled. This worked up the media and caused unnecessary anxiety /division with us citizens.

  • jddavis

    I appreciate a journalist who will change his opinion after listening to experts and publicize it, however…

    -Many of us, including most of the people I know, wouldn’t wash our kids’ hair with that lice stuff…it contains toxic chemicals and there are ways to get rid of lice without toxic chemicals.

    -Many of us were freaked out about truck spraying, because like aerial spraying, it’s not very effective in the long term control of the mosquito population and exposes us to toxic chemicals. I watched every press release from the city and planned to opt out (which is possible with ground spraying, obviously not with aerial spraying) or leave town had my neighborhood been sprayed…it never was.

    -Considering only the science from the medical community to recommend something like mass spraying of pesticides to kill insects to control disease is ignorant. There’s another science that should be considered and that’s the science of bugs, ecosystems, and the environment. Spraying pesticides doesn’t control disease as the medical community has led us to believe…killing insects is a missing link there.

    I encourage you to listen to the August 19 broadcast of Howard Garrett, the Dirt Doctor, with guest, Dr. Gene Helmick-Richardson (who has a Ph.D. in entomology) to learn a little about the other science that should’ve been considered before spraying took place. Howard Garrett said in his broadcast…we’re not opposed to using pesticides, only opposed to using ineffective pesticides. There is a lot more that goes into controlling the mosquito population than just killing some of the adult mosquitos in the middle of the night.

    The city handled this whole thing very poorly on so many levels…from the manner in which the decision to spray was made to informing the public. They now want to enlist the citizens to help combat the mosquito problem, which should’ve been done at the beginning, along with many other things. They were up against a calendar and the fact that the CDC says mosquito season peaks in mid-August. Although, here in Dallas it peaked about a month ago and we were already at the bottom of the bell curve. The benefit we will see now may be falsely attributed to the city’s spraying efforts, but will likely be due to the natural cycle. But, the politicians and the city needed something big to show people that they were doing something…now they get to be heroes.

  • bluebird

    Isn’t the Dallas County Medical Society the same body that wrote the letter to Rawlings urging him to spray? Snyder is not exactly an unbiased opinion.

    • @bluebird: Yes, that’s exactly the point. Rick was explaining to me why the DCMS had come to the conclusion it did. I’m curious why you think he’s biased. He doesn’t make money if we spray. He based his conclusions on research (both published studies and talking to municipalities that have used the spray for years).

  • Leading questions

    Just curious, Tim. Did the boss tell you to “cool it” on the anti-mosquito rhetoric? This turnabout smacks of a business decision. And why do you have a cardiologist? Or is that the opening salvo for a future self-focused article?

    • @Leading questions: In order: no, paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, no.