Insecticides In The Air

Published in Poisons Beware

The practice of spraying the roads with insecticides in the summertime is potentially harmful and needs urgent review.

Every summer, Hvar Island's roads are sprayed against mosquitoes. Warnings, if any, are minimal. In the past, the impending spraying was announced in the local paper, Slobodna Dalmacija, and on at least one local website, that of Stari Grad. Over many years, I have never yet met a beekeeper on Hvar who knew exactly when the sprayings were taking place, so how could they know when to shut their hives, as recommended in the general instructions which used to be part of the advance warning? We took the trouble to find out which poisons were being used for the spraying. The information gives great cause for concern.

Any hives near the roads are threatened by insecticide spraying. Photo Vivian Grisogono

The substances used are dangerous to humans, especially those with chest problems. They are fatal to bees and fish, some also to cats, and no doubt to much else. Insecticides are far from solving the problem. Mosquitoes are an ever-increasing nuisance.

Bee with hibiscus, August 2012. Bees need protecting! Photo Vivian Grisogono

in August 2014, Eco Hvar warned the local council about the products used that summer:

Permex 22E is a combination of Permethrin with another pyrethroid, Tetramethrin.

Permethrin comes in different formulations, some more toxic than others. It is highly toxic to bees, aquatic life, fish and other wildlife. It is also toxic to cats. Its possible effects on humans are considered less dramatic than those of Cypermethrin, but it can affect the immune and endocrine systems. The EPA rates it as possibly carcinogenic. In view of their damaging effects on aquatic life, pyrethroids should not be applied near water sources - which are of course the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Permethrin is not supposed to be sprayed where animals might forage. The EPA re-registration document for Tetramethrin (2009, revised 2010) classified the poison as a possible human carcinogen, and identified it as highly toxic to bees and aquatic organisms including fish and aquatic invertebrates. It can cause dizziness, breathing difficulties, coughing, eye irritation, gastrointestinal upset, blisters and skin rashes. The EPA document stated that: "Tetramethrin is used by individual homeowners or industrial / commercial property owners, in individual, isolated areas, and in small amounts as opposed to wide scale uses (i.e., for agriculture or mosquito abatement by public authorities)." For this reason, they did not test the effect of Tetramethrin on drinking water. Tetramethrin is not supposed to be used on or near foodstuffs.” 

Van spraying insecticides on the road out of Hvar Town. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Clearly Tetramethrin is not intended for the kind of spraying which it was used for in 2014 on Hvar. In August 2015, Permex 22E was used again, while two other toxins, Microfly and 'Twenty One' were used against flies. 'Twenty One' (Azamethiphos) is a fly killer which is normally used as a paint-on paste in confined areas. It is known to be highly toxic to birds. Microfly is another product which should only be sprayed on to target surfaces

Pyrethrum flower, a natural insecticide. Photo Vivian Grisogono

Synthetic pyrethroids have quite different effects from the pyrethrum plant which they were designed to mimic. Pyrethrum is a natural insecticide which was at one time a major commercial crop on Hvar, when other crops were failing for various reasons. There was a pyrethrum processing plant in Jelsa which provided jobs for local people. I am told it was sited where the open-air cinema is today. Nowadays insecticides such as Biopy for home use are still available, but although they are based on Dalmatian pyrethrum (buhač), the plants are no longer cultivated on Hvar. 

Pyrethrum growing wild on Hvar, and pyrethrum insecticides. Photos: Vivian Grisogono

Spraying the roads in the middle of the summer with dangerous poisons is a curious tactic, to say the least. It is not clear how the decisions are made as to when the spraying will be done, and which substances will be used. Who is responsible? Why are proper warnings not given? Public health and the environment are suffering under the present system (if one can call it that). The situation needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency.

© Vivian Grisogono, MA(Oxon),  2016, amended September 2021

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