Jenny Land: Dallas' Non-Toxic Mosquito Hunter

Categories: Environment

DAL_People_Jenny_Land.jpg
Can Turkyilmaz
Jenny Land preaches a green, sustainable approach to fending off West Nile Virus.  
In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Somehow a mosquito has sneaked into Jenny Land's home. This shouldn't have happened. Land sprayed garlic in her backyard and hired a solar-powered pest company to treat her lawn with all-natural essential oils. Before mosquito season began, she was placing larvicide around her home and her neighborhood. She always offers guests two brands of natural bug repellant. And yet, there it is, lurking.

She jumps to swat it outside. "I don't want you to get bit," she says.

Years ago, Land, now 41, was spending the summer in Austin before her senior year of college when she came down with Lyme disease. She eventually recovered, and moved to New York to become a writer. Then she relapsed. Worse, she developed liver problems from the same drugs that had kept her healthy. "I learned the very lesson that I'm talking about with the West Nile," she says. "I'm taking all these antibiotics, and there's side effects to those things. They're important and they're useful but they have to be used cautiously and in a targeted way."

She moved back to Dallas, where she grew up, and began a long, slow recovery. Then West Nile Virus struck the city.

City Hall sprayed the city with insecticides, even with mounting evidence that spraying harms humans and the environment more than it curbs West Nile. Land teamed up with a friend, Patricia Kobes, starting a loosely organized group called Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control. They hired entomology experts and arranged meetings with city officials for the experts to make their case to back off on adulticides.

The city eventually agreed to only spray for positive pools, a compromise of sorts. Figuring her work was done, Land disbanded her efforts until 2012, when a bad West Nile season struck again. This time, the response was more aggressive. Dallas County used planes to blanket the area with adulticides. Land went back to work, teaming up with Brandon and Susan Pollard of the Texas Honeybee Guild to get local foodies involved in the activism and speak out online and in public meetings. Most recently, Land arranged another panel for county officials, again educating them on the benefits of a larvicide-first approach. At Land's request, Harvard public health professor Dr. David Bellinger and Cornell professor Dr. David Pimentel both agreed to participate.

The county's response has been slow. Last year, Health Director Zach Thompson offered hesitant support for Land and the other activists. "I have talked to Jennifer Land, and they have some great ideas," Thompson told us last year.

Land's approach to activism is diplomatic. She's slow to criticize the officials and knows it could take years of building public support and gaining officials' trust before seeing results. "A lot of times, you hear around these issues, 'Oh it's just a bunch of environmentalists again," she says. "I consider myself a public health advocate."


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20 comments
efurney
efurney

Thanks for giving us alternative options for mosquito control. I hope the city will look at these as viable options. Go Jenny Land!

efurney
efurney

Thank you for sharing about alternative options for mosquito control. The city needs to consider these as viable alternatives. Keep fighting!

kurt.henry
kurt.henry

Great article Jenny. Keep up the fight.

nanwj
nanwj

Jenny has been a voice of reason and compromise, offering much better ways to control mosquitoes than Dallas County is using.  I became very ill from truck and aerial spraying at my home in DeSoto in 2012.  From the truck spraying, I had asthma attacks lasting for hours.  From the aerial spraying, I had a week of worsening asthma, and had to get steroid injections.  My windows and doors were closed.  Worse yet, I saw almost no insects for over a month in my yard.  No bees, no butterflies, no lizards--and it's pretty well documented that the spraying only kills the adult mosquitoes who are out and about at the time of the spraying.  Many live.  So, it seems that the city and county attacks are not as effective at killing mosquitoes as other methods (larvacides) and definitely cause much more harm to other insects, animals, gardens, and human beings.  



Coronal12
Coronal12

I think the City was probably right in taking the nuclear option a couple of years ago, when there seemed to be an acute rise in west nile. But long term, we're talking about dousing the entire city in stuff designed to kill. My main concern is getting into the habit of something that is invisible to everyone, yet has a real effect. 

jenny379
jenny379

I appreciate the Observer always writing thoughtful pieces on this issue and for wanting to highlight the work so many citizens and organizations have contributed to on this public health threat. Larvicide is indeed the best front line approach to controlling mosquitoes according to entomologist and also the Texas Department of Health that recommends that residents focus on source reduction (emptying standing water) and treating any water that can not be emptied with BTI larvicide, which is a bacterial based product that has negligible human health effects and is so low impact you can put a larvicide dunk in an outdoor water bowl. But because the mosqutioes that carry West Nile can travel up to about a 100 yards from their breeding site, there is no way that you can completely control mosquitoes when there are neighboring properties, streets, alleys and storm sewers that may be collecting standing water. I was talking to the great folks at North Haven Gardens and one of their reps was noting how you can't get 100 percent control, which is why they recommend judiciously using something like Mosquito Beaters, an essential oil based product that can be applied with a garden hose. 

And as one commenter so thoughtfully pointed out, it can have negative impact on beneficial insects like bees, which is why they recommended to me applying it around the porch area and that way avoiding areas of the yard and/or gardens where beneficial insects may be. I don't regularly use essential oils and rely primarily on larvicide. But I had recently had friends over in my backyard and decided to use the essential oils judiciously to repel mosquitoes from neighboring properties.

The day of the interview I had noticed standing water in my alley from the run off of neighboring sprinkler systems and I put some larvicide in those standing water areas. I've also reached out to some of my neighbors and done a presentation at my local neighborhood group along with others to get the word out because this issue requires both an individual and community response since neighboring mosquitoes can migrate into our lawns. In the end, as the folks at North Haven Gardens were concurring with me yesterday when I was picking up more BTI larvicide for my yard, there is no way to get 100 percent mosquito control, which is why it's so important to use a personal repellant. The representative there told me he thinks cat nip oil is one of the best. The centers for disease control also recommend lemon of oil of eucalyptus as an effective alternative to DEET. So yes essential oils do work and there are studies that confirm they work both in mosquito abatement programs and as personal repellants. But like an substance, they need to be used according to directions and everything has a relative risk that should be weighed against it benefits.


But as one commenter noted, ultimately its larvicide that should always be a front line approach in both residential and municipal mosquito abatement programs. When you target the larvae, you prevent them from ever maturing into adults that carry West Nile and that can pass the infection. It's much easier than chasing a moving target. There are also now municipalities across the country that are both truck and aerially spraying BTI larvicide, something we asked the city and county to consider investigating and adding to their program. 


One of the reasons that larvicide is a safer and better option is that it has shown absolutely no signs of insect resistance, unlike the chemical adulticides that are extremely prone to resistance. Spraying an entire county with pyrethroid adulticides is a little like asking everyone in the county to take a dose of the same antibiotic. We all know about the dangers of antibiotic resistance and there are the same risks with pesticides, which require escalation to even more toxic pesticides and the risk of not having an effective pesticide to use in an emergency.


Our group is not opposed to adulticides as a last resort, which is what leading entomologists agree they should be, and when used in the most targeted way possible. Adulticide are actually more effective when sprayed in a targeted manner by applicators on foot who can spray with back mounted sprayers and directly target mosquito breeding sites during the day, which decreases the risk of hitting unintended targets that is unavoidable with truck and aerial spraying. If we're going to spray from a truck or a plane, it makes more sense to spray larvicide, which has negligible health effects to humans and most wildlife, low environmental impact, and no signs from insect resistance, which is particulary a risk when spraying adulticides over large ares. 

We believe when adulticides are used, that safer alternative should be considered like boric acid bate stations in storm sewer basins and truck application of EPA approved essential oil products, both of which have been studied and shown to be effective adulticides. We also believe adulticides should be a last line approach after implementing intensive source reduction, public education and larviciding initiatives, including consideration of aerial and truck application of BTI larvicide.  Indian River Florida achieved up to a 90 percent reduction in mosquito larvae when aerially spraying with BTI larvicide and have incorporated this into their mosquito abatement program in a state wide initiative to reduce over reliance on adulticides and focus on safer more effective front line approaches. But with any approach there will never be a 100 percent mosquito control, which is why it's important to take use an integrative approach that incorporates personal mosquito repellant as well.


It's also important to keep in mind the fact that the bee's are disappearing at alarming rates in ways that have been partially linked by extensive studies to pesticide exposure. Bees polinate a third of our food, which is integral to human survival. We also live in a restaurant town fueled by the burgeoning farm-to-table movement and supported by local urban growers like Eat the Yard, who lost an entire crop to truck spraying in Dallas. 

Ultimately this is an ecological issue with diverse impacts. The New York Times ran a story, The Ecology of Disease, citing leading researches pointing to human damage to the ecosystem as driving diseases like West Nile and Lyme disease out of the forest and into the suburbs. There are likely more tropical diseases to follow. It's not surprising that the highest cases of West Nile during the outbreak were concentrated in areas with highly manicured lawns where water run off can lead to unintended standing water. 

This is a new frontier for us all and it's important we all do our best to continue learning about it and working together to address it in a way that doesn't further damage the very carefully balanced ecosystem that naturally keeps diseases like this in check.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Maybe she ought to hop over to Vonciel Adams' pool and dump a shitload of garlic in it.  

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

"This shouldn't have happened. Land sprayed garlic in her backyard and hired a solar-powered pest company to treat her lawn with all-natural essential oils."

OK, I give up.  Just what bearing does it have that the pest company is solar powered?

I do draw the line with the lawn being sprayed with essential oils.  Yes, let us just go ahead and kill everything.  How about going around your house and making sure that there is no standing water.

Personally, I have a very large herd of geckos living around my house.  They do wonders with the mosquitos.  There is also the bat house.

ehartmann11
ehartmann11

Jenny is a true inspiration if you ever come out to the meetings or the commissioners court to hear about the issue.  Not only are there safer mosquito measures beyond spraying adulticides (only 2% of mosquitoes are adults at any one time), but it is more effective too!  I'm glad she is getting some media coverage so that hopefully the county will wake up and stop poisoning residents one zip code application at a time.

doublecheese
doublecheese

Somehow a mosquito has sneaked into Jenny Land's home. This shouldn't have happened.


Of course it should have.  That hippy bullshit only works to a limited degree.  

jenny379
jenny379

@bvckvs I appreciate a little irony as well and would have had a good laugh at what you were saying if the irony wasn't being associated with a misleading implication. The only irony in this story is about comedic timing, which always makes for a good story opening. But it's not a case of irony for a mosquito to get past any defense when mosquito control is never a 100 percent success rate with any product and when mosquitoes carrying West Nile travel up to around 100 yards or so from their breeding site, well past the boundary for many yards. The aerially spraying in Dallas was a far cry from a 100 percent success. The CDC report found that there was actually a statistically significant INCREASE in mosquitoes in the areas aerially sprayed in 2012 as reported in this paper here: http://bit.ly/1yYGLIy   That's right, more mosquitoes followed spraying, not less. Now that is some irony. 

My guess is citing a bunch of statistics and data is going to deflate your irony buzz. And I get that. This stuff can be dry and boring. But for a life and death matter, it's important I clarify what the real irony is.


The average mosquito kill rate from truck spraying adulticides is 21-45 percent. The average kill rate with aerial spraying adulticides is 42 percent to 93 percent, quite a range. and these adulticides  have no effect on the larvae, which is why when you just go after the adults, mosquito populations will quickly rebound as the larvae eventually become the next round of adults. Thinking a truck or plane going past your home is going to 100 percent protect you or thinking that anything anyone does in their own yard is going to eliminate 100 percent of the mosquitoes is the kind of thinking that puts people at risk. This is a complex issue that requires multiple levels of protection, including wearing repellant as a last line of defense for those few pesky mosquitoes that are going to evade any mosquito program. 

Entomologists universally agree source reduction and larvicide should be the first round of defense, which is what I predominantly employ in my yard. The Texas Dept of Health website recommends this should be the main focus of residents. It is not some make believe force field some single mosquito has ironically put to shame but a scientifically grounded first line of defense.

Anyway, I'm glad you found a laugh in there. 

We all need a comedic break, especially when sifting through this kind of dense stuff.

jenny379
jenny379

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul I wanted to correct a misconception you inferred from the article. I don't normally use essential oils and when I do I use them in a targeted way to repel mosquitoes from neighboring properties, something larviciding and source reduction on our own properties cannot address when mosquitoes are breeding on property other than our own lawns. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile can travel up to a 100 yards and that means mosquitoes from neighboring properties can come into our yards. Another way to address this without using essential oil adulticides is to talk with your neighbors and get the word out in your community, something I have done and will continue to do. I personally spend most of my efforts doing source reduction and applying larvicide throughout my lawn. The essential oils I reserve for treating areas like the porch, which can repel migrating mosquitoes from areas where we often congregate without exposing the whole yard and beneficial insects to the essential oil. And I tend to only use them when I am going to have friends in my backyard. Ultimately, 100 percent mosquito control is impossible, which is why it's important to use some kind of personal repellant as well, which essential oils are another low impact alternative and something even the Centers of Disease Control have recommended as an effective alternative when using a studied product like lemon of oil eucalyptus.

Coronal12
Coronal12

@doublecheese Actually after watching this talk and learning that the only reason we even have things like almonds is because bees must be trucked in from across the country, I think we are in a more dangerous place than the average person realizes. Why contribute to this when there are other measures? http://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing

Some of these hippies aren't even suggesting totally going away from pesticides, just smartly adding back in things like swaths of wild flowers and bushes that give bees and other insects a breather....can't do that if the whole place is loaded with killer juice.

tldr; the people in charge of bringing us our food supply are freaking out, so why are we not listening?

ehartmann11
ehartmann11

@doublecheese  The "hippy bullshit" you ignorantly speak of is the official recommendation of the Entomological Association of America.  Larvacide dunk tablets are far more effective than spraying for airborne adults.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@jenny379 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Thank you for your response.

The article says:

"This shouldn't have happened. Land sprayed garlic in her backyard and hired a solar-powered pest company to treat her lawn with all-natural essential oils."

There is not much of an inference there.

amy.silverstein
amy.silverstein

@bvckvs @jenny379 Oh no, don't conflate her with the anti-vaccine crowd, people throw around that comparison way too much with any controversial environmental issue. They're not asking the city or county to never use adulticides, just to be more conservative and not use them as the first line of defense. The State of Massachusetts has similar approach: http://www.cmmcp.org/faqmos.pdf


And last year the city of Denton said they didn't need to spray any adulticides either when I interviewed them for a story about why West Nile cases were down. 


As Jenny mentioned in the comments, I didn't go too much into the science here...but here are some other stories that we've done touching more on all that stuff.


http://www.dallasobserver.com/2012-08-02/news/spraying-to-stop-west-nile-mdash-is-it-safe/full/


http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2013/08/dallas_county_is_killing_mosqu.php


http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2013/09/dallas_morning_news_credits_in.php


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