2000-04-05 / Front Page

Plans To Combat Mosquitoes Aired At Borough Cabinet

ByRichard Gentilviso

O

ngoing preparations to control the mosquito population when the insect’s breeding season begins later this spring were discussed at the most recent meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet.BoroughPresident Claire Shulman noted that on Mar. 9th of this year, the city Department of Health had reported that a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that hibernating mosquitoes collected inFort Totten had tested positive for West Nile virus antibodies, heightening concern the virus might still be present. Shulman, emphasized the necessity to identify and extinguish potential mosquito breeding sites in the borough and called the presentation by Jessica Morris,DOH community relations direction which followed an outline for partnership with local boards.Morris, in turn, called for outreach efforts to combat any possible re-emergence of the West Nile virus outbreak of last year.

Morris, a former district manager at Community Board 4 in Manhattan, said the simplest and most important message for the district managers of the 14 Queens community boards who make up the cabinet to help get out was the danger of standing water sites. Once the conditions are right, the female mosquito is a quick breeder and uses sites with standing water and decaying organic matter to lay her eggs.

Although DOH, in collaboration with other city agencies, especially the Departments of Parks and Sanitation, intend to eliminate standing water in empty lots and tire piles, it is also cataloging sites such as waste water treatment plants, certain parks and sewers for the use of larvicide and biological controls, such as mosquito-eating fish. But the cooperation of commercial and residential building owners, homeowners and all residents, is needed to help reduce prime breeding habitats such as discarded tires, unwashed bird baths, clogged rain gutters, plastic wading pools, pots and pans of standing water and inactive swimming pools that are, literally, in their backyards.

"This may not be the time of year you expect to be seeing mosquitoes,"John Gadd, a DOHspokesman, said in a Mar. 26th New YorkTimes article, "but it’s not too early for homeowners to start their mosquito prevention efforts."

The DOH has developed forms which the public can use to report stagnant water sites and record any dead birds.

Since some species of mosquitoes feed on birds, particularly crows, dead birds can be a sign of the virus.Last year, before West Nile virus was identified, an unusual number of dead or dying crows was documented near the epicenter of the outbreak several weeks prior to the earliest human case.This year, a red-tailed hawk found dead in Westchester also tested positive for the virus.

In cooperation with the New York state DOH, cityDOH officials have developed a plan consisting of three strategies: disrupt mosquito reproduction, monitor mosquitoes and birds, including small flocks of "sentinel" chickens for signs of the virus and institute new procedures at hospitals to catch the earliest hint of human cases.

Both Diane Cohen, district manger of Board 8, and Yvonne Reddick, district manger of Board 12, raised the sensitive issue of aerial spraying, which was first used during Labor Day weekend last year. Morris would only say that spraying was not the answer to the problem.

However, although the goal of the DOH program is to prevent and contain mosquito-borne disease by detection before humans are infected, the plan, entitled, "Comprehensive Arthropod-borne Disease Surveillance and Control Plan 2000," will rely, if necessary, on the spraying of pesticides to reduce the adult mosquito population. Morris described both aerial and truck-mounted spraying as methods that could be used in the wake or other preventative methods.She also said DOH has not yet determined which pesticide, if needed, would be employed.

Last year, the city sprayed Malathion. That pesticide is now undergoing an independent scientific review mandated by federal law. The United States Environmental ProtectionAdministration (EPA) currently classifies Malathion as "slightly toxic."The Bronx and Manhattan Borough Boards have passed resolutions calling onMayor Rudolph Giuliani to consult with the City Council and the borough presidents before any spraying is done, as well as urging the city to use the least toxic alternatives to Malathion if spraying becomes necessary.

As for the Queens policy, "First of all, we have to have warnings of any spraying well in advance,"Shulman said. In addition, Shulman said, district school superintendents have asked for instructions regarding the safety of students who may be attending school this summer.

Morris repeated that it was DOH’s hope not to spray, but added that specifics about spraying are often tied to weather conditions.

Shulman, however, advised DOH to give as much information to the public as soon as possible to allay fears of the community regarding pesticide spraying.

A joint state and city public education advertising campaign called "Fight the Bite," including radio and television spots, will begin soon.DOHhas a hot line (212) 227-5269 and a web site, www.ci.nyc.ny.us/help to provide more information.

In other business, Eric Lee, deputy director for the Center for Court Innovation, spoke regarding establishing a community court in the borough of Queens.

Formed in 1996 by New YorkState Chief Judge Judith Kaye to test new ways for courts to solve problems, the not-for-profit Center for Court Innovation established its first community court, Mid-town Community Court, in Manhattan in response to the concerns of local residents and businesses. Lee described it as an effort to bring the authority and resources of a court and ideas of the community together "to build safer, stronger neighborhoods."

Among the concerns were quality of life crimes such as graffiti, street prostitution, low-level drug dealing, shoplifting, illegal gambling and turnstile jumping,which community and business leaders felt the courts weren’t addressing.

Instead, establishing a court in the community was thought to make the process faster and more visible. In addition, an intermediate set of sanctions, or more meaningful punishments, were created with the idea of paying back to the community and challenging the concept of victimless crime.

Finally, punishment was combined with help in the form of social service staffing, health screening, drug treatment and English as a Second Language and high school equivalency classes run by the Board of Education.

Mid-town CommunityCourt is a branch of the New YorkCity’s criminal Court and now handles 17,000 cases per year, although it is an arraignment part only.

The center has also helped establish the Red HookCommunity Justice Center in Brooklyn and the Harlem Community Justice Center, also in Manhattan.

Shulman, noting the impact of a community court on minor crimes and cases that don’t receive punishment so adequate as to be a deterrent, gave her very strong recommendation to the creation of a community court inQueens.

The first step, Lee advised, is for one area to be picked for study concerning its problems, "Community courts come out of specific problems in specific communities," he said.In addition, funding sources must be found through public and private grants. Shulman, undeterred, noted she expected the Center for Court Innovation would provide considerable help in getting the borough’s first community court underway.

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