Friday, August 17, 2012

Mosquito Control On Long Island

I live on Long Island, where the mosquitoes can be abundant, especially when we have a rainy summer. This year’s weather started off very mild and dry—hardly any snow—but the April showers initiated a very English-like season with rain and sunshine alternating throughout the day. As a result of the warm winter, the insect population had a head start on the season. The wet weather did the rest.

It is common for areas in the marshes to be sprayed with insecticide—which has now been found in lobsters caught in the Long Island Sound—but this year the government decided to spray inland areas, since the mosquitoes are particularly fierce.

When I discovered that parts of my town were scheduled for spraying I wrote the following letter to the editor of Newsday, “Long Island’s hometown paper.” I also cc’d Suffolk County Vector Control, the official in charge of pest control in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and my State Senator.

Here is the letter in its entirety. When it was printed in Newsday, August 15, 2012, some of the text was edited.

Dear Newsday Editor,

Recently, the Suffolk County Department of Health decided to spray Scourge® in parts of the Town of Huntington near my home. Being highly allergic to mosquito bites, I am the last person to advocate for them. However, I must protest both aerial and ground spraying of Scourge® (resmethrin and piperonyl butoxide) by Nassau and Suffolk counties with the goal of eliminating adult mosquitoes.

The use of insecticides is a short-term, short-sighted and ineffective attempt to control mosquitoes. Many die, but enough survive so that their offspring evolve to resist and even thrive on the toxins used. (Mosquitoes evolve so quickly because several generations spawn in the course of a single year.)

What Scourge® and Malathion (which was used during the initial West Nile virus scare in 1999) do accomplish, among other hazards, is the poisoning of lobsters [“Mosquito pesticide turning up in lobsters,” Newsday, July 27, 2012], the contamination of organic gardens and the pollution of environmental assets such as the Long Island Sound and eventually our groundwater.

(By the way, “malathion itself is of low toxicity; however, absorption…into the human body readily results in its metabolism to malaoxon, which is substantially more toxic.” [Wikipedia, “Malathion” article.])

I advise and insist Nassau and Suffolk counties, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, update their mosquito control policies and programs to find safer and more ecologically-compatible solutions. For example, “eliminating mosquito breeding areas can be an extremely effective and permanent way to reduce mosquito populations without resorting to insecticides.” [Wikipedia “Mosquito control” article].

Since most mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, reducing this should be the focus. Here are just a few suggestions:
  1. Educate homeowners to:
    • dispose of unused plastic pools, old tires, or buckets
    • clear clogged gutters
    • repair leaks around faucets
    • replace water in bird baths regularly [Wikipedia “Mosquito control” article]
    • stock ponds with fish and other species that eat mosquito larvae

  2. Distribute rain barrels to homeowners and businesses to catch and retain rainwater that may puddle and provide a habitat for mosquitoes; when used for irrigation purposes this also conserves water. (The Town of North Hempstead has, or had, such a program.)
  3. Fill in or provide effective drainage for low-lying areas, such as puddles, swampy areas, and tree stumps that collect stagnant water.
  4. Make sure all bodies of water are aerated to prevent stagnation.
  5. Bring in predatory species, such as birds, bats and nematodes (microscopic worms), to name a few, that eat the larvae and full-grown insects.
  6. Encourage the growth of native mosquito-eating plants, such as the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), in wetlands.
If necessary, homeowners, businesses and commercial property owners should be fined into compliance.

Mosquito control is too urgent to continue the use of ineffective and dangerous methods. Let’s find better solutions to control mosquitoes and preserve our health and environment.

See my next blog to learn the results.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Greenovation Plans

We are choosing to do a “greenovation” of our small Cape Cod-style house built in 1971 by its original owners, in Huntington Station, New York. The lot size is 0.25 acre and the house is 1485 SF, with 2 bedrooms and 1.5 baths.

Billii, especially, is holistically minded and named this property “Arcadia” (the Greek ideal of harmony with nature) when she bought it in 1996. The front and backyards have been organic and sustainable since that time; however, the house has resisted renovation until now. It’s time it reflected our values and beliefs. We plan for it to be healthy, energy efficient and natural.

Our seven goals are:

1. Insulate the whole house. Our home is drafty. Our home energy audit showed we have 22 air exchanges per hour compared to the more normal 5. We plan to strip the exterior walls and add water-based foam insulation to seal the house and make the heating and cooling more efficient.

2. Expand our living room into the garage area. We love the living room’s cathedral ceiling, and the balcony overhang on the second floor. However, the living room is described as “railroad” because it is narrow and long; the staircase makes it look even narrower.

The lot is too narrow to expand the house width appreciably without requiring a zoning variance. We have come to terms with sacrificing the garage; the available space would double the living room’s size. We are also considering removing the staircase and placing it in a narrow strip addition adjacent to its previous location along the current exterior wall; this would give us about four feet.

Billii’s concept of the living room is “hearth centered.” We love our wood-burning fireplace. When we take down the wall between the garage and living room we have the opportunity to make the fireplace the center of the room and the hub of the house.

3. Add another bedroom. Since homes with less than three bedrooms are hard to sell on Long Island, we are adding a master bedroom over the former garage space. Our current bedroom is 8’ x 12’, tolerable for one person but way too confining for two. We will use our old bedroom as a home office; this will give Ira more privacy for his real estate business.

4. Update kitchen and baths. The kitchen is small and could have a better layout. The dark stained kitchen cabinets make the room look even smaller. The appliances are old and showing signs of breaking down. The first floor bathroom needs to be updated and expanded to contain a shower. The second floor bathroom is also requiring renovation.

5. Add central air conditioning. Long Island is very humid in the summer. It is now impossible for Ira to work in the house on some super-humid summer days. Out of desperation we have been using a window unit in the bedroom at night.

6. Replace the oil-fired hot water heating system with a new, greener system. Right now, the garage is home to the furnace, which has a flue connecting to the chimney. We’d like to relocate the heating system since otherwise it will be in the middle of our new living room. And we’d like to heat our home with a more energy efficient system. We originally thought of converting to gas heat, but it’s very conventional and the cost of conversion may not fit our budget.

7. Add solar panels to the roof to reduce electricity costs. We have recently learned about hybridizing PV panels with thermal collectors and are very interested in them.