By Bob Katzen
The House 158-0, approved a bill that would grant additional tools to the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board to combat mosquito-borne illnesses including Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). The measure gives the board the authority to take preventative, management and eradication mosquito control methods to address the problem when the risk is elevated. The board must notify local authorities, property owners, agricultural entities and other stakeholders about spraying plans, products and timelines.
Other provisions include allowing cities and towns to opt out of mosquito control efforts if they provide a suitable alternative control plan; requiring the board after each spraying action to provide a written report summarizing efforts and details of products used to stakeholders; and creating a Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force to develop a sustainable, long-term mosquito plan using input from a number of stakeholders and experts with the goals of protecting public health while minimizing environmental impacts.
The House version of the bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. The Senate passed a different version of the bill in early June.
“As we enter peak mosquito season, I am proud to have worked on and passed urgent and comprehensive EEE legislation that enables the commonwealth to prevent and manage this mosquito borne illness,” said Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester). “This legislation thoughtfully addresses the concerns of public health experts, environmental health advocates, local boards of health and our municipalities as we work to mitigate this concerning public health matter.”
“With this bill, we’re ensuring that the Department of Public Health can respond to the most imminent health concerns posed by EEE, while moving the commonwealth toward a more sustainable, comprehensive, and environmentally protective plan for the future,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston).
“Cases of EEE and WNV are on the rise and we need to be vigilant,” said Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury). “Mosquitoes don’t stop at the town line, so having a coordinated, statewide approach is necessary. This legislation also ensures that voices of farmers, and the impacts on our water supplies and organic agriculture are included.”
During the hearing on the original version of the legislation in May, many groups and individuals testified against the bill. They expressed concern about land, rivers and wetlands conservation, organic agriculture, wildlife and exposure to toxic chemicals.
On June 11, the Senate approved its own version of the bill which addressed some of these concerns. Many opponents of the original version said the Senate draft was more acceptable than the original.
The reaction to the approval of last week’s House version has been slow. Beacon Hill Roll Call contacted several opponents of the original bill and asked them to comment on the new House bill. Only one opponent responded. “It appears to be an improvement over the original version of the bill, which was subsequently improved by the Senate after [we] and others voiced concern about potential environmental impacts,” Andrew Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “But we need time to study the details of this version passed by the House.”
About 20 minutes after the House approved the bill, public health officials announced that this year’s first case of WNV has been found in in mosquitoes collected in Belmont. No human or animal cases have yet been identified.
The DPH has advised residents to protect themselves by using mosquito repellents with an EPA-registered active ingredient; wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and socks when outdoors; keeping mosquitoes out of your home by repairing any holes in your screens and making sure they are tightly attached to all your doors and windows; and removing areas of standing water around your home.
More details on how to protect yourself can be found at https://www.mass.gov/service-details/west-nile-virus-wnv