By Bob Katzen
Governor Baker signed into law legislation 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 methods to address the mosquito 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 intersection of environmental and public health concerns will be our new normal as the climate changes,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston). “This legislation requires that Massachusetts plan ahead. Under this new law, the commonwealth will develop an effective, comprehensive response to mosquito-borne disease that minimizes pesticide use, engages the public, and maximizes the use of sustainable best practices.”
“I am most proud that the bill establishes a Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force to recommend updates to our outdated system,” said Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), Senate chair of the Public Health Committee. “I am hopeful that the Task Force recommendations will lead to a more modern system that recognizes the latest evidence about effective mosquito management, public health, and environmental protection.”
“Communities across the commonwealth will now have the resources they need to manage their mosquito population and combat against the threat of EEE,” said Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester), House chair of the Committee on Public Health. “This legislation is comprehensive and puts measures in place to protect our residents while also ensuring we are doing our best to control mosquito populations in the future.”
“While the commonwealth is already facing an unprecedented public health crisis, it is important that we take steps to mitigate the risks and protect the well-being of our communities from the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses like EEE,” said Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport). “EEE is a serious risk, and I applaud my colleagues in the legislature and the Administration for working to bolster our resilience to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.”
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 and House version are more acceptable than the original.
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