War on Zika: Outrage ensues after controversial spray tactic kills millions of bees

By Amanda Schmidt
September 26, 2016, 9:31:29 AM EDT

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The war on Zika continues and with it comes casualties.

This time, honeybees fell victim.


Millions of honeybees were killed in South Carolina as a result of a controversial aerial spray targeting Zika-carrying mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti. The result of the insecticide release may best be described as a massacre.

Flowertown Bee Farm and Supplies in Summerville was one of the hardest hit by the attack; losing 46 bee hives that totaled about 2.5 million bees.

“[The farm] looks like it’s been nuked,” Co-owner and Manager of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supplies Juanita Stanley told the Associated Press.

Mosquito control programs in South Carolina are not uncommon. There are often trucks driving around towns spraying pesticides in order to destroy mosquito larvae.

The South Carolina Health Department (DHEC) warned South Carolina residents about the mosquito outbreak and the risk of Zika, and urged all local governments to enhance their current mosquito control programs.

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Following the initial warning, 48 travel-related Zika cases were reported in South Carolina, including four within Dorchester County.

As a result of the elevated Zika virus scare, Dorchester County decided to try a different tactic for combating disease spread.

Their new approach: an aerial spray.

An airplane flew over the county and dispensed the insecticide on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 28.

This was the first time in 14 years that the county issued an aerial spray of the product Trumpet, which contains the common, but controversial, insecticide Naled.

Naled has been registered since 1959 for use in the United States. It is used primarily for controlling adult mosquitoes and on food and feed crops.

The technique of spraying Naled in order to halt mosquito growth is not unique; it is often used to reach areas that trucks cannot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Naled is currently applied to about 16 million acres within the mainland U.S., as part of routine mosquito control. Florida sprays more than 6 million acres within a single year.

Human exposure to Naled should be limited as an overdose can prove fatal, according to the New York Times.

However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Naled is not a hazard to people as it dissipates quickly and often there is not enough sprayed to pose a threat.

But not everyone agrees that aerial spraying is safe and some feel that the technique is not effective at killing Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

Naled has been banned in the European Union since 2012 due the "unacceptable risks" that is poses on humans and the environment. European officials felt that there was not enough evidence proving that it worked to justify the potential hazards.

CEO and co-founder of the Zika Foundation, Dr. Michael Callahan said in a recent video interview that aerial spraying to combat the Zika virus does not work to kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

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Aerial spraying can even make the problem worse because it kills insects that eat mosquitoes, such as dragonflies, Dr. Callahan said.

"There has been a lot of money spent in Singapore, Thailand, Japan and several Central American countries trying to control Aedes aegpyti with aerial spraying; it does not work," said Dr. Callahan.

Trumpet warns that it is "highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds."

The warning recommends to apply the product when bees are least active.

Due to this threat, the county was supposed to notify local bee keepers of spraying events. However, in this case, Stanley said that she was not informed of the aerial spraying.

“They are supposed to notify me so I can try to protect my bees. If I had known about the spraying, I would have tried to stop them,” Stanley said.

Even with warning, Stanley said there would have been no way to protect the honey bees from the impacts and intensity of the spray.

“At first, there was a lot of shock, anger, sadness and other negative emotions,” Stanley said.

Residents of the Summerville area are now trying to spread awareness through social media. The town has created a petition to stop aerial spraying, and many hope to keep the movement going, Stanley said.

“I’m not just fighting for myself and my bee farm, but for the cause. It’s very important that it is prevented from happening again because it’s going to happen again,” Stanley said.

There are no more scheduled aerial sprays at this time, but there could be more in the future.

Moving forward, Stanley hopes to rebuild her bee farm.

The county acknowledged the bee deaths two days after the tragedy.

“I am not pleased that so many bees were killed,” Jason Ward, county administrator, said to the Charleston Post and Courtier.

Dorchester County requested that citizens refer to the EPA Chemical Fact Sheet on the use of Naled and the potential threats of its use.

"Looking at the bigger picture, killing my honeybees is just a warning,” Stanley said, hoping to educate others on the dangers of aerial spraying.

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