Massive bee death after South Carolina sprays for Zika mosquitoes

Bee deaths
CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Millions of bees succumbed to acute pesticide poisoning after little-publicized switch to aerial spraying.

There is no question that people are justifiably freaked out by the ominous threat of the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that deliver it. Many of us remember when trucks spewing pesticide first took to the streets in order to battle the threat of mosquitoes transmitting West Nile virus, before that it was DDT for malaria; with the new mayhem of Zika on the rise, some areas have become more vigilant than ever in their municipal spraying. In South Carolina, to disastrous end.

In parts of the Palmetto State, trucks trailing pesticide clouds are not an unusual sight, thanks to a mosquito control program that also includes destroying larvae, notes Ben Guarino for the Washington Post. But over the weekend there was a change of plans, according to Guarino:

It marked a departure from Dorchester County’s usual ground-based efforts. For the first time an airplane dispensed Naled in a fine mist, raining insect death from above on Sunday between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. The county says it provided plenty of warning, spreading word about the pesticide plane via a newspaper announcement Friday and a Facebook post Saturday.

Naled is a common insecticide that delivers death to mosquitoes on contact. It has been in use in the United States since 1959. Reportedly the chemical dissipates quickly enough that it is not a hazard to people. (So they say...)

For bees, it's a different story. The neurotoxin does not discriminate between honey bees and mosquitoes; it is known to be highly toxic to the pollinators. Knowing this, with enough warning beekeepers often cover their hives before aerial spraying; conversely, many counties spray at night when honey bees are safer and not out foraging for pollen.

But without sufficient warning, the results of the recent spraying were disastrous. At Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply in Summerville, the inhabitants of 46 hives died on the spot, totaling some 2.5 million bees, writes Guarino. "Walking through the farm, one Summerville woman wrote on Facebook, was “like visiting a cemetery, pure sadness.”" There were many other losses as well.

“Dorchester County is aware that some beekeepers in the area that was sprayed on Sunday lost their beehives,” said Jason Ward, County Administrator, in a news statement. He added, “I am not pleased that so many bees were killed.”

Mosquitoes have to be dealt with, but spraying toxic chemical clouds can not be done without careful consideration of the risks involved and all precautions taken to abate potential damage. Nobody wants mosquitoes, but we can't afford to lose any more bees.

There is a petition at change.org, head there if you want to show your support.

Tags: Bees | Diseases | Insects | Toxins

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