Mutant Malathion

How New York’s Mosquito-Spray Campaign Spawned a Deadly Neurotoxin

Mosquitoes have become such an issue that a search for the New York City Department of Health turns up the department's West Nile virus information section as the most popular site after the main page.

In addition Green Party aspirant Cohen, two candidates for city office have made opposition to insecticide spraying a major plank of their platforms: Councilwoman Kathryn Freed, a candidate for public advocate, has called for a moratorium on spraying and the formation of a specialized board to weigh decisions on spraying; and Joyce Shepard, of Queens, has fashioned herself as champion of the anti-spray cause in her campaign for City Council.

Illustration by Lloyd Miller

As the West Nile virus spreads along the East Coast, the same malathion issues plaguing New York may come into play elsewhere. In some places, the chemical is also being used to fight pests like the boll weevil. Environmentalists say it will be years before we know the full effects of all this spraying. Already some of the dead birds found to be carrying West Nile have died not of the virus, but of pesticides. "If you're giving it to a large number of people," says Dr. Needleman, "even a small increase in risk ratio means a lot of suffering."

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